Posts Tagged ‘marching band’

I loathe the end of the school year. I cannot stand goodbyes. It has gotten to the point that I don’t even go to commencement because I do not trust that I won’t break down into tears. Frankly, I hate endings. There is, however, one moment I relish even less:

Student Staff Leadership Announcement Day

The students wait with baited breath for the Facebook post to hit. They get worked up, filled with anxiety, desperate for the results of auditions and interviews. I, however, sit and stare at the list for days on end. No matter what I do I am going to disappoint some of my students. Some will take a deep breath when they don’t see their name on the list and are ok. Some will become so angry they will throw a chair through a glass door (yes, this happened once). Some will be furious with me – they think I hate them, or at the very least, don’t like them. Some will quit band altogether.

  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing that I cannot give leadership positions out just because a student is a senior and I want to do something nice for them before they graduate.
  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing I must be a teacher and do what I think is in the best interest of each student applicant.
  • I sit and stare at the list of names knowing that if my students don’t learn what it is to not get something they want while still in college they may NEVER learn that hard lesson.
  • I sit and stare…and stare…at the equivalent of a surgical waterproof bandage placed over a wound that must be removed after 7-10 days. A bandage that has almost become one with the skin. You want to rip it off fast like a bandaid but you can’t. If you do you run the risk of tearing the skin and ripping the wound open. So you proceed gingerly and carefully and slowly….and the agony lasts “forever.” Finally it’s off and all you can do is sit back and hope for the best.

Ladies and gentlemen: being in band is not, has never been, and will never be about securing and holding a leadership title. Sure it’s cool. Sure it means you have a chance to practice teaching. Sure it means you’ve been given responsibilities. Sure it means you can have an impact on the program.  But you can do all those things WITHOUT A TITLE!!

  • Being a member in your band means setting an example for others. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means helping the person next to you, teaching the person next to you. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means being responsible for knowing your music and drill. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band means having an impact on other members, your institution, and every person who ever sees the program. You don’t need a title to do that.
  • Being a member in your band is cool in and of itself — and don’t let anyone ever tell you any differently! (…and you don’t need a title to do that.)

Sometimes being a leader is harder than usual…and this is one of those times.

Congratulations to all who received positions on the 2017 UDMB Leadership Staff. Congratulations to ALL the applicants too — you put yourselves out there and took a chance. That is a bigger accomplishment than anything else!

Those of us who are engaged in the fall edition of pageantry have been “at it” for a little over a month thus far. Each summer, as the start date for Band Camp creeps closer and closer, my level of apprehension is in direct proportion to the timeline: the closer we get the more apprehensive I get. It is a mix of anticipation, excitement, and primal terror!

This year was no different than any other except for a few personal reasons:

  • coming off a much needed sabbatical
  • fully recovered from a second hip replacement
  • finally getting on top of my health and feeling AWESOME

I started camp, however, the same way — apprehensive — but at least I was in a more positive frame of mind.

As camp progressed I did, however, notice a distinct difference between what I perceived the trajectory to be this year versus what it has been for the last…I don’t know so let’s say “number of years.” This could be directly related to my attitude and my approach or it could be something else or it could be a combination of many things. Regardless, something was different.

Rehearsals have been productive; only two performances in–with only one of them being the full show–and the energy is skyrocketing. Communication among the student leadership is topnotch–stronger and more proactive than previous years. In short, there just seems to be a whole lot of JOY out on the field, as well as OFF the field!

One of the reasons may be the inquisitiveness of the student leadership: they ask PROPER questions; they are engaged; they “do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, whether they want to do it or not, and without being asked.” They are not afraid to inquire about WHY of things in order to understand more–which brings me to the reason for this post.  I received an email from a student wanting to know why I felt this year was different when compared to last year. More specifically, the student still sees many, many mistakes that need to be corrected. To use the student’s own words:

 “I’m curious as to what you see from your point of view that we don’t. This has just puzzeled me as there is still so much room for improvement for this band.”

The student is, of course, correct!  It’s September 19th and we haven’t even scratched the surface with regard to cleaning. There is SO much to be done.

It is about perspective; it is about experience. It is not something I expect anyone IN the band to understand. When you are WITHIN the experience you cannot also stand OUTSIDE of it and “see” the “bigger picture.” If you could…the whole world would be a much different place!

If you place 100 senior band members in a room and ask them what was their favorite year, odds are in favor of over 98% of them saying “their freshman year.” Why? Simple–it was Christmas for them and nothing is better than Christmas! With that said, one of the hardest learning curves for anyone is to put Christmas away and begin the journey of moving quickly from stage 2 to stage 3.  <To understand these references click here.> Stage 3 is challenging for many reasons because the personal reward is indirect. Asking college students to push through their I/ME stage of development is HUGE! Many do extremely well, others can struggle. By simply asking the question, it is clear this student is on the way to stage 3–only a little push is required!

