Remembering My Marching Band School Days


I had an opportunity to hear a good old marching band last week, and it was so much fun that I made a mental note to stop and listen to every brass band I can — sort of a “stop and smell the roses” thing for the ears.

This particular marching band was of the amateur sort, but that didn’t matter to me. Hearing the occasional wrong note only brought back memories of my own high school band days. And the fact that I played the clarinet better at age 16 than their first chair clarinetist did at 40-something gave me a wicked sort of pleasure. Ha! The three hours a day I spent practicing had been worth it.

The repertoire was heavy on John Philip Sousa and the theme songs of the various branches of the armed forces, and that is how it should be right around the Fourth of July. Any audience member who had served in the U.S. Navy was asked to stand and be cheered during “Anchors Aweigh.” The same went for the Marines during the “Marine Corps Hymn.”

The pinnacle was reached when the group enthusiastically presented “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” a march that is heavy on the piccolos and considered to be Sousa’s masterpiece. I love the song and, for me, it brings back memories of marching in the halftime show on Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

The Packers won that day, and went on to win the Super Bowl that year, too, although that is not my primary memory. My primary memory is how old the quarterback looked. I just couldn’t believe he was still able to play football! Good old Bart Starr. Sadly, he was probably half the age I am now. And Vince Lombardi was the coach. I am sure he is resting in peace, as all of Wisconsin still loves him.

Thinking back, our band probably sounded much worse than the band I saw today. The guys were so excited to be there that they could barely play, and the girls were busy deciding to quit the band and sign up for cheerleading the minute they got home.

But back to the present.

One thing I liked about today’s group was that they started every piece with a flurry of drum rolls and some enthusiastic pounding of the bass drum. There’s nothing like a bass drum to get your heart beating properly. And a kilted bagpiper at intermission certainly makes you smile.

There were also two guys in vintage wool uniforms depicting soldiers of old. They were sweating like soldiers of old, too. But these guys’ job after ushering in the band consisted primarily of handing out little flags to the children. You look out into an audience of little children waving flags, and it puts a smile on your face. When our grandson asked why he got one, I told him, “For being a good American.”

May it always be so.