Actually, I mostly hate parades.

Fair warning: I have about 300 million posts in my head, that have been piling up for months and (actually) years, and which I will now be spewing at you in no order whatsoever.

For instance.

A couple days ago I was thinking about how my "About Me" page is a little outdated and how I might go about updating it and maybe I should wait for my magical sparkly redesign and then I got distracted when I came across this lovely photo of myself. Which I love for many reasons:

I use "love" loosely.

As I've mentioned before, I was in the marching band in high school. I took my involvement in marching band excruciatingly seriously, such that I wanted to be Drum Major very, very badly. I suppose I thought if I was going to DO THIS THING, I was going to DO THIS THING RIGHT. So I practiced and auditioned three years in a row, and finally, FINALLY, I was selected for my senior year.

Meaning that yes. My senior year of high school -- while other, cooler kids might be playing "sports" or launching their "rock" bands or going to "parties" -- I was busy being Head Band Geek.

No hiding in the shadows under a plastic-brimmed hat with giant red plumes (yes; plumes. As in feathers.) for me, where maybe possibly no one would notice or see me and thus years later I could ostensibly deny having had any dealings with band at all. Noooooooo.

I wanted the role where I was out in front. No hat. No plume. Instead of a blue uniform, mine was WHITE. (Because nothing says HOT CHICK like a giant, stiff, white poly-wool-blend BAND UNIFORM that instead of contouring to my actually-not-too-shabby body, jutted out from my boobs and just, uh, stayed there.)

During band competitions we even had our own Drum Major judges with Drum Major scores, and--

Wait. Yes. 

Yes, also. Marching band competitions. Did you know that they exist? And that they are mostly the WHOLE REASON people are in marching band? Did you know that playing at football games is just ancillary and totally NOT a marching band priority? Even though that's the only time or place anyone who isn't IN marching band ever sees a marching band?

Except, of course, for parades. Which I will get to.

But marching band competitions are a big deal (to people in band, I mean. Well, and to the band instructors, who, as grown-ups STILL involved with marching band, are a whole special kind of Band Geek species). The competitions have levels and divisions and allllll kinds of important rules and regulations and there are multiple tiers of judges and each competition has a big awards ceremony and drama and crying and long bus trips.

While the regular marching season comes with its own on-school-property band camp -- which would be reason enough for a normal high school student to never be in band -- the summer before my season as drum major? I got to go to a three-day Drum Major Camp in the middle of a field in the middle of the summer in the middle of Pennsylvania. I had the three worst days of my life there, ever, EVER.

I WENT TO THIS CAMP WILLINGLY (which is still around today, apparently, even though the beloved George N. Parks died of a heart attack last year):

Ohmygod LOOK how seriously these kids are taking themselves.
I was just. Like. This. As though training for the Olympics. Of Lame.

Imagine three days of standing around, alternately at attention and waving your arms frantically for non-existent marching bands, trying to out-perform the Top Band Geeks from all over the entire Northeast. TORTURE.

Anyway. ANYWAY.

Probably you didn't know or care that it was a big deal to be a drum major, or that there was something in the world called "drum major academy" or that there were band competitions where we were judged or any of that. Probably you just knew that sometimes marching bands play at football games and sometimes they perform in parades.

But here's the thing: I don't really "get" parades, not even when I was in them. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is fun to watch because it's hilariously ridiculous, and has lots of pretty people and fun songs and Broadway numbers and floats that are feats of engineering and it makes a lot of happy noise while you're trying to get the turkey in the oven. If you can tune out Al Roker.

But local parades aren't quite as fabulous as the multi-million dollar spectacle that is the Macy's parade. My experience has been that local parades feature the people you see in the grocery store, except instead of picking out boxes of fish sticks from the freezer aisle, they are walking by you in some semblance of a "formation" next to people wearing matching hats.

And yet, every year, we got ("got") to perform in TWO different town's Memorial Day parades, as though this were the exciting culmination of our year's worth of marching band practices.  We were to march proudly, perfectly, as though representing our country? maybe? and playing something and being very patriotic. It mostly meant that we had to get up at the crack of dawn to wear heavy, lined polyester/wool-blend uniforms to stand in the sun and march around for blocks and blocks in gross humidity.

I'm not even kidding when I say that Band Parents would follow us and spray us with water, and then have to cart off the kids who passed out. And then applaud for us when we'd actually play something.

It's just that in hindsight, absolutely none of this makes any sense to me at all.

So I guess all of this is to say: I love this picture. Because I look like I am taking my role VERY SERIOUSLY (because, as I said above, I was) and looking not unlike a band-striped marshmallow.  But not only that, LOOK AT EVERYONE ON THE SIDELINES. Do they look suitably impressed? Astounded at our musicality? Do they look like we are inspiring patriotism?

I'd just like to point out --

A. There's like a GOOD 3-to-5 inches of space between my waist and where the front of my jacket is hanging.

B. This man has a doofy mustache and is wearing shorts with white socks pulled up to his knees. HE looks like he's enjoying the marching band. You know why? It is 90% likely that it's because he was IN marching band. And still misses it.