But I haven’t answered the question…or have I?

Every band is different. The minute you change one single thing, even if it is the EXACT SAME BAND with only ONE person not returning and no new people being added, the composition of the whole has changed! My dear friend George Parks, former director of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, used to ask the rookie class “How many of you have seen the UMMB? How many of you want to be in THAT band?”  Virtually every hand would shoot up into the air…and then he dropped the most unexpected statement ever: “Well, you can’t be in that band. That band is GONE! But YOU will be part of making THIS year’s UMMB great!” Of course, no one in the rookie classes ever understood what he was trying to convey. To use my good friend Rob Hammerton’s words:

“Odd thing to say, if you want to rev up your troops on the eve of battle … but his point was: this year’s band is not last year’s. It’s not even the same as last year’s.”

It is best not to analyze the situation, merely to accept it. The 2016 UDMB is NOT better than other years, it is merely different. It is the differences that can make something seem more magical than something else. This does NOT mean other bands were LESS–for every band I have ever had the privilege of working with has been “the best” as far as I’m concerned–it merely means that the proverbial stars have aligned ever so slightly more and there is something intangible about the composition of the various elements that make this band seem to be “more special.”

Of course, it is still early in the season and anything can happen…but I have the feeling this group won’t need to be coaxed to the edge and won’t need to be pushed–they already know how to fly!

Anyone who as ever participated in marching band or drum corps or any of the pageantry arts knows the feeling. There is a “buzz” that starts a couple of weeks before the activity begins. There is anticipation, excitement, and even a sense of nervousness in the air. You simply cannot wait for it to begin!

And then, quite suddenly, you’re in it–and it’s exhilarating!  With regard to marching band it starts with Band Camp. Friends you haven’t seen since the end of spring semester (or even the end of last season) are greeted with renewed joy. New members are welcomed into the “family” with open arms. You hold your breath and wait for your four favorite words: “Set up page 1.”

Very quickly the week and change of Band Camp comes to an end and the semester crashes into you like a freight train. Suddenly the excitement of the first game is careening toward you and you can’t wait to get back on the field in Delaware Stadium. The first game comes and goes in a blur–you are pretty sure you did well but you don’t remember too much about the day. You just know you missed a few dots, cracked a few notes and did your best to play “Delaware Forever” right after the 4 snare taps. You know you’ll dig in and “get better” over the next few weeks.

And then suddenly it happens…the second phase: “you can’t wait for it to be over.”

That’s correct–we love this crazy thing so much but one day the rain starts, classes get harder, papers to write begin to pile up, and exams just never seem to end. The stress of college life takes over the thought of marching band begins to irritate you. Temperatures start to drop and you’re wearing so many layers you can’t hold your instrument at the proper angle. With each passing week all you can think about is “when is this going to end?”

But end it does, bringing us to the third phase: “you can’t wait for it to begin again.”

You find yourself at the start of the last week of rehearsals. Seniors are starting to cry and talk about how they cannot bring themselves to write their “Last Will And Testament” for the band banquet book. Juniors are realizing they’re NEXT. Sophomores are wondering if they’ll be selected for Field Staff. And Freshmen can’t believe they ever doubted for a second that they would survive band.

Marching Band–oh what a crazy thing it is with which we have such an intense love-hate relationship.

This is not a religious post–but it is about the definition of the word. In fact, let us begin with that:

According to Merriam Webster, the basic definition of the word ‘faith’ is strong belief or trust in someone or something.

There are times when a series of circumstances tests our faith. Days when nothing seems to go right, when every conceivable and inconceivable obstacle appears out of nowhere and is thrown directly in front of you. It takes every ounce of energy you have to avoid running into that brick wall that you are convinced was not there one second ago. By the end of days like those you tend to get into your car, drive out of a darkened parking lot, head home to a quiet house and question why on earth you even bother trying.

Fortunately there are hints of wonder that walk side by side with the challenges—you just have to look hard enough to see them. One of the beautiful gifts I get is watching my students “figure it out.” First, yes, it is a GIFT one receives as a teacher. Second, “figure it out” is sometimes the most important lesson you can ever teach a student.

Today’s young adults want their world to be black and white. “What do I need to do to get an “A?” “What exactly is expected of me in this class?” What do you want me to do at this exact moment in time in order to not be wrong?” This is our world now…but the truth of it all is that there are no answers to the above questions.  The world is NOT black and white friends. The world is 1 million shades of gray.  This means that putting the gray matter located inside your skull to work is the only option you have at having a prayer at survival.  Sadly many of our young adults are not ready for primetime–they have been set up to FAIL by previous teachers, and yes, their parents.

