Marching band, typically crude in nature, is elevated to the level of an art at the National Competition. Bands there live and die by the tenths and hundredths of a point; slight errors in timing and style translate into large differences between first and thirteenth. We had to practice literally thousands of long hours with the hope of achieving finalist status, and regardless of where we placed. It was a show for which we had worked hard, at last successfully performing it at the level deserving of our art form. This performance is an achievement.
As a member of the band, I am one piece of a giant puzzle that someone set in motion. The band, to define the term, is a group of individuals that come together year after year with a common goal in mind: excellence in musical performance. Though the component members change from year to year, the identity of the group is immutable. The goal of the group is always the same, so we combine efforts to become something greater than any one of us could be on our own. If the same god who had the power to move us had decided arbitrarily to remove a piece, we would suddenly be as incomplete as a shattered stained glass window (and almost as irreparable). I depend on every other piece to move in accordance with me; they depend on me for the same. If one fails, all fail. If we all succeed, the effort is amplified a hundred-fold into the very personification of perfection. Either way, this is the moment for which we trained. As a member of the band, I am proud of the group as a whole for working together and finally reaching the point where we move together flawlessly as if we were dancers in a great choreographed pageant to which everyone knew the steps. This performance is a unifying event.
As a senior, I have contributed years of effort before this. The practice field was a second home during the fall; it saw my greatest triumphs and worst failures. Its soft turf absorbed my sweat in the harsh sun and my blood when I stumbled. I am one of the few with the perspective of time to know just how much we have grown since my year as a freshman. I, like the field, was there for the triumphs and failures, beginnings and ends, practice and performance, energy and monotony. In what now seems to be ancient years gone by, I crawled, then toddled, then strode through other marching seasons, each year progressively better than the last. Now, here at the end, I fly. As a senior, I am proud of the best performance that I have ever attained. This performance is an end.
And yet for some, it is only a start. There are freshmen on the field with me, my peers, my equals, in whom the significance of their year of effort is just now dawning. Someday, they will stand in my shoes, looking back. But not yet. This performance is a beginning.
These thoughts all flashed through my head within a single beat of the music, caught in the midst of a single step I was frozen in time long enough for this whirlwind to pass through my head. Now, the spell is broken. I am back into “performance mode”- devoting my whole being to thoughts of the show – and I can only briefly devote half a thought to the nostalgia – just enough to further empower me to play from my heart. I am again drawn fully into the performance. Now playing loud, so that our pealing notes reverberate through our performance hall and within the minds of our audience. Now sinking down to a low whisper, and yet still maintaining the energy so the audience knows that at any time we can again erupt into a torrent of glorious thunder.
The audience is as much a part of the show as we are; for their part they lean forward in their seats and wait with mounting anticipation. We maintain the suspense a moment longer, then give them what they want. We charge forward across the stage as an inexorable tidal wave of musical force, driving all who would oppose us out of our path. The roar from the audience drives us on, faster, louder, into the spinning crescendo that is the climax of our show. We ease slowly back to earth from the adrenaline rush that was felt in our vortex of sound. Continuing to play the audience’s emotions as effortlessly as we play our instruments, we now guide them down into the very pit of despair. Tears glisten on the faces of observer and performer alike as the low, mournful strains of the melody pierce our hearts. More and more instruments join the strain, and the song lifts up into an achingly beautiful chorus that resounds for many long seconds after we stop playing. Once again the music shifts and we make the final triumphant push to the end. For the audience, the images are coming too quickly in succession now to be fully comprehended. The performers move on stage as one body, merging, expanding, always changing. The music crescendos ever upwards, past where it has gone before, far past where it would seem possible to play. Finally the last note is reached.
All motion on the field stops at exactly the same moment; the last note, played from the depths of our very souls out through their instruments, rings so that there is no break between the ceasing of the sound and the roar of approval that surges forth from the crowd. Now standing in the last pose of the show, I allow a wave of euphoria, long held at bay, to sweep me away with a tidal force. There will be time for introspection, reminiscences, evaluations, and nostalgia later. For now, only raw emotion exists, radiating off of performers across the field, uniting us into one throbbing mass of sheer joy in a job well done. This is what we have worked all season to achieve. We are a marching band at the National Competition. I am a senior. It was my last show.
Sousaphone, Class of 2002
Pope High School Marching Band