Music and Movement: the Art of Marching Band

As published in March/April 2009 issue of Imagine magazine.
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  A t rst I was mesmerized by the explosive drumsand the magic o 200 people working together,making moving pictures on a eld. As time wenton, I began to notice details: the glint o the instrumentsin the autumn sunlight, the whirlwind o notes playedby futes and clarinets, and the steady drive o the tubasand baritones. I saw how the band members carriedthemselves: backs straight, chins up, with pride.I’m not ashamed to admit it: I was just a little bit inlove with my high school marching band.  That was when I was a reshman in high school. I hadplayed fute or our years in concert band but hadn’tconsidered joining an extracurricular music group. A yearlater, with the encouragement o some riends, I showedup or my rst band practice.Our band director doesn’t believe in auditions. He wants everyone who loves band and can play aninstrument to have the opportunity to join. There wereex-cheerleaders and kids who gave up all sports to marchin the band. There were guys who brought Nintendosto band camp and traded Pokemon during breaks. We had uture valedictorians and people with GPAs just high enough to be eligible or band. There weretalented musicians who, we were sure, would tour witha proessional jazz group someday, and others who couldhardly pass playing tests but loved music anyway. Plenty o people joined the band because they, like me, hadn’tound their niche in high school and wanted somethingincredible to look orward to.   When I walk into the band room or the rst timein the summer ater my reshman year, I never want toleave. People are riendly, coming up and introducingthemselves and asking me what instrument I play. Thereare little cliques, o course, but almost everyone wants tomeet new people. It is the exact opposite o the rest o high school.The band practices rigorously all summer. At thebeginning o each rehearsal, we jog the length o theschool rom the band room to the parking lot whererehearsal is held. There, everyone stands with theirsections to stretch. Marching band may not seem very physically demanding, but our muscles tell us otherwisethe next day, so we take stretching seriously. Ater we stretch, the drum major announces a number,usually between 5 and 25. The entire band has to do thatnumber o jumping jacks, counting silently, perectly insync. I even a single person does too many or too ew, ormakes the smallest accidental movement at the end, the whole band has to do push-ups until the drum major tellsus to get back up. We try the jumping jacks again, thistime a greater number.Like most new band members, I don’t understand atrst why the jumping jacks are so important. But we allgradually learn that it’s an exercise in ocus. As our banddirector says, “I you can’t even do jumping jacks, how can you march a whole show?” Ater jumping jacks, we pick up our instruments and warm up. Then our band director, sitting on top o theband truck parked in the parking lot, tells us his plans orthat rehearsal and suggests things or us to ocus on. Therehearsal begins as soon as he announces a set number orus to go to.  Sets are the various “pictures” that make up amarching band’s routine. The show consists o movingrom one set to the next while playing music that goes with each set. Shows vary in how many sets they have,but both years that I marched in the band, our showseach had 43 sets.Each band member has a specic spot to be inor each set. These spots are denoted by numbersthat indicate the distance, in marching steps, rompredetermined ootball eld landmarks such as yardlines, sidelines, and hash marks. These are a bit like xand y coordinates.One o the hardest things about marching band ismemorizing all these numbers. We write them down inlittle notebooks that we take with us to each practice.For each set, each band member memorizes on whichside o the eld her spot is, the horizontal and vertical 8 imagine March/April 009 Music and Movement The ArT of MArching BAnd Miriam (bottom right) and the rest o the Beavercreek High School MarchingBand fute section. by Miriam Mogilevsky  locations o the spot, and number o counts that theset lasts. For a 43-set show, this means 172 numbers toknow by heart.Much o summertime band practice is devoted tofnding our spots or each set, marking them down onthe pavement, and marching back and orth betweenall the sets or hours at a time. For most o July, wepractice marching: orward, backward, sideways, quickly,slowly, and with eyes closed (not kidding). By late July, we’re learning where our sets are. During the frst week o August, we memorize music and put it with ourmovements. This week is known as band camp.In our band, we stay at school rather than go away orcamp, so we still go home to sleep each night. O course,since band camp ends at 11 p.m. and begins at 8 a.m.,little sleep actually occurs. By Wednesday and Thursday, we all have blisters and sunburns, as well as new muscles.Freshmen oten begin band camp in a state o terror—not just because o the imminent strenuous physicalactivity, but also because memorizing ten minutes o music and 172 random numbers in fve days seemsimpossible. It isn’t.  By the end o the week, our show is imperectbut complete. We have made dozens o riends andestablished countless new inside jokes. We sport attract-ive tans (well, some o us do) and have nightmares aboutorgetting our next spot.Beore we know it, we’re playing the national anthemat the frst ootball game o the season, and school isstarting—and along with it, our much-awaited com-petition season. During the next two months, we willcompete each week except or Homecoming, travel toone or two other states, and probably be named grandchampions several times. We will also make quite a ew indelible memories.I remember all those competitions. Some o them wetackled like the proud band that we were. Others, we letour ocus slip and made mistakes that we kicked ourselvesor all the way home on the bus—orgetting to play withexpression, messing up a ormation, allowing the tempoto rush. I also remember all the jokes and stories we toldand retold, and the speeches our band director made,speeches that motivated and inspired us at both rehearsaland perormance.I remember little things, too, like the smell o theevening air in September and how everyone in the band would point at each other beore a show to symbolizethat we’re all in this together. I remember the stripeson our uniorms, representing discipline, citizenship,dedication, ocus, and unity—the fve things that ourband director believed made a marching band great. Tome, they also made it magical.  Tonight, a ootball stadium in Ohio is alive withmovement, light, and music. An announcer’s voice echoesperiodically through the air, cutting through the din.Smoke rom the grill down by the concession stand watsup into the crisp autumn night. The spectators, holdingup handmade banners and eating hot dogs and pizza,cheer on their children and riends down on the feld.Nobody knows what the scores are yet, but they already have an inkling o who will win tonight.On the back sideline o the feld, the scene could notbe more dierent. Two hundred uniormed high schoolstudents stand along the line in silence, preparing ortheir turn on the feld. We are about to compete. We stand with backs straight and chins up, holding upour instruments in their carry positions. We are each lostin our thoughts, running through the show in our minds.In our ten minutes on the feld, we’ll excite the audience,play some o their avorite songs, and, hopeully, sendshivers down their spines as we play Led Zeppelin’s“Stairway to Heaven” while making a staircase ormation,or U2’s “One,” standing still or a ew seconds to raiseour instruments to the sky.The preceding band fnishes and we take the feld. Ater we reach our initial spots, we turn away rom thespectator stands and toward our band director, whoconducts a warm-up. We play proudly and loudly, withringing harmonies that quiet the audience and hint at thebeautiul perormance to come. We fnish and the announcer says, “Beavercreek High School Marching Band, you may take the feld incompetition.” And we do. i Miriam Mogilevsky is a senior at Beaver-creek High School in Beavercreek, OH.She enjoys reading, writing, and photog-raphy, and writes a monthly column or her local Jewish newspaper. Miriam has  played the fute in her school concert band or six years. She is also the literary editor o  Mind’sEye , her school’s art/literary magazine, and a member o National Honor Society and Model United Nations. She will attend Northwestern University next all. March/April 009 imagine   9
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