10 Ways Marching Band Prepared Us for Life
It might seem strange for a woman in her forties to write about marching band but … Well, I won’t lie. It IS kind of strange but I don’t care. This site is called “Eccentric Randomness” for a reason! The catalyst for this happened while I was driving home and it grew from there.
What started this post was the realization that during rush-hour traffic, the on/off ramp is very similar to a marching band crossover maneuver (don’t lynch me – that may not be the right name but it’s what I always thought it was called). Essentially there are two lines of marchers that are crossing paths – one goes from the left, then one from the right, back and forth, sometimes scary fast with a perceived danger of collision. (For those of you in the KC area, you may know the 69 Highway to 435 West interchange is a series of FIVE such quick exchanges in a one mile span so I’ve become very adept at the crossover.)
This realization made me wonder, “Do marching band people do the on/off ramp exchange better than people who didn’t march? Do they understand the pattern and the give/take of it all better because they’ve done it with their own bodies?”. The way my brain works, this of course led to other things I learned in marching band that have helped me throughout my adult life. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Company Front, Horns Up
Oh, what a beautiful maneuver! Line up the whole band from end zone to end zone and march forward altogether as one to a strong, powerful piece of music and watch the crowd go wild. This is what happens in real life when everyone works together to create an amazing outcome. Consider when a team comes together to win a game or a company builds a never-before-seen product or when an organization raises double the funds needed in a fundraising effort. When everyone works together in harmony toward a common goal the results can be positively spine tingling! (check out the first closer in the video below – Santa Clara Vanguard performing “Phantom of the Opera”)
2. Don’t Play Down
If you’ve ever held a musical instrument, you know it’s usually not too heavy (unless you’re maybe in the drumline or a sousaphone player). But carrying any instrument for an entire show or for hours during a practice and suddenly you can feel like you’re carrying a 10-ton weight. Brass players in particular can’t give in to the weight or we “play to the ants” (as one of my more colorful directors put it). And playing down was rarely a good thing. So, hold your head and your horn high, and give it all you’ve got. It’ll be over soon.
3. The Big Picture
When learning a new show, we would typically map out a few formations and march the path over and over until we got it. Then we’d add a few more. Then a few more until the whole show was mapped and memorized and marchable. And we were so busy learning our own individual or small group parts that we didn’t have time to think about what the big pictures were. Only the director and field commanders really knew what it should look like. Life is like that as well – if we focus on what we need to do as individuals and not worry about everyone else, the big picture will create itself…and be beautiful.
4. You’ll Never Be the Best
In high school there was a guy who was always – ALWAYS – the chair above me. Always. Never practiced, never made notes in his music but he played that horn as if it was just an extension of his lips and hands. I practiced, I worked hard and I could never, ever, beat him in a challenge. He was, without a doubt, a “natural talent”. But that didn’t keep me from trying! Every couple of months I’d challenge him; I’d tell the director I’d gotten better and want to take him on. And I would fail. But I never gave up. In life, this is even more true. There will always be someone better than me at something. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying, that I don’t keep learning, that I give up. Because one day, I will win that chair…or at least I’ll help make the band sound better as I improve.
5. Up, Back, Down
Do this for me: Sit or stand up tall. Lift your chin. Now lift your shoulders UP toward your ear, push them BACK (pushes your chest out), then lower them DOWN. Feel the difference in your posture? Do you notice you can breathe easier? This is a great power stance! It will lift you up, allow more oxygen into your lungs and make you look (and therefore eventually feel) prouder. When you’re feeling down or feel yourself slumping over just do a little “Up. Back. Down.” You’ll raise yourself up physically…and emotionally!
6. Even Piccolos Have a Purpose
Let me explain. As a big horn player I was never a fan of anything smaller than an alto sax; this included clarinets, flutes and piccolos…and sometimes trumpets. I thought these instruments had no purpose in a large-scale production with big music that had to reach the nosebleed section of the stands. That is, I thought they had no purpose until I learned about a little-known composer by the name of John Philip Sousa and a little song of his called “Stars and Stripes Forever”. And…wow.
How does this translate to real life? The music works when all parts are fully present and working together. And even the smallest instrument can make a huge impact when given the right part at the right time.
7. Blend, Don’t Blast
Oh the mighty might sound of a trombone! One of us can outplay an entire section of flutes or clarinets. Put a dozen of us up against an entire band and you might be hard pressed to pick which side played louder. But being in a band isn’t about sticking out; it’s about blending. Watching a bit of “Drumline” tonight summed it up best, “One Band. One Sound.” This is true for your job as well. Unless you’re being called on to give a solo presentation or you have a one-person business, you probably didn’t do anything alone. Work as a unit within a team, even if you’re the leader, and give credit where credit is due.
8. Trombone Suicides
There is a special maneuver just for boneheads called Trombone Suicides. I’m not even going to try to explain them, just watch…
There’s a lot of memorization of the pattern, practice practice practice, and most of all … TRUST! You not only have to do your part right, you have to believe that everyone else will do theirs. There’s no real fear of death, per se, (except maybe to the horn) but one false move and everyone could get hurt. But when it’s done right it turns out that sometimes what initially scares us can actually be fun!
9. The Director is Always Right…Even When They’re Wrong
There’s a reason the director is the director. Somehow, they earned that position. And they lead. And when someone leads you must follow. Because you must learn to follow before you can lead. Occasionally you can question – confirm your place, your part, the overall timing or a questionable instruction. But in the end, they are the leader and even if they direct it wrong or they pick the wrong tempo or tell an entire group to go the wrong way, you listen. And when they realize their mistake, you continue to follow. And maybe you shake your head and laugh at the whole situation but you still follow.
10. Soak it in…cuz we’re all THAT Sousaphone
Almost any fan of sports or marching bands knows the self-proclaimed “Best Damn Band in the Land”, aka, THE Ohio State University Marching Band. (Although personally I believe the Miami University of Ohio has TBDBITL!!) And if you know the band then you probably know they do a nice little maneuver called the “Script Ohio” and one lucky sousaphone player is chosen to prance his way out and dot the i with a flourish and a bow and a spin and another bow.
In the video below the sousaphone player sums up his feelings at the very start, “Today is just going to be an absolute thrill for me. I’m going to go out there and strut to the top of the ‘i’. I don’t know what’s going to be running through my head…I’m just gonna try to soak it all in…I’m just gonna soak it all in.”
And really, that’s what this life is all about, right? Regardless of anything else, we need to embrace the moment, enjoy the thrill and just soak it all in.
XO – T.
PS. If you were a band geek like me, I’d love to know your thoughts and what you took away from marching band (and maybe from band camp…)