My two teenagers have developed musical skills that neither their father nor myself ever possessed. They both participate in marching band, and have since middle school. I did not quite understand what this meant when my kids first got involved. Most of their friends played in the band and -- like the best student organizations — the after school commitment provided my kids with both a social life and valuable musical instruction.
By high school, though, the time commitment for band has changed rather dramatically. Nick and Katie play in a competitive marching band, which means they practice as much as the football team and perform even more--not only at halftime on Friday nights, but also competing in full day tournaments around the state. When my kids aren’t competing on the weekends, they often have rehearsals to put those final touches on their complex, choreographed musical productions.
I have made a point of being in town this year during some of these competitions. I went to one recently in Florida where my kids’ marching band competed against one of the top national high school marching bands in the country. I sat in the packed stands, surrounded by whooping band parents, a bit dumbfounded as teenagers marched, glided and rolled with their instruments in complex patterns across the field. I felt like I was at a Broadway musical—the outdoor, military version.
My daughter, Katie, plays the trombone (proudly surrounded by boys) and Nick plays the mellophone, or the marching French horn (which I had never heard of before…). This fall the band is performing “Epic,” a show that features giant papier-mache columns, Perseus -- complete with toga and sword for removing Medusa’s head of snakes—and a colorguard, who dance and swivel flags and rifles likes batons. My teen’s obsession with “Glee” and OK Go videos was starting to make more sense.
As band has become more time-consuming and Nick’s grades have dropped, his father and I debated over whether to withdraw our son from a time commitment that he may not be quite prepared to handle yet. Nick lost other privileges, but we decided not to remove the band. After talking with him we recognized that even if Nick wasn’t able to make all A's and B's, that the band was teaching him qualities of a different sort that may be just as important -- collaboration, discipline, timing and delivery.
Now if only our politicians could take a few marching band lessons…