|The Bexley High School Marching Band, Fall 1979|
At 6:30 a.m., it was already 74 degrees and humid, and I could hear crickets chirping contentedly. It was the crickets, really, that put me over the edge: I'd forgotten that they were about the only other creatures up and making music so early on an August morning.
Unlike the flute player from American Pie, however, I have very few happy memories of band camp. She obviously went to one of these new-fangled "camps" they have at colleges, where you stay in a dorm, with air conditioning and television.
No, the Bexley High School band camp, at least my freshman year, was about as far at the opposite end of that spectrum as possible: latrines, cold-water-only showers in a cement-block building with no roof, and a hog farm across the road from the practice field, so that when we weren't playing, you could hear the sound of squealing pigs in the distance. All very Lord of the Flies-esque.
I will say that we got a new band director that year who promptly moved the camp to another location, with far less rustic cabins that had indoor plumbing and hot water. Let me tell you, that made our sophomore year at camp seem like a week at the spa, comparatively.
Despite the material improvements, however, the basic routine was still the same: up at 6 for breakfast at 7 to be out on the field by 7:30. Several hours of marching followed by lunch, more marching, section practice, maybe an hour or two off, then dinner, more marching, and whatever "entertainment" was scheduled for the evening.
What really strikes me now is that pretty much all the stuff that constituted "entertainment" would probably fit the legal definition of hazing. The first night of our freshman year we were all, of course, "initiated," which meant performing some kind of humiliating task at the whims of upperclassmen. I somehow managed to fly under the radar and must've been let off easy, since I don't remember (or have blocked out) what I had to do. But my friends Christina and Kristin were given the charming task of cleaning the floor of the dining hall with sanitary pads.
Thursday night, every year, was invariably "kangaroo court" night, where the rising seniors called out everyone else on whatever indiscretions they'd committed during the week: being too mouthy, being too funny, not being funny enough, you name it.
At the camp before my junior year, my friend Jay was "initiated," since somehow he'd managed to miss band camp the first two years of high school and was attending for the first time. He was slathered in shaving cream, and I remember having to lead him to the showers to rinse it all off because he couldn't see. I also have a vivid memory from that year's kangaroo court of another guy in my class, a drummer, being "sentenced" to stand in a trash barrel full of slop--all the food scraps and leftovers from the previous three days.
I quit band at the end of my junior year, and missed the last year of band camp. Crazy, right? Because of course, your last year is when you finally get to be the abuser rather than the abused.
I'd like to say I quit on moral principle, that I didn't want to participate in such a system anymore. But the truth was, I wanted to sing in the show choir the next year, and my senior-year schedule was too full for band.
Living only a block away from Morgantown High School, we're regularly treated to the marching band practicing its parade formation up and down our street. And I have to say, despite my less-than-stellar memories of band camp, my memories of marching band itself are sweet enough that I still get a thrill when I hear the shrill, short blasts of a whistle that indicate the musicians are about to play.
And even 25+ years later, not having to go to band camp makes August mornings like this one--when I can sit on my screen porch with a cup of coffee, listen to the crickets, and know that I can retreat from the heat and humidity whenever I choose--still feel like a luxury.
MHS band on Simpson Street, Fall 2010. "Watch your files," indeed! Those lines are pretty sloppy.