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Monday, September 3, 2018

Let's Hear It For the Band

Let's Hear It for the Band
Auburn band playing after the win against Arkansas in 2010

Photo from my personal collection @tatershell

Several years ago, I saw a football player comment about a band t-shirt. The shirt in question said "Leave it all on the field." The player in question indicated that saying was not appropriate for band. His exact words were, "Are you kidding me?" I later got the chance to meet that player. More than anything, I wanted to take every band shirt from my collection and dump them on his table where he was signing autographs and autograph a band t-shirt for him.  Of course, I did not do that. I did not say anything at all. Maybe I should have but since his comments took place over Twitter, I did not think he would even pay attention. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for that player that day.

If you did not know, I was in the band when I was in college at Southern Miss. I've written a blog about the band before, but I thought it might be good to revisit some band appreciation. 

Auburn band takes the field!

I follow A LOT of student athletes on social media. I probably follow too many of them. I often see things said such as, "Regular people don't know what student athletes go through." One particular time, the student athlete commented that often they were held past dinner then had no place to eat. I can COMPLETELY sympathize with that! Let me rewind just a little and start at the beginning shall we?

Auburn band halftime show in 2017

So preparation for football season (we call it 'marching season') begins early in the summer when music is mailed to students. It is probably sent electronically these days. When a band member shows up to band camp, it is expected that the mailed music has been memorized. I memorize poems and other things easily but playing music from memory was a challenge for me. Not to mention that for my freshman year- when I was TERRIFIED of showing up without having it perfectly memorized- I had my wisdom teeth out and could not play for quite a while. Note to others- No one cared what the reasons for not practicing were. So before regular band camp, there is freshman band camp as there is in high school. TERRIFYING. I wish I could impress upon everyone how TERRIFYING older members of the band are to wee little freshmen. Later, of course, it turned out that I was completely afraid of the wrong people. The TERRIFYING folks were the really nice ones. After a couple of days, everyone shows up for band camp. Then it begins full on. There are not many people on campus yet. Mainly its band, cheerleaders, football players and some other student athletes. A few SGA members. Morning practice is usually about 7:00 am. A lunch break somewhere around 11 or 12. Then back at it for the afternoon.  This is in August in south Mississippi, so its hot beyond description. Sometimes there is a dinner break and sometimes dinner is part of the "bonding." At night, sometimes we had a binding activity then more practice. Pitch dark doesn't stop the band from practicing. They just brought in portable lights. Of course, now the practice field has lights. This might go on until 10:00 or so. Then guess what??? Tomorrow is pass-off day when playing your music from memory to an older band member occurs. I cannot impress upon anyone how absolutely terrifying this can be. 

So after band camp is over, its time for the season to start. Practice during a home game week is Tue-Fri for 2-3 hours. Friday practice is a little longer. Friday night, we would do a "pep rally" but the ironic thing was that the pep rally was so late, the football players could not attend because it was after curfew.  Saturday morning, there is a practice VERY early. Then,a few minutes to eat or visit with the parents if they came to the game. We were MUCH  better off living on campus during these days! Then our band would do a concert on the quad. Then it is time for the "parade" (whatever particular "walk" is)- one time, there was some sort of delay with the football players and we stood in the street for over an hour waiting for them. Then we would do the stadium entrance. Then it is time for pregame. At this point, I am going to mention the wearing of a big, heavy band uniform in September in the southeast. After pregame, its time to go in the stands. This takes approximately 27 hours. Play cheer #4 8,214 times. Time for halftime! After halftime, it takes another 27 hours to get back in the stands. Play Cheer #4 another 2,178 times. After the game, we played a post-game concert called Fifth Quarter. Then, we would be released, go back over to the band hall building and collect all of our stuff, then head home. 

We have practiced or played in snow, tropical storms, and with the water on the field covering my feet. In over 100 degree weather and almost zero in a bowl game in Boise, ID. We went to Ireland for the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland. 

Some friends and me in 1998 in Ireland in Killiney Bay on the Irish Sea

Before the parade in Dublin. It was windy and cold.

If it was an away game we were travelling to, the same schedule applies EXCEPT we did not do the pep rally. Only a few times did we travel to a game where we needed to leave Friday night. We left for one game at 3:30 AM on Saturday. Usually it was about 4 or 5 am we would leave for the away game. During my time in the band, we traveled to New Orleans, Memphis, Tallahassee (that one required an overnight trip) Baton Rouge, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, and Jackson. (On a bus! We had over 300 members, so we took 6 buses. We made an entrance!) The only times we flew were to Boise, ID and Ireland. If our trip involved an overnight trip, we would also play exhibitions on Friday night at a high school local to the university we were playing. We would get back home usually, around 1-2 am on Sunday morning. Then start it all over again the next week. Once, I remember going to a bowl game, and we had to be back on Christmas Day. 

Playing a Fifth Quarter

There were also games where the emotions were hard to keep inside. I cannot find the words to explain what it is like to play an emotionally involved halftime show when there is something special going on. One example, I was in school when Oseola McCarty, a lady in Hattiesburg who washed clothes for others donated her life savings to Southern Miss. We played a special halftime show and the crowd got very involved. It's an emotion I cannot explain. The whole crowd gets into it and you truly get a feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself. If you want to read more about her, you can read it here:

Our dean of students was killed in an accident while I was in school also. We played a tribute to him as our halftime show. The longtime president of USM retired and we played a special show. When the band can "feel" the emotions of the crowd, it can be quite overwhelming. 

With some friends in the Superdome after an exhibition performance at a Saints game (vs 49ers)

I don't tell this story to compete with any student athlete. I know they have ridiculous schedules. I know MORE is expected out of the student athletes. I tutor some student athletes. I get it.  Keep in mind, thought that most band students have very little, if any scholarship for their time. I was lucky and a had a small scholarship. Since we were on scholarship, we also had to do basketball band- which I loved- but in the time that marching and basketball band crossed over, it could be extremely exhausting. I would not trade anything for my time in the band. The next time you see a band member on game day busting their tail to get across campus toting a bookbag and a large instrument, remember they have had a VERY long day already and will continue to have a long day. I would not change anything at all. I made friends and had experiences that can never be reproduced. It's a whole different experience now to watch the band. I've been out of school for TWENTY years, but watching the band makes me feel like I am still there. (Even if I do mostly go see Auburn's band when I was in the band at Southern Miss)

So, if you ever get the chance, tell your friendly neighborhood band member "thank you!" Thank you to ALL the members of college and high school marching bands!!

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