C. Aside from my first "wow, strollers have come a long way" thought, boy does this father seem pissed off. Look, dude. It's not your baby's fault you're standing in 91-degree heat with 92% humidity.

D. I just circled her because of her amazing outfit.


  1. Oh, my marching band heart feels this post. I not only marched in high school, I also marched in college, did drum corps & taught for several years. To be fair, I was in the colorguard--you know, the dance teams geekier sibling--but still. The amount of polyester I wore in those years would frighten even a disco fan.

  2. I was in band, too, one of those rare species known as the female trumpet player. We had quite a little sisterhood, there.

  3. Another lurking band nerd here. My high school didn't march but I did spend my very own money to go to band camp for a week each summer!! and every year we had a jazz band trip somewhere for a competition. Then my music scholarship to my very tiny little state university of nowhere with a music program that was mostly subpar to my high school program required that I march. It. Was. Humiliating. Especially the feather in the hat and the pants that were never long enough.
    Which leads to my biggest college regret - when I transferred to a larger university with a much better music program I chose not to be in marching band. But both of my brothers marched and loved it. So I feel bad I missed that experience. Totally nerdy to envy the band geeks.
    Welcome back, by the way!

  4. Ginger - you are a hearty soul. Did you think it was SO IMPORTANT then? Because I certainly did.

    Pamela - my sister (who also went on to be drum major...) ALSO is/was a female trumpet player! Yay you!

  5. Oh my gosh!!! I am laughing so hard tears are streaming down my face! I wasn't a band geek, I was in the color guard - rifles (WOOT!) We were SO HAWT with our 80's permed hair 3 tons of blue eyeshadow, eyeliner AND blue mascara...plus, the cute ourfits which were much nicer than the bands. I was in love (LOVE I TELL YOU) with the drum major, come to think of it, he was my first real kiss (le sigh)...oh good times!

    Thanks for bringing back some fun memories and making us laugh!

  6. Our band competed in at least 3 pageants a year (and usually took first place in the marching competition), and hosted a fourth. Yep. The Pageant of Bands.

    I still remember the year we did the Star Wars theme - our drum major was "attacked" by "Darth Vader" in front of the judges' stand. . . and there were streamers.

    We were hard core. AND we had plumes.

  7. I do know the importance of the drum major as my best friend made one in her Senior year also and thought she was AWESOME. Of course I cheered her on as a best friend should but I secretly thought she was kind of a geek =)

  8. I was in band, too. So certainly aware of the competitions.

    Did you not realize that there are a lot of ex-"band nerds" out there reading your blog. You insult us with the assumption that we don't know about such things.

    Not to mention the fact that there have been mainstream movies about such events.

    Funny post. Good to see you back! :)

  9. Another ex-band nerd here - marched all the way through my Senior year in college (another colorguard member here, played Bass Clarinet in concert band). So true about the competitions. We'd chant, "Go band, take State!" Mostly in jest, though - we were pretty good about laughing at ourselves...

    The great thing about sticking with it in college is if you go to a school with a good enough football team, you get in free to all the games and sometimes get to travel. Best trip: Sunbowl - TCU vs. USC. Go Frogs!

  10. Ack! Another ex-band geek here. I was totally a Drum Major my Senior year--actually went to George N Parks training,too! (EYES: WITH PRIDE!) In PA, no less, so we might have been tortured on the same campus. Oh my goodness, this made my night.

  11. Wait, wait. So EVERYONE commenting here was in marching band? Except Nik-Nak who was just a good friend? BWAHAHAHAHA.

    And SusieQ: Um, seriously? That's kind of terrifying. I was at the Lafayette campus in the summer of '92. You?


  12. Also a marching band nerd! Drum major as a senior, too, and took it quite seriously. AND?! Female trumpet player. We MB geeks have the blogging world cornered.

    Our costumes were terrible polyester, too, in some sort of "space cowboy" theme. White pants up to my boobs, plastic cowboy hat with a black plume and white plastic shoes. I shudder in hindsight.

  13. Let me be the first non-band geek to comment. I loved this post because I learned about a whole world I was previously oblivious to. Also, whether or not it was band related, most teenagers take themselves too seriously anyhow. I'm so glad you've made peace with your past enough to post abou it. But the real question is: what do drum majors actually do? I re-read the post and I still don't know.

  14. Kristy: Sadly, I was Summer of '04, so I'm a few rounds of very serious drum major trainees behind you. But I think the essentials of the experience remained pretty much the same: serious lectures about the seriousness of being a drum major, completely un-ironic drill competitions, and directing until you can't move your arms. And we competed for the privilege...Good Times!

  15. Another band geek here. We also did two hometown parades a year. We just always prayed that we were in front of the Shriner clowns rather than behind them. It took twice as long to get through the parade if you were behind them.

