Banding Together

One of the aspects of being a parent that I enjoy is that my child’s interests and abilities broaden my world. This was the case with our daughter, Jennifer, who plays clarinet in the Petaluma High band. On Saturday, Steve and I accompanied her to the Tournament of Champions Band Review in Fairfield. As a side note, I’m using “accompanied” very loosely; Jennifer who is 14 tries to disavow any relation to us when we are out in public together.

Previously, my only exposure to marching bands was watching the local high school bands in the Butter & Egg Days Parade and occasionally catching a band marching in a parade on TV. But attending the Fairfield competition opened my eyes to a whole subculture devoted to supporting students in high school bands. It was one of those “Who knew?” kind of experiences.

The day started very early for everybody. The PHS Wind Ensemble was first on the schedule in the Concert Competition which meant that the kids were on the bus in front of Petaluma High at 5:00am and in their seats in the Fairfield High School gym with their uniforms on ready for Mr. Eveland’s downbeat at 7:10.

Following the concert performance, which by the way, I can proudly say that PHS won first place, the kids headed back to the bus area to get ready for the marching competition. It was as the moms were helping the kids take care of last minute details ““ such as no hair hanging down from under their hat, any remnants of black nail polish removed, and ear studs covered up with Band-Aids ““ that it started pouring rain. In a matter of minutes, the canopies that the parents had set up to protect the instruments had inches of water in them.

While chatting with Mr. Eveland, we learned that normally the kids would be out warming up prior to the time they were schedule to march at 9:45. But why have everybody get colder and wetter than was absolutely necessary? Soon the decision was made to bring out the ponchos; the inspection portion of the competition would be dropped. Forget crisp uniforms; the kids would be lucky if they didn’t finish the competition looking like drowned rats.

While I can’t exactly say that the clouds parted and the sun broke through just as they were about to march, thankfully it did stop raining. We walked along side the band as the marched through a residential neighborhood adjacent to Fairfield High which had been closed off to traffic. About mid-way through the route, the band passed the judges stand where they were scored for a variety of skills such as their musicianship, marching and color guard. It’s a lot of preparation for a very short time of competition.

The kids completed the loop and headed back to the staging area for a group photo.

Because we had arrived in the pre-dawn, it wasn’t until later in the morning that I realized what a huge event the Fairfield competition is. There were 38 bands slated to perform. And where you have bands, you have a lot of instruments and uniforms that need to be hauled to the event. Every square foot of a parking lot that was as big as a football field was filled with buses, trailers, awnings and swarms of students in various styles of military-inspired band uniforms.

Given the economic downturn and the way most schools these days are struggling to fund their music programs, Steve and I were surprised at how prosperous many of the school groups looked. Plenty of them had trucks or trailers emblazoned with the name and logo of their school band.

But regardless of how much money any particular school has, none of those students got there on their own steam. And that’s what I really liked about Saturday’s competition. I got an opportunity to see that it takes a village to raise a band”¦so to speak.  Events like this happen because of the band directors, parents and volunteers who are passionate about the good things that students get from participating in band so they work unselfishly behind the scenes. They willingly give of their time, energy and sleep.

Thanks to yesterday’s experience, I will be watching the marching bands in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a new level of appreciation.

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