Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One Time At Band Camp*

Me taking a water break, band camp 1995

As school begins, band camp time is winding down here in the South. It always coincides with the hottest weeks of summer, when the temps are so high that just breathing outdoors is an effort. Every year, I drive past the fields of kids in white T-shirts wielding instruments and practice flags. I hear field warm-ups echoing over the train tracks and bouncing off of houses and shopping centers. Every year, I pray for those kids, and I think, How did I ever do that?

Most people I've met as an adult don't know that for four golden high school years, band was my whole life. I lived and breathed drill sheets and basic block and opening set and visuals, practicing in thunderstorms, in snow flurries, and at five AM. I didn't do it in hopes of a scholarship. I did it for love. As hard as it was, and as much as I complained at times, I LOVED the athleticism, the music, the camaraderie, the commitment, the hard work toward a specific goal. It was the first time in my nerdy life that I felt like a true, accepted part of a group.

My marching band was less like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and more like a junior drum corps. My director required total dedication. There wasn't much tolerance for weakness or excuses. But I could endure those eight- and ten-hour summer days because of the joy that was set before me on those October nights at competition. I would think of the stadium lights and the unmatchable feeling of knowing that you've just been a part of something amazing. Of course, sometimes I passed out from heat exhaustion anyway, but my intentions were good. (I often suspected that my director didn't consider it a good practice until someone fainted.)

I haven't stepped onto a field since 1996, but on a list of all-around long-term life influences, marching band would fall just behind God and my parents. I still naturally walk with my toes slightly upturned. I often automatically rise onto tiptoe when I back up. I'm still chronically early ("if you're on time, you're late!"). I haven't played my flute regularly for a few years, but I still know most of my scales. I jump a little bit when I hear a whistle blown. I can learn line dances in minutes (from years of quickly memorizing long strings of commands and doing pushups if I got them wrong). I feel a little thrill when I hear a new song that I know would be an awesome stand song. I get nostalgic at football games. I feel overly obligated and responsible to activities I'm involved in. Well, that's my nature, but band ingrained it. When I've felt really guilty for missing or quitting certain things, my sister has actually reminded me that I'm not in band anymore.

If you have a kid with an artistic bent who needs some structure, put him or her in band. A good band produces capable, high-endurance adults who also know their Bach from their Beethoven. It's worth all those long, hot days.

* = I've never seen American Pie, but I will forever resent it for ruining all legitimate band camp stories until the end of time.


  1. This made me smile. I only did clarinet for one year, and only in sixth grade, but I think I would have loved being a part of something like this.

  2. I used to play trombone, but I quit after three years. My husband, on the other hand, played trumpet for eight long years and still talks about his band memories quite fondly and all those qualities you shared -- he shares many of them, too. Music is part of who he is and I know that a lot of that stems from his years in marching band. I love that stuff about him ... even if I didn't stick it out for myself very long.

    This is a great nostalgic post and gives me another insight into its author. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I know our school band is much smaller than the one you played in, but feel free to come to a football game with me this year and watch our band again! We have a new band director this year so I am excited to see how the show turns out.

  4. Thanks for sharing this :) Danish schools don't have bands, so my only experience with it was the year I was part of the concert band at my school in New Zealand. I loved every minute of it... even if we did suck ;)

  5. I loved reading this! It makes me think of my mom, who started playing flute in junior high and still loves it like crazy. I'll have to ask her if she went to band camp because I'd love to hear her stories like I love to hear yours!

  6. You haven't seen that movie? I instantly think of you any time I hear, "This one time at band camp..." Nostalgia.

  7. I love this post and the gorgeous atmosphere of summer nostalgia.