Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This one time, at band camp...

The Bexley High School Marching Band, Fall 1979
I opened the door to the screen porch one morning last week and one thought struck me:  band camp.

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.


Jane said...

That video stirred my heart.

Our h.s. marching band was not that good (I was in it), nor did we practice in the summer.

However, we lived near a school on a hill where a really good marching band -- the Star Risers -- practiced in the summer, and I LOVED that sound of falling asleep at night in the summer as a child with the sound of a marching band practicing not too far away, up on the hill and under parking lot lights I couldn't see.

And I played the flute and not trumpet, but I still love that massive, metal sound of the brass section.

Rosemary said...

Jane, I played flute, too! How did I not know that we had that in common before now?

It's the drum cadences that get to me--I hear them and it's all I can do not to go out in the street and join in.

One wonderful side effect of having the band marching up and down the street regularly is that it never fails to bring every kid on the block out of the house. They're always so excited and awestruck by the band...it's a real reminder of the power of music, AND why school music programs need to be funded!

Kristin said...

Good grief! I can't believe you found that picture, much less posted all those memories. Are you and I standing next to each other (next to top row middle) or are you smack dab in the middle section, smiling ear to ear? Did you find Christina in the front row?

Loved your video of them practicing in the street. You were right, the files were awful. Music sounded good though!

You pretty much nailed it on the head (or drum). Yes, I would say we were appropriately hazed, although in all fairness, it could have been worse. I, too, was thrilled when we moved to a different camp. A hot shower and running toilets does a lot for morale!

As far as other memories, ask Christina to post about Ed B. (drum major) performing "Mambo!" She also has a good one about a jar of pickled eggs in a cabin, but it was our senior year and I wasn't there either (quite a few of us went to Texas for a Luther League convention that was scheduled for the same time).

I, on the other hand, LOVED marching band. Concert band was OK and I really liked orchestra too, but I really absolutely loved marching band. Maybe it was the discipline of not being allowed to swat at the fly that was sucking blood out of your arm or wipe the sweat that was creeping down the side of your cheek. Maybe it was marching in the pouring rain on a football field that already had puddles from the players or standing there freezing in the stands during a snowstorm watching the football team win? lose? Maybe it was just the memorization of the music (fight song, alma mater, SSB, diddies, and the show) or the challenge of trying to play and march (with the correct footing) at the same time, even though the music was in some weird time signature, like 5/4 or 12/8. Maybe it was simply the friends we made along the way and have stayed friends these many years later. Regardless, my memories of marching band were of fun, hard work, friends, and a love of music (not necessarily in that order).

Thanks for a great post!

Rosemary said...

Kyer, your comment is way better than my post at capturing the joy and hell of the BHS marching band. Oddly, some of my best memories, too, are of those awful, cold, rainy late-season games. I seem to remember a cheer that ended with everyone yelling "Let's go home!" :)

Christina and I actually had a good laugh about "Mambo!" at the 4th of July parade. Ah, Eddie B.--as Christina said, "Our own Elvis." Gotta hear the pickled eggs story, though.

The MHS marching band is, in fact, really good--they've been in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade a couple of times in the last few years, and according to people I know whose kids play, it's very competitive to get in. Believe it or not, several of the local *middle* schools have very large and very good marching bands, with uniforms and everything! That was a real shock to me when I first went to parades around here.

BTW, did you notice they're playing John Denver's "Country Roads" at the end?

Rosemary said...

Oh, and yes--you and I are standing next to each other in the fifth row center. Scanned the pic from our freshman yearbook.

Kristin said...

I called Christina and said she needed to comment on this post about the pickled eggs and she informed me they were actually pickled "pigs feet!" So hopefullly at some point she will!

Thanks for confirming that you and I standing together near the top. I sort of remember just being there too as it was Schneider's first year and he was being pretty meticulous about the picture. Christina was curious as to why I wasn't nearer to her in the picture and I think they put us by height. We also think she is standing next to Dottie F. because Dottie stayed up all night with Christina to get the peanut butter out of her hair that Steven J. had smeared in it just before or after dinner. We tried to get it out for hours and eventually I wimped out and apologized about needing to go to bed, but I was exhausted beyond belief from what I remember. Dottie stayed with her until it was all gone (I think it took almost all night) and they struck up a friendship because of it. Christina hated peanut butter for years because of that experience!

Kristin said...

I forgot , . . .

Yes, I recognized "Country Roads" in reggae or some island style version. It was a clever arrangement.