I was in the band in high school. For a lot of people, that's all they need or want to know about my personality. It explains everything: Nerd. Geek. That sort of thing. For those who dig a little deeper, they find that it's still a basic truth inside of me. I learned to be part of a group. I was intensely loyal. The friends I made back then are the ones who stood up at my wedding, and even though I haven't picked up a brass instrument in decades, the connections to these folks have lasted long past our last parade together.
These intense bonds were forged, in part, by the rigor with which we all pursued our music and marching. We competed in statewide contests that were decided by tenths of a point, and the rivalries we felt with other schools' bands were as intense as anything the rest of our student body experienced on the football field or basketball court. I suppose I should be grateful for the opportunity to share these feelings with a group of likewise committed social misfits. I should be happy that our band director pushed us to higher and higher expectations, culminating in our invitation to Mexico City to perform as a part of an exchange program. When we put on our uniforms, the awkwardness we might have felt in the hallways drifted away, and we became part of something bigger: The Band.
And yet, looking back now from my current position, I can't help but feel a little chagrined. As a teacher myself, I can reflect on the methods and manipulations of our band director and I wonder how I got so taken in by the hoopla. Sure, he was a motivator of young men and women, and we won our share of trophies, but I do wonder about the self-esteem of my friends and bandmates. A lot of his techniques, ridicule and sarcasm, wouldn't have sounded out of the mouth of any high school sports coach. My older brother endured and rose to the lofty rank of Drum Major. I followed in his wake and managed to get elected to the not-as-lofty rank of Pep Band President. My younger brother took the abuse for a year and had enough. He had other ways to feel good about himself, and so he went his own way. He had his taste of paramilitary organization, and he bailed. His high school buddies aren't bandies. I got married to a cymbal player. I guess that's a win for both of us.