My dear friend Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser likes to preface sessions with “Truth or Sugar?” …and always the group says “TRUTH!” The reality is that the truth is a killer.  So while the truth that today’s young adults have been set up to fail in many ways is brutal, it is NOT the end result.  It is, however, the starting point!

So where do we go from here? UP! That’s where we go! And as we climb the ladder which seems to have no end in sight, no arrival point, no moment of “I’VE MADE IT!” we keep climbing because of this little thing called ‘faith.’

Perhaps a recap of yesterday will help with understanding where all this is coming from this evening:

The derailment began when the band buses were not only late but apparently the drivers did not know they needed to bring the band to the stadium BEFORE the game…we’ve used this company since BEFORE I was director. Then I got a text that the pit equipment truck battery was dead and they were waiting for it to be jumped. Then I called Motor Pool to find out that they were waiting for me to tell them to go to the CFA to jump start the battery even after they had been called by my GA 20 minutes earlier. Then everyone EXCEPT the trumpet section arrived at the practice fields–still short 1 bus. Then the pit truck arrived during warmups so we changed up the entire practice schedule and did Pregame first.  All of this occurred in the span of ONE HOUR!.

Next we finally get the pit fired up (literally–we be electric now!!  All mic-ed up and putting out decibels!!) and start to rehearse the Overture. 15 minutes later—evacuate to the Field House due to storm cell with thunder and lightening.  Rehearsal over.

None of this would have been bad had it been any other time of year. However the last time we rehearsed with the pit was the last day of Band Camp 6 days ago. The rehearsal on Wednesday had us still on met and we did NOT “run-thru” any of the tunes except Overture–we were still breaking things down and running “chunks.” If you are following you have started to break out into a cold sweat because you know what all this means:  the first real run of Overture, Masquerade and the encore Malaguena would be under the proverbial gun DURING halftime!  No chunks; no met; 1 -2, GO!!!!!

And they did….and I finally calmed down.  Those of you who know me are aware that I get wired with nervous energy at the first game. I don’t want them to fail at anything. I don’t want them to go home thinking “we’re no good.” I don’t want them ever to feel embarrassed. Usually I am excited to see/hear what they do because I KNOW they are going to be incredible right out of the gate.  Last night was not one of those times.  Last night I was a nervous wreck. They weren’t ready; they didn’t have a single full rehearsal in 6 days; they had no idea what to do when the team scored; they had no idea how to get on and off the field. …and the list went on and on.  I was a virtual train wreck heading for the end of the line that was hovering over the edge of an abyss.

(ok…perhaps a tad melodramatic….or not.  I was a mess!)

And then they played the first note of the Overture after the auctioneer narration and the music box…and I giggled.

And then they played the final crescendo…and I chuckled.

And then they played Letter O of Masquerade…and I outright laughed.

And then they unloaded Malaguena…and I wished I had a horn so I could join the soloists on the sideline.

And then….postgame was even better.

Have a little faith.  I didn’t yesterday. I had lost most of it. I was caught up in the insanity and lost sight of faith: faith in the one thing that has always been a constant for me—this band pulling up their boots by the bootstraps and ‘figuring it out.’

It was always there…I just couldn’t see it at first because I wasn’t looking hard enough….

It was the spring of 1995 and it was just another job. That’s right: A JOB. For after all, what is being a band director at a major university: nothing more than a paycheck. Right? …not even close.

I did not know then that I would spend the rest of my life in Delaware. At the time I considered it as another job that might lead somewhere else one day. Frankly I was never one who looked farther down the road than 10 feet. When it came to work, I lived in the proverbial moment. (Not so much with the rest of my life but that is neither here nor there.) The University of Delaware hired me to be their marching band director and that was that–time to get “at it.”

21 years later I find myself still here. Many life events have occurred: I lost both parents, a few pets, and an enormous amount of dear friends and loved ones. I bought and remodeled a house. I have been through a ridiculous amount of cars. My knees and hips have either been rebuilt, replaced or on the brink of one or the other. …we will NOT discuss my shoulders…

Regardless of all that, I consider Delaware my home. Sure I’m a north Jersey broad that marched drum corps (Go Bucs!) and can still drive like I own the road, but my home and heart has taken up residence in a small state that is nothing to be messed with.

Tomorrow night the one “thing” I love more than perhaps anything in the world will come to life on a football field. 350 college students will don uniforms, carry instruments and give up their hearts and souls for 15 minutes during halftime at a football game and again for a tad longer post-game. This “thing” keeps me going year after year. I would be a liar if I didn’t say it gets a bit more difficult each summer to summon up the energy, the creative power to write a show, the ability to push physical pain and limitation away and “be in it with them” again. But somehow, some way I manage.  I have to because they expect nothing less.

This “thing” will once again remind me how much I love what I do, how grateful I am to have A JOB that I love each and every day, how lucky I am to be able to give to others what was once given to me. To strive for excellence, to achieve goals only dreamed of, to push beyond self-inflicted personal limitations, to look into the faces of those who do not understand and smile thinking “they have no idea what a joy my world truly is.”

