Today's story is about lessons learned, memories made and respect earned. If there was a soundtrack playing it would be Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. Always Bruce Springsteen.
When I was in high school I participated in a number of activities including cheerleading, gymnastics and writing for the school newspaper. But the activity that meant the most to me was being a majorette in the marching band.
It started in 5th or 6th grade when my friend Dona and I took baton twirling lessons from a woman that had been a majorette when she was in high school. We had fun learning how to twirl a baton and thought it was a great idea when she suggested that we try out to be majorettes when we were in 7th grade. The only concern we had was that the marching band director had a reputation for being pretty tough and we were scared. To try out we had to go to band practice and do some twirling for him. Our lessons paid off and he said we could join the band!
Here's a picture of Dona and me standing at attention during a Memorial Day ceremony (I'm on the right). As you can see our uniforms, although wool, were cooler than the band uniforms since they were sleeveless and short. I still have this uniform.
The marching band included a color guard, the majorettes and the band. Each group was separate in some ways with their own heirachy, yet we were all working towards the same goal which was to win our competitions. Our school included students two small towns just six miles apart so our practices were split between the two towns. We practiced two nights a week (Tuesday and Thursday) one night in each town. As we marched through town kids would follow along on their bikes and people would come out of their homes to watch and wave.
The band was led by the color guard. The front group included the flag barer followed by the rifles. They weren't real rifles but I still wonder if they are allowed in high school bands today. This group didn't just cary the rifles, they had a choreographed routine that was pretty awesome. Behind them was a group of flag carriers that also had a routine. The color guard had a former member that worked with them as an advisor but the real leaders of the group were the rifles. They earned the respect of the group through hard work and it showed.
The band itself was a big group led by the Drum Major (in the white uniform). You can see here the nice, straight rows which are a requirement for any good band. The Drum Major position was one determined by the band director to be a leader and they were responsible for keeping everyone in line - literally.
This photo shows Dona and me in action; note our new uniforms with long sleeves and longer skirts. Not our choice. As you can see we are perfectly in sync which was something we worked hard to achieve. We had the benefit of being somewhat independent. We choreographed our own routines and the band director gave us creative freedom and never asked to preview our routine before we performed. The other great thing about our position was that we were the only members of the band that were allowed - actually encouraged - to smile and interact with the crowd.
I LOVED being part of the marching band and it's hard to put into words how much it meant to me. I've spent the last few days thinking about why that activity means so much more to me than any other activity I participated in and what I came up with is that it taught me discipline, teamwork, hard work and it was fun!
I also think the band director played a big part in my love of marching. As I mentioned, he had a reputation for being tough. He demanded hard work and he commanded respect. He was a big man and he could be heard yelling at band members if they were goofing around or not paying attention. However, it didn't take long before we all figured out that he had a big heart and that his gruff exterior masked a pretty neat guy. Dona and I had fun joking around with him and although he would try to act serious we would often see a smile on his face as he turned away.
One year we went on a big trip to Traverse City, Michigan to march in the National Cherry Festival parade. Before we left we each received a letter from the band director. I still have my copy and it was typed on a typewriter and I can feel the raised letters. It's hard to believe that he would have typed 130 letters (that's how many band members there were at the time) but it's also hard to believe that I ended up with the only original. Based on what I know about him I do think that he typed (or maybe his wife did) each letter.
Here's an excerpt from the letter, which was an entire page:
If you look at the last sentence of the letter he states that he was proud of us and that we mean a lot to him. Not too gruff, right? I think what made him such a great leader is the fact that he could be tough and demanding while still letting us know that he cared about us.
Here's a picture of our band director, Mr. Lindwall with his wife and some of the band members when we went on an afternoon boat cruise on Lake Superior. We had marched in Hibbing, Minnesota and spent the night since it was a four hour drive. The next day we went on this afternoon cruise before heading home. He tried to include fun activities for us, especially when the trip included more than a few hours on a bus.
In our community now the marching band struggles to get members and they have had to limit the number of parades each summer in order to attract more students. That makes me so sad because the kids are missing out on a great experience. Clearly being a member of the marching band had a big influence on me!
As I was writing this post my daughter called. She asked what I was writing about and when I told her she said, "Mom, at some point you're going to have to get over that".