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Monday, February 4, 2008

Genesis

(originally posted at the Halftime Magazine Community, 7/6/2007)

Story of a Band Dork

Yes, I said it--band dork. It's a badge I now wear proudly. But that wasn't always the case.

Let's start back from the first time I picked up an instrument, save for the "flutophone" recorder in elementary school. When the option became available in 3rd grade, my mom rented me a violin , and from there it was off to learn to play via the Suzuki method. That lasted all of a few weeks until I decided to quit.

My next opportunity came in 5th grade, when opportunities arose to join the band. My choices were limited; my family owned a trumpet, so that's what I decided to play. I played trumpet my entire 5th grade year in the band program, but that wasn't for me either.

In the 6th grade, I switched again (came to my senses, I'd say now) and decided to become a drummer. I attended a performing arts middle school and spend my first year as an instrumental music minor, learning to play the drums via the Yamaha books that I'm sure many of us used. By the 7th grade, I dropped my instrumental music minor (and vocal music major) for one reason only--with the drama major and dance minor I picked up, I could participate in those two activities and remain in the school's band and choir, giving myself the best of all worlds.

Fast forward to high school--I skipped freshman band; it didn't fit into my schedule that year and besides, as a freshman drummer, it was highly doubtful I'd ever march anyway. I watched the band from afar, and could often be heard rapping our parade cadence (or what I had gathered of it just based on hearing it) on desktops in class. I was a band wannabe, but more importantly, I was a band gonnabe.

In the summer of 1996, prior to my sophomore year in high school, I first embarked on a journey unlike any other, one that would change my life and ultimately help shape the person I am. I showed up on the first day of band camp for the Alexis I. duPont High School Tiger Marching Band.

I honestly don't remember what was said that day, but I could probably guess--the same things are told to us (and yes, over a decade has passed since my first day of band camp, but I will always be a member of the Tiger Marching Band) during each band camp. i'm sure we marked or sight-read our way through some piece of music, Mr. Parets--a band director, mentor, coach, and friend in the mold of Knute Rockne, Joe Paterno, Bear Bryant, and al of the greats--told us that we sounded like ???, and told us that it would take a lot of work to achieve excellence. I'll bet he pointed to the trophies that are shoved into virtually ever nook and cranny of the band room and reminded us that those were bands past--this year would be a new band, and entity that would exist for this one year and never again, and trophies be damned, we had our own legacy to create and could not rest on our laurels. And I know he referenced the sign that is hung above the band room door, and has been for Lord only knows how long. It reads: "We have one and only one ambition--to be the best. What else is there?"

What that sign meant, and continues to mean today, is that we would never strive for second best. We would be reminded throughout the year that "they" were gunning for us because we were on top. They wanted nothing more than to bring us down. And if we slacked for a moment, they would succeed.

I would learn that we were unlike any other band in our county. Where other bands would roll their feet, we would lift our legs high. While other bands were at TOB competitions, we were supporting our football team (who, with all due respect, needed it). While they were playing Shostakovich, we were playing Kool and the Gang. And while they were pleasing judges, we were pleasing crowds. It was explained to us that football games are watched by people who drink beer and eat pretzels; our entertainment should be planned accordingly.

During that summer's band camp and throughout the next three years in the band, I'd be inculcated into a tradition unlike any other. I'd become a member, and later a leader, drum captain, and president of a truly student-run organization. I'd select music, choreograph movements, and march in the Orange Bowl, the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, and the Granddaddy of 'em All, the Tournament of Roses Parade.

But like all members, I would start at the bottom. As a drummer, I began my sophomore year playing cymbals. At the end of the year, I auditioned for drum major (the selected candidate serves as assistant drum major as a junior and risen to drum major as a senior) after having spent a year practically idolizing the drum major at the time. I didn't make it, but I was determined to become a major drummer.

I auditioned in the next year's band camp for a position on snare drum. I affectionately refer to the class ahead of mine as the "God Squad", so with so many talented seniors, I didn't get a snare drum. I was offered a bass but opted instead to remain on cymbals as a squad leader. In that year, I'd transform the cymbal line from merely the bottom of the percussion totem pole into a combo musical and visual ensemble who'd get our groove on front and center during that year's production piece, Cantina Band a la Sing Sing Sing.

