Practice, and prepare to make memories

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, August 11, 2012

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Seeing the images of football players sweating through two-a-days this week and local marching bands hitting the practice fields (or parking lots) brought back memories.

Well, at least in the case of the latter.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I never put on shoulder pads or a helmet, but I once wore what we lovingly called “buffalo hats” and a nacho cheese-colored uniform. (It worked well. If that was your snack during the third quarter breaks, it was nearly impossible to see the stains.)

But before we donned those regal uniforms, it all started in shorts and T-shirts about two weeks before the first day of school. Since the football teams had use of the playing field, we marched on the asphalt parking lots.

During much of the first week, we practiced basic marching drills and then ended the session with some sort of a “march-off” where the drum major would shout commands and we would execute the order. Those that misstepped would be “out,” leaving the others to continue in the exercise, sort of a “Simon Says” type game.

I remember one time being one of the last two marchers in the exercise, and the drum major finally gave up on trying to trip us up – I guess it was a draw. Looking back on it, I’m pretty sure most people intentionally made mistakes so they could get extra time for a break.

We learned the music in the band hall, and eventually took our instruments outside and started marching with them as we would begin to put together “the show.”

The one that stands out the most in my mind was a “time/movie themed” halftime show. It consisted of the themes from “Jurassic Park,” “Back to the Future” and, as our big finale, “As Time Goes By” from “Casablanca.” Sometimes we’d even mix in a little popular music of the day, such as Janet Jackson’s “Escapade.” That should give you a good idea of when I attended high school.

We didn’t win many contests (OK, we didn’t even come close), but we had a good time. We’d always end the show by forming a big “I” at midfield (for Itasca High School) and exit stage right playing our fight song.

I know what you’ve been thinking while reading this column – “What is a “buffalo hat?” It could best be described as a rather tall, cylindrical, round-topped hat covered with a black fur-like material. Since our school was small, our high school band included eighth graders, and I remember some of our more petite, female rookies almost falling over with those monstrosities on their heads in a brisk breeze. We wore those hats only one year. Most of the time, we wore cowboy hats with one side folded up.

I remember marching in all types of weather. Early in the year, it would be unbearably hot. Then at the end of one year, I remember sitting in the stands with snow falling around us. One time it was so cold, I remember playing the halftime show and not being able to feel the tips of my fingers clutching the slide on my trombone. I just knew I was going to reach “eighth position.” (It’s an inside joke for trombonists. The trombone only has seven positions, so I surmised that if you reached eighth position, you had just lost your slide.)

And one time at a playoff game, we had just taken our positions on the sidelines, about to march onto the field for our performance, when the skies opened up, and we found ourselves being soaked by a downpour. I was positioned near the 50-yard line, so I had a good view of our drum major. I could see in her eyes that she was weighing the options – take the field or run for cover. I don’t actually remember if she gave us a command. I think she just kind of cocked her head to the side and said, “Go!” We all took off running for the area under the stands where most of the spectators had already gathered.

So band campers, you may be enduring record heat, but be prepared for any condition – snow, rain, wind, and yes, nacho cheese. It will one day become the stuff of memories.

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