It’s called college marching band.  It is a world that cannot be explained–just accept it as something greater than yourself. Being Santa is hard work…not so sure I would have it any other way…

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

UDMB @ BoA Newark, PA Regional

There was a man who once said, “I love watching lots of people doing great things.”  This man was correct as there is perhaps nothing more rewarding than a group of individuals working together toward a common goal.  In this case we are talking about over 400 people (330 in the UDMB and another 70+ volunteers–parents, friends, colleagues) working 3-4 hour shifts, doing a wide variety of jobs from ticket sales, program selling, tshirt pressing, moving high school bands around the athletic complex, greeting band directors, and setup / cleanup….all for one purpose: creating an experience OTHERS will remember for a lifetime.

The world we live in is one of selfishness. We are products of a society whose mantra is “What’s in it for me?”  This is an extraordinary narrow life view.  The humanity has been beaten out of us to such a degree that people no longer have the ability to communicate with another member of the species unless it is via an electronic device.  Social interaction is the newest phobia.  And yet yesterday I watched my students go out of their way for each other as they went beyond and above the call of duty for thousands of strangers.

26 high school bands were in our “house.” They came to us from as far north as Connecticut to as far south as Georgia.  They brought parents, friends, siblings, extended family members.  Community members from Newark, Delaware were there as well. Family and friends of the UDMB too.  Thousands of people passed through the gates of UD stadium and spent the day relishing the talents of over 3000 musicians and performers–who gave their all in the spirit of competition, education, and growth.

Bands of America came to UD for their Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.  UD and the UDMB were their hosts.  The day began at 5:45 am and ended at 11:45 pm. The UDMB performed twice in exhibition–once at the conclusion of prelims and again at the conclusion of finals.  …and yes, the band grabbed the audience by the throat and said, “You will love us.”  …and they did.

I could write for pages about all the incredible moments woven within the fabric of those 18 hours but it is not necessary.  I will simply state in print what I said to the members of the UDMB last night at the conclusion of their last performance:

I have never been more proud of this band as I am today.

…there were, of course, many shenanigans taking place throughout the day as well…I leave you with an image of my transportation for the day. Decorations were courtesy of my professional staff….

Sarv's Ride

Sarv’s Ride

My whole life I have loved a challenge, both personal and professional.  My parents knew from the get go that the worst thing they could ever do was to tell me I couldn’t try something. If the words “You know, maybe should think about doing something else.” ever came out of their mouths the look I would shoot across the room was one of sheer defiance and raw determination. I’m sure they thought I was possessed…perhaps they were correct.

Don’t tell me no. Don’t tell me I’m not capable. Do not ever tell me to slow down.  (…frankly someone probably needs to teach me the definition of the word ‘moderation’ but let’s face it, life is short so why waste your time on the impossible…) This approach has gotten me pretty far in life, albeit the equivalent of a runaway freight train coming down the side of a mountain.  But when that train gets to the bottom and has to being its trek up the other side, THAT is when my tenacious personality seems to take hold.

So…Bands of America needed a venue for a regional championship.  Ok. I have always thought Delaware Stadium is the most intimate place on the east coast for a marching band show. And the facilities are perfect for everything needed to support such a venture.  Let’s give it whirl.

Tomorrow 23 high school bands from up and down the east coast will make their way onto campus.  We start setting up this afternoon and we will be finished at approximately midnight tomorrow–about 29-30 hours from now.  Prelims competition all day; finals all night.  The UDMB will perform at the conclusion of both segments. The UDMB will be running every area of event with the exception of the times they are performing when alumni, family and friends will take over. Band of America is in charge of everything else (so if you want tickets get to their website).

My friends and colleagues are concerned of course. How the heck am I going to get through a day like this. I refer you to my opening paragraph.  I’ve got it covered! I’m fine. I’m ready to go……I’ve got enough corticosteroids pumped into my body to last lifetime….and I have a GOLF CART courtesy of UD Athletics!  Let’s roll folks!!

But seriously, I am, indeed, just fine.  I love a challenge–both personally and professionally and clearly tomorrow will be one that will test both areas.  I cannot wait to see all the vets from the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy® in action on the podium and on the field.  I cannot wait for the UDMB to rock their own house in front of thousands of high school marching band performers and their parents and staff.

The UDMB takes center stage tomorrow in a national setting–right here in their own home. How cool is that!! ..yes, I guess I am that proud parent that loves showing off her kids to the world.

So if you’re not doing anything tomorrow, October 25, come down to Delaware Stadium on the University of Delaware campus and check out some of the best high school marching bands on the east coast.  But watch out for that blonde behind the wheel of a golf cart…she’ll be on a mission and moderation is not something she understands.