Autumn/Fall is my favorite season. There is something about the cool crisp air and fall colors that I absolutely love. With fall comes sweatshirt weather, bonfires, and high school football games. Those high school football games remind me of marching band and the annual homecoming.
“Homecoming” is defined as “an annual tradition where people, towns, high schools, and colleges come together (usually in the fall) to welcome back former residents or alumni”. Over the past couple weeks, I have enjoyed seeing many of my Facebook friends posting Homecoming pictures. Many of them are pictures of their sons or daughters all dressed up for the dance while some pictures are from Homecoming parades. Some of the pictures were posted by former classmates who are now teaching at my old high school, and they brought back some great memories.
Prior to high school, our junior high band marched in the homecoming parades and played a song or two. I don’t ever recall staying for the homecoming game afterward. I don’t ever recall walking in the parade while I was in elementary school either, though that seems to be the thing nowadays. At my son’s parade last year, every single elementary school in the district had some sort of representation or float of some kind.
Our ninth grade band had something like 70-100 members if my memory serves me correct. Because of that fact, we stayed a separate entity. We were the Varsity Band and the 10th-12th graders were in the Concert/Marching Band. As Freshmen, we also marched in the parade as a “bonus” band. It was just a taste of what was to come as we entered 10th grade.
1985-1986 – Marching Band Season 1
Prior to school starting, we were given our music for the year’s Marching Band season. The music consisted of the four songs for our halftime show, music for the pregame, music that would be used for pep assemblies, and music that we might play in the stands or in a parade. The instructions were clear “Memorize these songs!” To be honest, this scared the hell out of me. I was never good at memorizing anything, but after playing along with the cassette tape that was available, I had most of it ready by band camp.
I will spare you the obligatory “this one time at band camp” line and just say that band camp was 1) hard work 2) hot and 3) a blast. We had all gotten the “charts” of what the pregame and halftime show were supposed to look like. It was neat to look at, but as a sophomore who had never charted a show, I had no idea what it meant. Basically, the chart shows where you are at one point in the song on one page and where you are going on the pages that follow. You might start on the 30 yard line, but in 12 measures, you are going to march in step to the 45 yard line and take your place there. Then over the course of another 24 measures, you are going to make your way over to the 25 yard line while marching side step (horn facing the stands) and playing the melody.
You can imagine the amount of rehearsal time that something like this has to take. I can recall our band director asking us to do it over and over and over again. “Pick it up from measure 8″….”Keith was out of step, let’s do it again” … “The flutes need to be louder here”…. “Good! Let’s try it all the way through from the top – one more time!” Slowly, but surely, the show came together. It wasn’t until we saw a video of the show from one of the football games that I really came to know how cool the show looked on the field.
I’ll never forget the songs from the show. It opened with “Artistry in Rhythm”, which was Stan Kenton’s theme song. We were all lined up facing the visitor stands. Ronnie, the junior drum major faced us, while John, the head drum major was on the podium, waiting for us to turn around on the first note. We all stood with our heads down and as Ronnie counted to eight, we slowly raised our heads, brought our instruments to our lips and as he said “eight” we stepped off turning toward the home stands with the dramatic opening of the tune. Not sure how I remember that, but I can recall it like it was yesterday! It was a pretty tough song with some pretty high notes. Cathy played this amazing trumpet solo on the song and nailed it every show. She was one of two trumpet players who I admired in our band. As a young player, I hoped one day I could play as well as them.
Next, we played the Louis Prima song “Sing, Sing, Sing”, which of course was a big hit for the Benny Goodman band. I think of all the songs we played for marching band, it was my favorite. We had a solid percussion section and they really held this one together. This song had a bit for everybody. The melody was carried by the brass, the woodwinds, and the low brass even got to shine in this one. What I remember most about this song was that at the end of the song, the band formed a G-Clef on the field while the drums and majorettes formed a musical note. It truly was a very cool thing.
Our third song was called Rock ‘n Roll Fever, which was a medley of songs like Heartbreak Hotel, At the Hop, and others. Carmelle was our first chair trumpet. She was the section leader. She had a pretty amazing solo in this number (as did Chad and Scott). She could nail high notes and they were clear as a bell. I remember I had only heard the solos on the cassette tape prior to us all getting together on the field. To hear Cathy and Carmelle knock those solos out of the park every time, truly stuck with me.
What I didn’t really care for was the fact that there was a dance that was created to go along with this song. We all stayed in the formation we ended with at the end of Sing, Sing, Sing and we did this dance. As silly as I felt doing it, the crowd seemed to like it a lot. We did a dance to at least one song every year I was in marching band…sadly. Maybe I just wish we had continued to do some more moving around on the field, but I kinda hated the dance numbers.
The final number of our show was “I’ll Be There”, which was a HUGE hit for the Jackson 5. It was the perfect show closer. It was a very soft and pretty arrangement and the movement of the band matched it perfectly. As the song ended, we all marched off the field to head back to the “band bleachers” to continue to root for our Football Team – The Abes (who were coached by the best – Jim Benefield. My Senior year – he helped coach them to an undefeated season!).
