Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Formation Of Thought

This one time at band camp - stop me if you've heard this before. Actually, most of you have heard plenty of stories about my inglorious rise to fame and ridiculous fortune as a member of everyone's favorite paramilitary organization: my high school marching band. It was a dedicated group, and to hear my wife tell it, we spent many more hours practicing and perfecting our music and maneuvering than the football team. I was grateful that our band director was unfamiliar with the concept of "two-a-days"  As it was, we still stood out on that field being hollered at through a bullhorn with the ever-present potential of a clipboard being launched at one of our heads for marching out of step or missing our mark. We took it seriously.
Seriously enough that we were, in my junior year, invited to play the Star Spangled Banner before a Denver Broncos game, and then perform the halftime show. All that hard work was paying off. We had hit the big time. A few years before, when my older brother was in that same group, the band parents got together and sewed one of those ginormous American flags, the kind that fill an entire football field. This was the one we took with us when my band returned to Mile High Stadium. We had rehearsed and rehearsed for weeks in advance, getting used to the time it took to unfurl the massive stars and stripes. We all knew what our band director had taught us: "No one ever paid to hear the Star Spangled Banner. Play it and get off." Ours was a no-frills arrangement. Something that we had not foreseen in our rehearsals was that if we were standing at attention, playing our Francis Scott Key song about fire, we would only be playing to about one third of the stadium. We needed to angle our formation so that we could be heard over the thundering ovation we would no doubt receive. We didn't want a full left-face, because that would leave us playing to a distant end zone. We needed a command our drum major could give to all of us that would mean to turn slightly to the left but not all the way. I would like to suggest that it was me that said, "How about 'half-ass left'?" Our drum major approved, as did the rest of us who were on the bus together on the way down to the game. Word spread quickly, and by the time we marched out onto the field in front of more than sixty thousand orange and blue clad semi-drunken football crazed fans, everyone knew what to do.
Somewhere, I expect there is a recording of that performance, and above the din of the crowd, I want to believe that you can hear our leader shouting out the command that we had made up on the trip down the turnpike. Or not. No matter, since that particular offense is still nothing compared to whatever it was the Kansas State band was doing last weekend. And a lot less expensive.

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