That spring, I was nominated and ran for President of Bands. As a candidate, I'm not privy to the discussion that got me elected, but I'd imagine it had something to do with the leadership I was able to exhibit leading the cymbal line. I marched multiples (tris and quads) my senior year and ultimately won the John Philip Sousa award that year.

And yes, despite being strongly dedicated to the band, i didn't realize how much it was a part of me. For starters, I had no concept of the term "band nerd." at AI, where the band comprised nearly a quarter of the student body, boasted more trophies and travel in any one year than most of our sports teams could boast altogether, and 75% of our marching band were varsity athletes, the term didn't really exist. So when my name was on the ballot for Senior Superlatives as Biggest Band Nerd, I begged people not to vote for me. After all, I was no nerd!

I graduated in 1999, and as what was one of my final marching hurrahs, I participated in Blue-Gold All-Star Band, an organization put together to perform at the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game, a fundraiser that benefited children with mental disabilities. Members of the band were from all over the state of Delaware, and I shared a drumline with drummers from several corps style bands. It was at one of the drum line gatherings that I really encountered DCI for the first time. My friend EC and I were astonished when the tapes came out--these guys knew corps, and shows, and years, like someone would classic tapes of their favorite sports team's heyday. And yet, it wasn't until much later that it would resurface.

If i had known how big of a band dork I was when selecting a college, probably would have never attended my alma mater. I loved my time at UMBC, but it had no football team, and thus no marching band. I did perform with the pep band, whose primary venue was basketball games. I did share that experience with lots of folks, including several other drummers, one of whom had marched Jersey Surf back in the day. I was proud, and still am, to be what was at the time the baddest pep band(and probably the top fan section) in all of the Northeast Conference, our athletic conference at the time. We had a helluva lot of fun and got to travel each year to conference tournaments. But eventually, I realized the marching bug was still in me, and i was pleased that in the summer before my senior year, I was given the go-ahead by the athletic department to purchase a battery of field drums; at the time, three snares, a bass drum, a set of quads and a pair of cymbals. It was with these instruments that the pep band became mobile for the first time, marching in the 2002 homecoming parade. The field drums would become a mainstay in the pep band still used as auxiliary instruments to this day. The end of that school year would also bring on the inception of the Dog Pound Drumline, put together of members of the pep band, who would play at FunkFest, an end-of-year celebration put on by several of the black student organizations and leaders. That was the sole performance of that line in that configuration.

Following undergrad, it was down to the University of South Florida for grad school. This time it was so close I could taste it--USF was home to the Herd of Thunder Marching Band, but unfortunately with my busy grad school schedule and assistantship, there was no way I could march. I became both a fan and a critic of the band--the group was relatively young and small (4 years in existence when I began at USF, and less than 200 members as compared to my high school band, which at its height was 285) and represented the corps style world, one of which I was not a fan, having been "raised" in the traditional style. Still, the HOT was good at what they did, and I attended many of their performances, even attempting, to no avail, to get a practicum working with the group.

While in Tampa, I also made a trip east to Orlando on what was essentially a whim (likely fueled by my band absence, which at that point was approaching 5 years) to attend a DCI show. I was hooked. I began learning more about DCI, and my enthusiasm was shared by a student of mine who marched in high school and had marched with the HOT as well. The summer following my grad school graduation, I attended a show in Orlando with friends and another in Charlotte after having moved to North Carolina. I since have been to Carolina Crown's NightBEAT for the past two years, volunteering last year, and will attend again next weekend. I've also attended CrownBEAT, another Carolina Crown event.

Which brings us to the present day--I remain a band dork without a band. I still attend battles of the bands whenever possible, as well as DCI shows, parades, and other performances. I keep up on various marching organizations online. i read DCI Today and updates on DCI.com. I'm a member of the5thquarter.com, various marching-related LiveJournal communities, facebook groups, and of course am a subscriber and now member of Halftime magazine. I'm the creator of Wikipedia's Marching Band project and a frequent contributor. And I continue to make plans that somehow, someway, I'll be back in the world of marching. But in the meantime, it just remains obsession. After all, old band dorks don't die; they just leave after halftime.


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