  16. My kid is in marching band and it's actually a "COOL" thing these days. For real! Well.. by that I mean all I know is that the band kids don't get picked on, and they are well received by their non-musical peers.

    But they don't call it marching band any more, at least not in these parts. They call it show band. I think because they do all these fancy choreographed 'shows' all season during halftime and for competitions. They even use props. Is that the same thing as what you did in the past?

    They compete up and down the west coast, travel ... they even get PE credit like athletes in sports, since they spend so much time on the physical aspects.

    And then there's the color guard (all the kids with flags running through all the band when they are on the field). My kid's school has a couple of very out of the closet gay kids on color guard and I've never seen a group of kids so willing to accept these guys. They do all these fancy things that can make or break their scores during competitions and it's truly neat to see an entire group count on them, support them, cheer them on when they do well. I sort of feel like those guys might be lost if they didn't find a group like this that not just accepted them, but counted on them as an intrinsic part of their group.

    Sometimes they practice so much in the Summer and Fall, I wonder if some child labor laws are being violated. Daily 8 hour practice sessions and such, it's crazy! So I guess I get your point about taking it seriously, and I know you mean it in jest, sort of.

    But high school (when you're going through it) is serious business. One doesn't know that there is a much bigger world out there beyond highschool and both horrible and truly wonderful things will happen which will put one's worries about grades and such into perspective.

    Sorry for writing a book on here. I hope I haven't offended or upset anyone, my apologies if I did. I know that when your children grow older and if they decide to be in the band, you'll be right there on the sidelines with the rest of us. Spraying water or not. ;)

  17. Amy - SO GLAD YOU ASKED. We, along with the band teacher and drill instructors (there are "drill instructors") teach band members how to march. And we yell commands at them. And we stand in front and salute a lot. And then we lead the band onto the field and stand on giant podiums and conduct the music in the competitions. You might have to watch a band competition video on YouTube to get it. Or, um, don't.

    SusieQ - I'm still astounded that the world is small enough that you and I went to the same DRUM MAJOR ACADEMY. I mean, really.

    Stacey - And don't forget the horses. No one ever wanted to be behind the policemen on horses.

    gbee - It sounds like your kid has the kind of band experience I *wanted* to have and tried to create, but that just absolutely did not happen. Of course I will be there on the sidelines if/when my kids are interested in this (or whatever), but, well. Mostly I just think back about how much time and energy I put into it -- as you say, HOURS and HOURS -- and while I appreciate the structure it gave me, my time could have been better spent in pursuit of many, many other things. In hindsight, the ROI just wasn't there. :)

  18. My favorite part of the picture is the kid with the Shred Heads t-shirt.

    Never mind - I just looked again and exhibit B's shorts are to die for.

  19. I was an alto sax player in HS marching band. We went all the way from central Oregon to Washington, DC to march in the Independence Day Parade in 1983. That took a LOT of car washes.

    As an adult, I missed parades so much that a few years ago I joined Portland, Oregon's One More Time Around Again Marching Band which is some 500+ members strong and the official band of the Rose Festival. I only marched for one season, but it was awesome. If rehearsals weren't 40 minutes from my house, I'd still be doing it.

  20. is that... a cape? and...a skirt?

    i'm so confused by your very awesome uniform.

    (and loving this very awesome post.)

  21. I was in color guard and rifles; we wore outfits very similar to your drum major outfit, but with cowboy(girl?) hats and boots... because it was Colorado, duh. My all-time worst ever parade experience was when the Broncos lost the Super Bowl in 1987 and we had to march in their homecoming parade, and people on the streets kept yelling at us to smile. Which, as you know, one does not do in marching band. Oh, and then I got a really heinous blister from my cowboy(girl?) boots, and I still have a scar from it to this day.

    Good times.

  22. Oh lord. I was a banner-whore, and I SO wanted to be a flag whore, it wasn't even funny. I voluntarily woke up at 4 am two weekends a month for two frickin' years, spending my Saturdays marching in parades, just hoping to carry a flag some sweet day.

    I never made it, and 20 years later, when drunk, am slightly bitter about it. I personally think it's sort of awesome you made drum major. In a geekily-ironic sort of way.

  23. I was not in marching band and I have to admit in college we - the engineering and sciencey nerds - made fun of the band geeks. A few years ago I dated a former band nerd and will never forget when I learned of band competitions. I was absolutely amazed that they travel all over and compete with other bands. He still watched some kind of national competition on television - he might still be a nerd.

    I'm currently dating another band nerd who tried to tell me that at his highschool the band folks were cool. Um, I've talked to others from that school and era; they weren't cool but I'd never tell him because I love him and his delusions. Not getting picked on and being cool are not the same thing.

  24. One last band geek/drum major/George Parks DM Camp attendee here, but I think I have y'all trumped as I went in the summery of 1979! I flung a mace like nobody's biz, even though our band didn't use a mace.

    Did drum corps and college marching band too - mellophones for the win!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts