band jive

Brace yourselves, babies. I’m about to drop a big ol’ truth bomb on you here. I’m going to reveal something about my past that will stun you and could possibly even knock you off your feet, so to avoid liability issues I kindly ask you to take a seat. Buckle in, if said seat includes some kind of restraint mechanism (if you’re driving a car, for example, or riding a roller coaster, both of which are ideal environments for reading and/or enjoying my writing). Here goes.

I was a band geek.

I know, right?! Who would have ever thought that an approval-craving, socially awkward misfit would gravitate to the arts? Why wouldn’t a short, clumsy, rail-thin Star Trek fan be naturally drawn to, say, athletics?

Wait, why aren’t any of you acting surprised? Hmmph. All right, fine. I guess it’s not all that shocking. I mean, come on. I’m a dork. And don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that band-types are inherently dorks, but let’s be honest: if someone plopped you in the courtyard of an American high school and offered you a million dollars if you could produce a dork within five minutes, don’t try to tell me you wouldn’t make a beeline for the band room. Not passing judgement here, it’s just science.

So, yeah. I was a nerdy outcast back in my schoolin’ days, and for whatever reason I found a home of sorts with a bunch of other nerdy outcasts who thought making music was kind of cool and who were fine with being considered decidedly uncool. And because it was not enough for me to be considered weird just by the very fact of my membership in the band organization, I decided to take it one dorky step further by playing the clarinet. Because why wouldn’t I. Of course, it’s not like I had a burning passion for the mellifluous tones of the clarinet. My bedroom was not plastered with Benny Goodman and Pete Fountain posters (not only because there was no such thing, but also because it was not 1943). I made that decision the way I make all my decisions: I put it off until I was forced to clumsily stumble into a corner where only one decision was possible. So basically, I played the clarinet because I knew a guy who had one I could use. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have played drums, partly because I have a surprisingly solid sense of rhythm but mostly because I really enjoy hitting things that can’t hit back. But no, I had to choose a musical instrument that may as well have come with a magical cloak that made me invisible to girls. A dude carrying a clarinet in high school is like a dude walking into a speed dating session with a printed-out herpes diagnosis and a badge that says “NOT YOUR TYPE.”

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t have stuck with it all through junior high school (this is what we called “middle school” back in Ye Olde Dayyes) and high school and all through college. I had fun in band. I did! And I was actually not too shabby at it. I was good enough to make All-Region every year and even All-State my senior year (though I suspect that says more about the shallow depth of the Arkansas clarinet pool than it says about my raw talent). And I had enough musical proficiency that I was allowed to also play saxa-ma-phone and even a little bass drum here and there when the need arose. (And if you ever need an image to pull you out of a depressive episode with its sheer comic ridiculousness, just picture a scrawny dwarf like me carrying around a bass drum.) That was in the pre-college years, anyway… in my college years, when I was competing for placement with people who actually cared about practicing and whatnot, I almost always hovered near last chair. Humiliating, yes, but better than I probably deserved.

In the only example of a more-or-less positive influence I have had on their lives, both The Boy and The Girl have gravitated to the band world in their adolescence. The Boy, in fact, is in the Pride Band at Missouri State… the selfsame marching band where I spent four years taking up space on the field. That’s what woodwinds do in marching band, you know. You can’t hear them on the field (and who would want to? ugh). Woodwinds are there just to fill in the holes between drum and brass formations. Seen and not heard! As it should be! As a baritone/euphonium player, The Boy need not worry about sad irrelevance on the marching field. You can hear him! Of course, that puts a little added pressure on him, as you have to both look and sound good out there amongst them yard lines and hash marks. The woodwinds only had to look good, which they generally did, despite my rank marching incompetence.

And oh, such incompetence! The stories I could tell you about the myriad ways I managed to trip over my own feet and step one way when I was supposed to step another and look the fool in front of literally dozens of hundreds of spectators. And those stories shall be told, in next week’s very special installment of my ongoing “that’s what dumb do” series.

Disappointed? Of course you are. Now you know how my band directors felt.


“that’s what dumb do: the time(s) I looked the fool in marching band”

(or some such title, kind of up in the air right now … eh, I guess that one is good enough, not going for a Pulitzer here)