Marching Band Season

Band is a cult.

From late night IRC discussions learning about UMass's band to first hand knowledge of Georgia Tech band, I cannot deny it. There are few more widespread, close-knit, cult-like organizations than band. It brings together people of all sorts: rich and poor, religious and atheist, outgoing and introverted, and regardless of politics. It crosses even more divisive lines; Michigan and Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas, even our beloved Georgia Tech and hated University of Georgia. There is a tremendous respect and camaraderie between band members. Hell, the GT and UGA marching band front ensembles have shared keyboards to ease the burden of traveling with large equipment simply because we respect and trust each other despite the 100 year old hatred between our institutions.

I like to think that the GT marching band has the best traditions. I mean, who doesn't like scattering across the stadium after every game, win or lose? But every band has their own thing, their own tradition that is uniquely theirs. OSU has dotting the 'i', even if cameramen get in the way. Southern University and the, ahem, definitely not obscene Neck. LSU definitely didn't steal it, right? And one of my personal non-GT favorites, NDSU's Beer Song. No, not Bud, but their own Beer Song. So many different band cultures, thousands of band members across the nation, and all connected by knowing that, even by wearing different colors and screaming at each other to go to hell - or worse - that there is a kinship between them.

I almost didn't join band twice. First, in high school, where I had gone to a public school after nine years in a private school. I had entered into a music theory class, and the band director decided that my poking around on piano was good enough to get me into the front ensemble. Marimbas were foreign to me, but once I found out that you could do some amazing - and very nerdy - things on them, I was hooked. Those were some fantastic band shows, and I had found out that I could actually enjoy the company of people my age instead of bottle up frustration at them for nine years running.

(As an aside, the only reason I even picked up piano a second time after dropping lessons was because a different instructor had the Mario theme on guitar tabs that I translated to piano so I could learn it. I'm convinced that I was destined for Tech ever since)

The second time was in college. The toughest part about high school band was the cost, especially as I was in high school during the recession of the late 2000s. I was never in need of anything, partially because I never felt like asking for anything, partially because we couldn't really afford to do too much. 'Going out' meant going to Longhorns or Williams Brothers BBQ, one Saturday per month or even less often. 'Vacation' meant driving up to Missouri to see extended family over the summer. I only ever remember taking one real vacation, and that was taking a week to circumnavigate the state of Georgia just before July 4th (we definitely didn't stop before the Georgia border to buy questionably legal fireworks, and you can't prove anything).

Part of all this was the recession, part me never asking for more because I never knew I could have more, and part was how my parents' wise spending habits - that is, lack of spending. So when I arrived at Georgia Tech, I never really thought much of how little money I had, but I still understood it at my core. It took me until after graduation and tearing up reading a great piece by Spencer Hall that I realized my own brokeness in hindsight. It was never as serious as it was for Mr. Hall, but it was there, hiding in the background under the guise of great parental management. I was so accustomed to the high costs of high school band that I was fully prepared to give up the love and growth I had experienced so that my parents wouldn't have to pay for what I anticipated was an astronomical cost. Still, out of curiosity, I attended an information session during freshman orientation to see if there was something that wouldn't be a drain on my parents.

Band was one tenth of the cost it was in high school, and even less after the first year. I signed up as soon as the info session was over, and suddenly I found myself wrapped up in the best college experience I could have asked for. I found people I could trust with my problems, and people who trusted me with theirs. There was laughing so hard at practice I couldn't breathe as I tried to focus on my marimba through teary-eyed vision, there was the shared depression of playing fight songs after difficult losses, and there were conversations at 3am, the kind of conversations that you have after exactly one drink too many that you spill your guts and console others who have something that they've been holding in for years like that thing you've needed to tell someone but never had the courage. Even with the stress of having no money to spend on food for months at a time, I wouldn't dare trade in that time of my life for anything in the world.

My experience is not universal. Some are in band for a year or two before the time commitment becomes too overwhelming. Some don't join because they haven't picked up an instrument in a few years. A few don't find what they're looking for. Others are even more zealous than me, despite my ridiculously involved (and at times, grade-affecting) participation. There's no bad blood if someone chooses school over band; Tech is unforgiving, as are many schools, and it's their future on the line.

Yet at the end of the day, I feel that there is a connection to everyone who has joined marching band, no matter the length of their stay. It's a fraternity of music, a sorority of sound, an understanding that transcends creed, race, gender, and the deep-seated emotions of rivalry. My nieces are in their high school band, and it makes me giddy that there's someone else in my (large!) family that has taken up music.

For most people, it's time for college football. It's time for the ridiculous games, the unbelievable plays, the downright stupid endings, and everything in between. It's time for hope, dread, surrender cobras, and drinking hard liquor at a tailgate at 8am because it's socially acceptable. For me, it's all of those, but it's also a little bit more. It's time for music.

Welcome to Marching Band Season.

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