The weekend brought us to our first Marching Band competition for our oldest daughter. Yes, yesterday was a preview of what the next three years have to bring; overzealous band directors living their long lost dreams of drum core fame through high school underlings, concession stand crowds that would give the Soldier Field pee troughs a run for their money, and back pain of various proportions thanks to the cold, hard comfort of aluminum bleachers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll support my daughter any way that I can. If this is something she decides she really likes at the end of the season and wants to continue on with it then I will certainly do whatever I can to support her. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t aspects of Marching Band I absolutely love.
The music, skill, and “show” aspect of it I quite enjoy. The pomp and circumstance is an aspect of the arts I’ve never dealt with and I find it quite fascinating. I love watching the band tell a story in 10 minutes on the field. In the midst of a bunch of meatheads on the field trying to run a ball down a field there’s this tiny moment of entertainment brought to you through choreographed steps, instruments being played, and a story being revealed. To the kids out there sweating through their band uniforms it’s a series of memorized steps and notes being played. Coordination and concentration that I can imagine allows for little time to truly enjoy what they’re doing. But for us folks with numb butt cheeks sitting on those bleachers watching, it’s a beautiful thing.
Another thing that completely blew me away yesterday was seeing each band come out onto the field to set up. This wasn’t fifty kids with horns and percussion instruments coming out to whip a crowd into a frenzy with their renditions of fighting songs and “Back Home Again In Indiana”. No. These were ambitious pieces of music and shows these high school kids and their band directors were giving us. One school based their show around Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine”, while another was this futuristic piece about robots. Intricate set pieces, costumes, and colored flags were used to take us audience members to another place and time for their ten minute allotted time. You should’ve seen some of these set ups. It was like a convoy of Gator carts pulling out trailers full of high tech sound systems; sound boards, power amps, Mac Books, and PA speakers were the norm for most of these schools. One school had a section of marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, and vibraphones with kids using four mallets in each hand. I wasn’t sure if I was at a Marching Band competition or if I’d been transported back 40 years to an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer gig. It was impressive. Not every school was awe-inspiring. One ‘Looney Toons’-themed show was a little on the mediocre side for me, complete with kids dressed as rabbits and Elmer Fudd, but for the most part these schools came to wow. My daughter’s school, despite being one of the smallest schools in their Class A division, came across professional and sounded pretty damn good. They only won a “Participation” award, which is the equivalent of a freebie award so they didn’t feel completely emasculated. Personally I thought they should’ve gotten third in their division, but what do I know? It seemed to me that a lot of the bigger schools hid behind numbers and not necessarily execution and talent. Again, who the hell am I to judge?
Okay, so there were things I loved and then things I didn’t. Mostly, the things I didn’t love were things I loathe about going to the fair, mall, grocery store, and company picnics: crowds. Of course my two youngest came along, so in order to keep the peace with them a trip to the concession stand was promised, so during the break before my daughter’s band was going on my son and I headed to the concessions to get treats. He also had to use the bathroom so it seemed to be an opportune time to hit the head. After the bathroom we got in line for carnival-like treats. The line for the funnel cakes wasn’t terrible, but some of the people surrounding us were. And let me add that as my son and I made our way through the crowd towards the salvation of fair food and communal urinating the sun was setting in the west, directly in our faces. I couldn’t make out anyone meandering towards me. I could barely make out one step to the next. Ghostly figures appearing in the peripheral but all I could do was keep on walking hoping the person in front of me wouldn’t stop. So yeah, we got our funnel cakes and my son REALLY wanted popcorn so we found our way to yet another line(this one longer and less defined.) After ten minutes of waiting and several “Excuse me” and “Pardon Me, sir”, I turned around to see our band loading the field. I told my son we HAD to go and began booking it back to our seats through a sea of old people, large families, and generally blank-faced idiots moseying along like they were at the mall shopping for slippers.
We stayed at our seats for the remainder of the evening. Our daughter wanted us to take her home instead of riding the bus home with her bandmates. Sure, why not? This saves us from having to drive to the school at 10:30pm to pick her up. Well, there was no real communication on how this would work. There was just a crowd of parents and onlookers ambling along like cattle heading to slaughter in the light of streetlamps. We finally made it to a clearing and found two different parking lots with school buses in them. My wife asked if I wanted to split up and each of us check a parking lot. No way. If we do that someone is bound to get sidetracked or lost or something and we wouldn’t get out till God knows when. I said no and so we headed to the closest parking lot. Success! We found our daughter on the first try. After being asphyxiated by school buses we made our way back to the van, four hours after we parked it and made our way home.
Was it all as bad as I made it sound? No, not really. Well, maybe a little. No, it definitely was bad. But I loved the music and I loved the pomp and circumstance. I love seeing kids coming into their own. I love seeing how it all comes together, music-wise. When they clicked they really clicked. Seeing the show last night made me want to see some drum corp competitions in the future. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like fair food, but I’ll put up with both to support my daughter. I’ll put up with just about anything in order to help my daughter achieve what she wants to achieve.
But next time she’s taking the damn bus home.