Passion. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Ok …yes, there’s THAT … but today I’m talking about a totally different type of feverish excitement about something. Not surprisingly, Webster lists 5 different definitions for the word “passion”. For the purposes of this particular article, however, I’m referring to “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept”. Recently, in one of my many moments of introspection, I asked myself just exactly what things in this life of mine am I truly passionate about? I wasn’t looking for things I like or have a passing interest in — that list would be a mile long. My search was for something that catches more of my attention and evokes much more emotion than say, cherry cordial ice cream. Oh don’t get me wrong, on the rare occasions I violate my “no-dairy” policy for that lucious sweet treat, I’m feeling pretty passionate and emotional …. although not half as much as I do an hour or so later! No, what I came up with are things that go much deeper into my soul and live very close to my heart. I will share these in a series, hence, “Part 1” in my title. Today’s passion: Music, specifically marching bands.
There is nothing on this planet that gets my blood pumping and all my senses on high alert quite like a good marching band. I take that back……finding a giant wolf spider in my pile of towels and a snake above me on my patio also did a pretty good job of that! But…I digress.. I am so NOT kidding when I tell you that it is often a “caffeine stunt double” for me. Yep … you heard me. I can no longer do coffee, sadly, so for those mornings when my tail is dragging slower than molasses in January, if I take my fantastically powerful bluetooth speaker into the bathroom and crank out some of my favorite marching band tunes while I’m in the shower, I am seriously just as jacked as I would be with two cups of Joe … minus the jitters!
My love affair with marching bands started when I was a child. My parents put me in majorette lessons when I was in 4th or 5th grade. Of course, as you know, majorettes don’t just bebop down the street twirling their batons sans music. No, they are part of a band … a marching band. Now back in my day, there was THE high school band and the 7th & 8th grade – junior high- band, when it came to bands that marched in local parades and such. I did the ‘twirling’ gig with several other girls for a year or two but it really didn’t do a lot for me. What DID set my pants on fire, though, was being up close and personal with the band … especially the percussion section. The booming bass and the precision and ‘snap’ of those snare drums and the seemingly effortless “machismo” of the male drummers just made me feel alive like nothing else. I can still remember vividly, marching a few rows behind Patty (Wendling) Shannon, her dark braids swaying, and thinking how very cool she looked playing her snare….and how cool it would be to do the same myself. Also, unbeknownst to anyone on the planet up to this very moment, I had a secret schoolgirl crush on Danny Robinson because he too seemed to master that wonderful instrument with a self-assured cockiness that caught the eye of my shy, mild-mannered self. At this point, they were in the high school band and I wasn’t even in the junior high band quite yet. But the spark landed and lit and the flame has only grown brighter over the years.
Once kids get into high school, they often fall into a particular group or ‘clique’ … you know, the “hoods”, as we called them, the “jocks”, the “popular” kids; usually composed of the jocks and cheerleaders, the “academic or smart” kids, the band geeks, etc. etc. I was a ‘combo’ kid … I ‘rode the fence’ between groups because I was very academic, placing 9th out of 135 in the GPA standings but I was not outgoing and did not possess the financial resources or wardrobe of the “popular kids”. The group I did fit into, however, lock stock & barrel, was the “band geeks” and that is where I “lived” throughout high school.
I have so many fond memories of marching out onto a football field to the rhythm of our drum cadence in the crisp fall air and feeling such excitement and pride as the crowd cheered enthusiastically after each song we performed. Similarly, there is nothing quite like being all ‘duded’ up in your uniform and marching in a parade. It’s exhilarating!
The very pinnacle of my “band life” came in 1978 when I was heading into my senior year. I was honored to be chosen to be in the 300 member All-Ohio State Fair Band. This was a rather elite band composed of high school students from all over the state of Ohio and directed by Mr. Omar Blackman from Cleveland, who kindly and masterfully directed this band for 28 years. We lived in dorms on the fairgrounds for 18 days during the Ohio State Fair. Having only been away from home to church camp once in my young life heretofore, this was quite the experience for me, especially being the introvert that I was back then. We slept in bunk beds in a building without air-conditioning or fans … in August. We practiced and practiced. We made new friends…and practiced some more. But, oh was all that practicing SO worth it! We sounded magnificent by the time the fair started! We were each issued 2 red, white & blue polyester knit jumpsuits plus a red scarf for around our sweaty necks. Let me tell you, those #$!* jumpsuits were hotter than Hades out there marching around the fairgrounds under the August sun! We performed all over the grounds, ‘schlepping’ our instrument in one hand and our chair in the other. The crowds loved us .. and we loved THAT. For me, personally, though, nothing prior to nor after — in my musical life that is — could begin to compare to our nightly performance in the coliseum. Oh the crowds went wild! Just imagine the commanding sound of a 300 piece band in the enclosed coliseum as they perform a multitude of different pieces but always ending with our beautiful national anthem. But, for me, the “top shelf” event of each and every day and for the entire duration of that experience was our march OUT of the coliseum as we made our way back to the dorms. We played the “National Emblem March” and to this very day, 40 years later, I can vividly picture in my mind how we sounded and how it felt to march out to such a mighty and powerful song. I was fortunate to be just in front of our very impressive row of 22 tubas and remember precisely where I was each night when the magnificent tuba part arrived in that song. People clapped and cheered as we marched by. Oh … the exhilaration of that moment repeats itself each and every time I hear that song to this very day!
As high school was drawing to a close, I had set my sights on the nursing program at Ohio State as well as on “The Best Dam Band In The Land” or TBDBITL, as they are affectionately known. Despite them being an all-brass band and me playing a very non-brass clarinet, I still had every hope of becoming a member. So much so that my parents even purchased a used trumpet so that I could somehow learn how to play it in order to fulfill my greatest desire at that point in my young life. However, it was not meant to be. My studies and nursing clinicals turned out to be so completely time-consuming that there just wasn’t any ‘wiggle-room’ left for the time commitment required of the band members, not to mention somehow also squeezing in trumpet lessons. Oh, the heartbreak of reality. The painful first of many.
And so I evolved into more of a ‘spectator of music rather than a participant and performer. Being a spectator, however, can have a lot of perks though too. Imagine my supreme pleasure at watching my one and only child, Rachel, become the Field Commander for the high school band. I got to ‘relive’ my band days as her dad and I became very active band parents and went to every single game for 4 years. We watched our petite little “dynamo”, dressed in her cute sequined outfit, with great pride as she led the band with more heart and spunk than we could have ever imagined. What a wonderful experience for all of us as a family.
I may not be in a band anymore but I still LOVE music in almost all its’ forms. I still love to play the piano now and then, for my own enjoyment, and have hopes of someday becoming ‘fluent’ in harmonica. But nothing comes close to the thrill of being in a marching band or watching a good one in person. About that singular pleasure, I am truly and extremely passionate.