Marching band was an organization I never imagined myself being involved in. During middle school, I was one of those kids who made fun of the "band geeks" (Thanks, SpongeBob) or, alternatively, the "Dorkestra" (Thanks, Lizzie McGuire). In a burst of 8th grader excitement and encouragement from a close friend, I joined color guard (the girls who spin flags with the band) freshman year and was a part of it for three years, so I was a member of marching band, but I didn't play an instrument or get to wear an uncomfortable wool suit and a snazzy shako with a huge, sparkly plume. Sophomore year I learned to play the saxophone and senior year I decided to leave behind the flags and glitter and trade color guard for the saxophone section when marching band season came around. I regret all the time I spent thinking band was lame or that I was too good for it, so here's a long-overdue letter to high school marching band: the institution itself and the people who made it what it was.
Dear High School Marching Band,
I want to start out saying I'm sorry. It's taken me until halfway through college to realize how much I miss you and to come to terms with the fact that you're pretty much "the one that got away." I never appreciated you enough in high school. I was always complaining, thinking too hard about homework or focusing too much on the future after graduation to stop and smell the valve oil (lol, band jokes), and I'm sorry for that.
I miss you every day. Even though a little more than three years have passed since I last suited up and spent more time on the field than most boys on the football team, you still hold a special place in my heart, and you always will.
Thank you for the friendships you gave me with the most unexpected people. The people who had the most incredible gifts for music combined with the most incredible sense of humor. The people who I shared concession stand nachos with, who I hid in the instrument storage room with and tried to set random things on fire before football games (the closest I ever came to juvenile delinquency, thankfully), who walked to my house for a Halloween bonfire while wearing a poncho and sombrero and who helped me with my absolutely ridiculous senior project where I tried to orchestrate a saxophone quartet (it's on YouTube, if you need a laugh). Thank you for bringing me close to these people who I never would have been friends with otherwise. Today, some of those people are musicians, while others chose other routes and will some day be law enforcement officers, military personnel, teachers, businessmen and women, doctors, lawyers and everything in between. I count myself blessed to have known them and to have at one time worn the same uniforms.
Thank you for encouraging me to push myself every day. I never envisioned myself standing with a heavy metal instrument around my neck, wearing uncomfortable and embarrassing-looking marching shoes on asphalt, turf or soggy grass in freezing and heat-stroke inducing temperatures and in driving rain and intense winds, but I did it countless times for several hours, and not only did I succeed, but I enjoyed every minute of it. The pride of knowing I have the capacity to memorize hundreds of sets of flag work or drill and music and then perform the work by memory in front of hundreds or even thousands of people on Friday and Saturday nights is something no one can ever take from me.
Thank you for giving me a home away from home. Marching band was a family, the band room was our house and the stinky school buses that took us to away games and competitions was our vacation home. In the moments when we would all sing songs, do ridiculous stretches or pause to pray and reflect before "leaving it all on the field" at a game or competition I truly felt like I belonged somewhere. There were so many moments toward the end of every season or toward the end of the school year before seniors graduated where I would look around at the faces I had seen covered in sweat and dark with focus, and tears came to my eyes. Knowing that these people, some of whom had not so long ago been strangers, were working literally in step together to achieve the same goal meant so much, and still does.
Thank you to my band directors for the times you warned us college marching band wouldn't be the same. Because you were right. It isn't. There will never be an organization that can replace the place marching band holds in my heart. I will never again be with a group of my peers in the way I was in high school marching band, but, like my first band director told us, I won't cry because it's over; I'll smile because it happened. Band directors, thank you for always opening your office for a chat and for giving us band kids a place to eat lunch that wasn't the cafeteria. Thank you for loving us and pushing us to our physical limits with marching and our musical limits with playing. Thank you for being passionate about your jobs and treating us like family, even though we demanded much of your time and took you away from your own spouses and children.
Thank you, marching band, for existing. Thank you for taking over my life for about four months every autumn for four years. Thank you for everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, the rainy, the sweaty, the out-of-tune and the beautiful moments where we would join hands and focus on our success as a group.
Thank you for teaching me to keep my chin up, to keep my chest out and to keep my eyes filled with pride.
The now-proud band geek who never said thank you enough in high school.