Other Random Marching Band Memories
- Marching in a parade is always a cool thing. Marching in a parade through Disney, kind of tops them all! You’d stop in specific spots at times and play a song, then get back into ranks and march a bit more. Mickey, Goofy, Pluto and all the characters would be around dancing to your songs. Such fun times and great memories.
- The Hall Football Hall of Fame Parade. We did this once … once! It had to be the longest parade EVER! I remember we were marching and we’d see a floating balloon in front of us start to come down. We’d be thinking “the end is near – we are almost done” and that damn balloon would jump back up in the air and mock us! By the end of the parade, our legs felt like jelly and our lips were basically dead.
- Senior year I got to play a solo in the half time show. We did the George Gershwin song Rhapsody in Blue. One of my lifelong friends, Margaret, and I got to play solos. She stood on one side of me and we did a “question and answer” type solo. I played, she answered. The solo was quite easy for me, and nothing as complicated as the solos that were played by Cathy and Carmelle in my first year of marching band, but it was still a solo. It was exciting! I knew it and I had it memorized, but I was always nervous each time I had to play that thing in front of the crowd. It’s funny to think about that now, as I am quite comfortable being in front of a crowd (because of the radio work I did for so long). I guess, when you think about it, both scenarios are “performing” in front of a group, but with band – there are always the possibilities of playing a wrong note!
- Doggin’ Around. We had this fun, bouncy and jazzy number called Doggin’ Around. I might be wrong, but I want to say it was a Count Basie song. Anyway, it was a damn fun song to play and I thought it would be fun to conduct it. Some of us were taking a conducting class and I asked the band director if I could conduct it at one of the games. I must have pestered him enough because he said yes. We played the song during our post game show. (This was done when the home team won a game – and we won EVERY game that year!) I knew that song inside and out. I knew where every brass sting was, I knew where the tuba line was important, and I knew where every crescendo and decrescendo was! I counted it off and the band played – how they were able to follow me, I am not sure. I was moving my hips all over the place in time with the song. I was dancing along while conducting. It was crazy. When I saw a video of it, I was embarrassed at just how silly I looked, but again, the crowd seemed to love it, and I was having fun.
- The Washington and Lee Swing. The Lincoln School Song. I can still play this by memory! This is one of those “If I had a dollar for every time I played this song…” songs. It was a parade favorite, it was played at pep assemblies, it was played during pre-game, post-game, when the football team entered the field, and every single time the team scored! While in school, I think we kind of got sick of it … but now, when I hear it, I am reminded of some of the best days of my life!
- The Star Spangled Banner. You hear the National Anthem before each and every sporting event. With high school events, it is no different. One thing I always remember is that whenever our band director conducted it, he played it pretty quickly. I think one time he said, “there’s no need to drag it out – we wanna get the game started”. Whenever I hear a band play it slow and drag it out … I always think about how fast we used to play it.
- The Italian Number. We Got The Beat was a hit for The Go Go’s in 1980. I’m not sure when the LHS Band started playing it, but it basically became a tradition. It was a standard “must play” song every year. It is also another song that I can play by memory. In marching band, you play while at attention – feet together, back strait, horn level to the ground. With this song, all bets were off. You danced, you swayed, you “got down”, and had fun! It was a celebratory song that was a “staple” to every post game show. It was often called “We Gotta Da Beat” or “that Italian number”. I’m not sure if it is still a tradition at LHS, but deep down, I hope it is.
Times have changed
When I go to a high school football game today I get excited to watch the band! I walk in with the expectation of seeing lots of movement and hearing the full, loud sounds of the band. Recently, I have been somewhat disappointed. It seems that today, you need to have an entire pit full of xylophones, bells, and in some cases, electric guitars! I understand that these are all musical instruments, but I’m old school and I don’t think they belong.
At one recent performance, it took the band 3 minutes just to get all the stuff down in front of the gridiron for the show. To me, this is a waste of performance time. When that clock started to tick away the halftime break, we were entering the field, and within a minute, we were playing! I digress. Bottom line, I DO love to watch a marching band and it takes me back to a time in my life where I had a lot of fun.
Thanks to YouTube, there are many great college marching band shows available to view online. Recently the LSU Marching Band got a lot of attention doing a halftime show with a bunch of TV themes. OSU has also gained attention with some of their great shows as well. I am always amazed at the things these bands are able to do on the field. Kudos to the creators of these shows, they entertain in SO many ways!
After I graduated in 1988, we created an Alumni Band. Keeping with the Homecoming theme, it was a chance for band alumni to come back and march in the Homecoming parade again. We pulled out the school song one more time and played it with every ounce of school spirit we had. We were able to order a new piece of music to play in the parade as well. After our band director retired, the tradition of the alumni band returning began to fade. Part of the fun was rehearsing again with him and laughing like old times.
It’s been some time since the alumni band last played for Homecoming. Who knows if the interest is still there and whether or not the new band director would be open to welcoming us back. I do know this – Each and every fall I will always be reminded of those chilly days of fall where I’d suit up in my band uniform and march on to the field to play that school song loud and proud! I will remember with a smile how very special it was to be in the marching band!