Marching - A Band Geek Story
I sighed and wiped a pawful of sweat out of my eyes. The stadium’s artificial grass practically radiated heat, and the temperature on normal heat-absorbing ground was in the high eighties.
It was only the second day of band camp, and I was already wishing for it to be over.
For those who don’t know much about marching band, here’s how our Neoschool does it. From the week school ends until the Month of Hiding, we have Tuesday and Wednesday night practices. Then, in the Month of Hiding, we have a solid week of “band camp.” Eight hours a day of heat, physical effort, and instrument playing.
“Juneau!” snapped my section leader as she walked past. “Horn angle!”
With another sigh, I pulled my trumpet back up from its drooping position. My section leader was a strict pink Gelert named Ellen. She gave us no mercy, and, as she told us, she expected nothing less than absolute perfection.
She looked down our row again and barked at another girl further down. “Gia, dress to the line!”
Ellen was a pain in the neck, but she had been appointed by the director, and all the trumpets had to listen to her.
“Get set!” the director called out. (Every single thing he and Ellen said seemed to end in an exclamation point. They were always yelling, calling out, or shrieking.) He started up the amplified metronome that was supposed to keep our feet in time. In reality, it just shattered our eardrums.
With only four days left before the end of camp, everyone was a little frantic. Traditionally, at the end of camp, the band performs their show for a large crowd. We call it the “preview show.”
The director was pushing us to learn as much of the show as we could. He seemed to think that we were holding back, but really, it’s near impossible to learn sixty-plus positions on the field in five days total.
“Juneau!” Ellen was back, standing squarely in front of me, hands on her hips. “Are you too special to march with the rest of us?”
“Huh?” was my brilliant response.
“We started, and you were still staring off into space!” she accused. “I almost ran into you!”
“Uh... sorry,” I said.
“We can do this show without you, you know. Get with it, or get out.”
She stalked off, leaving me to stop the tears that appeared in my eyes.
I set out my sandwich at lunch and looked around my table. It seemed too empty, and I knew why.
Candia the orange Gelert, Yew the cloud Grundo, and Wandol the Werelupe had all joined marching band too, but only two of them really hung out with me anymore. Yew liked to sit and talk with his drummer buddies. Aiwa, the island Ixi who had been my best friend, had become fast friends with Gia, the electric Jetsam trumpet-player, and now both of them were nasty to me without reason. They snickered every time I made a mistake.
Wandol snapped his fingers in front of my face. “You’re staring at Aiwa again,” he pointed out.
“Oh, yeah.” I turned my attention to my sandwich.
“Forget her,” Candia advised me.
Candia seemed to have blossomed in marching band. She was less shy, more likely to put in her two Neopoints’ worth, and more decisive on everything. She was thriving in high school. And I wasn’t.
Aiwa and her new “best friend” Gia walked past, arms linked and laughing.
As we went into music rehearsal the next day I was apprehensive. Ellen had asked (“asked”? I mean commanded) us to have the first song of the show memorized for today. We would have to play it, from memory and one-by-one, in front of all the trumpet players.
All the older players went first, flawless as usual, except for a couple minor mistakes that were almost unnoticeable. The closer it got to my turn, the more nervous I got. Aiwa was up, and she pulled it off without a hitch. Candia next—she froze up midway, but remembered the notes and finished the piece. Gia’s rendition was absolutely perfect.
My hands were shaking. I could feel Aiwa and Gia's mocking eyes on me as I stepped up to play.
My first few notes sounded like a jumble of unrelated sounds—a Frogarott’s croak, the screech of a Whoot—but then I hit my stride. I played on, undisturbed, for another few phrases, but then I heard a horrible sound.
Gia and Aiwa, snickering.
I looked over at them as I played, letting my memory guide my fingers on the valves. I wanted to know why they were laughing, and I found out soon enough.
They were laughing to make me trip over the notes.
Because I wasn’t focusing on the music, I messed up. Big time. I couldn’t get started again, and Ellen wouldn’t let me try again from the beginning. I was sent back to my seat in disgrace.
I was the only one who wasn’t able to finish the song.
Day three. Oh, Fyora.
After a failed attempt at marching and playing at the same time, the director sent us to sectionals with the command to “work on the dang music!” Ellen made us run it through time after time, and then we had to play it one-by-one again. I didn’t mess up this time. I made a point not to look at Gia or Aiwa.
“Hey, good improvement,” one of the older players, a red Lutari, told me on the way to lunch. “You did better this time.” He gave me a short smile and hurried off to join his friends. I resolved to memorize his words for the next time Aiwa or Ellen told me something mean.
After lunch, we went back outside, with noticeable progress. We were able to march the first third of the show with only a few mistakes. But we only had two days left to learn two songs’ worth of drill.
Gia and Aiwa walked past me on my way home. They were skipping and holding hands. Somehow, even though they should have looked ridiculous, they didn’t. They looked... right. Like they were meant to be friends.
Maybe they really did deserve each other. They both enjoyed being spiteful.
The next day, Ellen screamed at me again. I hadn’t been doing anything too wrong, just standing at attention instead of parade rest. She could have just said, “Parade rest, not attention, Juneau.” But she didn’t. She went into a full-on tirade about how I never listened and how I should be kicked out of band.
The nice Lutari from the day before stepped out of the line. She stopped her ranting and looked at him, about to tear into him instead of me.
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh, Ellen?” he asked. “I mean, she’s new to this. Give her a break, y’know?”
Ellen sputtered, staring at him in disbelief. I flashed him a thankful smile and that was it. Nothing more was said about it, and Ellen went back to patrolling our line with occasional “Get your horn UP!”s.
It was time for the preview show.
We hadn’t gotten through all the drill, so we had decided to perform the first two parts of it. I was okay with that—why attempt to perform something you don’t know?
We were standing in a parade block up by the school, instruments held at attention, quivering with the effort of holding our excitement inside. One of the drummers started us off, giving three quick taps on his snare. We started marching down the hill towards the stadium.
Silently, we made our way onto the field. The disembodied voice coming from the speakers announced us, and then we were off. We marched through the sets with a sense of I-can’t-believe-this-actually-looks-good, and at the end we snapped our horns down with a flourish. The crowd applauded. The announcer listed the names of the entire band, and it was over.
Ellen called a trumpet meeting over by one end of the field. “I know you all think you did pretty well. But I saw, like, absolutely tons of noticeable mistakes. We will be working our tails off at the next practice. Okay?” She sent a glare around the circle. I shared an exasperated glance with the red Lutari before Ellen dismissed us. I started to walk up the huge hill leading to the school.
“Juneau!” Two voices called my name. I turned around and saw Yew and the red Lutari guy exchanging a grin. Yew loped ahead and reached me first.
“Hey, stranger,” I said, feeling awkward. I hadn’t talked to him in months.
“Fun show, huh?” He twirled around, looking at the sky. “Marching band is great.”
“Yeah... uh, yeah, it is.”
“Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you much.” Yew stopped twisting and looked seriously at me. “Really sorry. I mean, we were just getting to be friends and... I got a little caught up in band. And the older drummers. And everything. So... I’ll see you around, okay? I promise.”
I smiled at him a bit sadly, wondering if he would make good on his promise. “Sure. Bye, Yew.”
The Lutari reached me seconds after Yew walked off. He gave me a smile and said, “I don’t think I ever really introduced myself. I’m Kota. You’re really good at trumpet—maybe you could be section leader one day.”
“That’s an interesting idea. Thanks, Kota.”
We walked back up to the school.
Who knows? Maybe I could do it.