Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Okay, I'm With The Band

When I tell people the story, and I do this with alarming frequency, I always say that "I was in band." As if this was proper or complete explanation for a world of behavior and experience. That was the back story for my youth. Barring just one word, an indefinite article, that sentence could have meant so very much more. "I was in a band." That sounds so much cooler. It takes me out of the group of non-descript nerdtypes and puts me right into the tortured artist camp. Alas for me, it was the former, and not the latter.

I never played in an orchestra. That would have happened had I begun my instrumental career in elementary school. At that time, I was more concerned with my piano studies, and I knew that I wasn't going to get a gig playing keyboards for Mrs. Colson. When I moved on to junior high, I chose brass, probably in part as a reaction to my brothers both playing woodwinds.

In seventh grade, I played in the seventh grade band which was called "Cadet Band." The name would have been more effective had there been any uniform or insignia to go with it, but it was clear that we were the beginners. After a year of slogging through "EZ" charts, I was promoted to "Concert Band," where we started playing music that wasn't simply a chore to listen to or play.

All this time, my parents dutifully showed up to concert after concert, for me and my brothers, sitting through many of the same pieces with the patience that only parents can muster. I can't say how well we played at any one of these performances. I always assumed that we were great, given the number of rehearsals we had. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was in "Stage Band I," which was just a notch below the level of talent found in "Stage Band II." We wore these awful polyester shirts with poofy sleeves that my mother helped sew. All the more reason for her to show up on the night of the concert to see her sartorial efforts on display.

But mostly it was the "Marching Band" that became the focus of my high school experience. I accepted the epithet of "Bandie" with grace and aplomb. I even tried to make it seem like a cool thing to be. I did this by joining the "Pep Band." Three years and hundreds of hours later, my parents sat in the stands while I played my last concert, just prior to joining my graduating class in the bleachers. Then, with the rest of the world watching and waiting, my music career ended. Washed up before my eighteenth birthday. My parents had sold candy and sewed uniforms and hauled instruments and paid for lessons and sat through some of the most pedestrian versions of classics and today's contemporary hits. They did it for all three of their sons.

My younger brother got hip to all that para-military stuff going on in marching band, and dropped it after his sophomore year. When he got to college, he bought himself an electric guitar, and when he left the university to expand his horizons, he hit the road as the lone crew member for his buddies in the band.

And then last night, I was sitting there in the middle school auditorium, watching my son pound the keys with the jazz ensemble at this year's Winter Concert. That can lead to only one thing: A Spring Concert. We arrived early and set up the concessions table. We stayed late and helped clean up. We heard some Miles Davis, Tchaikovsky, and even some "Green Onions." When I listened I knew I was doing so with the ears of a parent. So it goes.

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