The fourth and final part of this photographic celebration of high school marching bands isn’t potential or kinetic or unusual.
It’s the end of the show.
The awards ceremonies.
Whole bands sitting in the stands, cheering the winners’ exhibition performance in a display of sportsmanship we probably ought not take for granted.
It’s the entire extended band family bidding farewell to two Millers after thirty amazing years.
Starting tomorrow, for several consecutive weeks, it will all happen again. Some of the same youth and lots of new ones will perform new shows for the first time in competition — and, too soon, for the last time.
Another year of work and discipline. Another season of beauty and grace.
As before, I know only some of the bands and a few of the individuals’ names, so I name none of them. You’re welcome to help me identify them, of course. The American Fork High School Band gets a disproportionate share of my attention here, but I am unapologetic.
Speaking of American Fork, how about the altitude on that jump? (You’ll know it when you see it.)
There’s a public service announcement at the end of this part. Thanks for reading it.
After four years with a mellophone player in the American Fork High School Marching Band, our household is marching band-free. For me there are some withdrawal pangs.
In those four years I visited band camp a few times; made a feature-length documentary about the band and a shorter video tribute to a retiring director, John Miller; dabbled at social media; wrote press releases, blog posts, and newspaper features; edited others’ newspaper columns about the marching band experience; and attended one competition after another.
I worked with parents and other boosters, directors, and staff from print and broadcast media outlets. I even sent the trumpet I played through my first year of college to Grand Nationals and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to be played, of course, by someone much younger.
Along the way I met more fine people than I can count — and not just band students. Virtually everyone I met seemed to know what I tried to remember throughout: We weren’t the story. The story was — is — the kids, their music, their show.
I am not a photographer, as you will quickly see, but I snapped some photos along the way. Here are a few from state and regional competitions in St. George, Utah, last fall. I offer them to help us get in the mood for marching band, if we’re not already, and perhaps also to relieve my withdrawal symptoms.
One of my first conscious acts on this Thanksgiving morning was to pull a folder from my file cabinet and thumb through it. It’s a file I started years ago. It’s full of thank-you notes people have sent me. (And yes, thanking me is the reverse of this day’s proper theme, but it leads there in its way.)
Many of them are from my years as an LDS (Mormon) bishop in American Fork, Utah, or from my time in a similar role in Ithaca, New York. This is not because bishops are the least bit more wonderful than anyone else, but because a pastor’s relationship with his or her congregation naturally includes being conspicuously involved in the difficulties of their lives, in both public and private ways — and because we get a lot of credit for splendid things done by others.
Some of my favorite expressions are not written at all. One man with whom I worked, as he endured severe, long-term trials, gave me a four-pound specimen from his petrified wood collection, because he wanted to give something but couldn’t think of anything else he had to give. Another gave me a wool hat which an Afghan tribal leader (I say warlord, to impress people) gave him as token of thanks for service to him and his people.
I’m driving south to St. George, Utah, today for my middle son’s last two competitions as a member of the American Fork High School Marching Band. If my youngest son doesn’t change his mind in the next few years, this will be my last weekend with a child competing in the marching band.
Today is the Red Rocks Invitational, which is also the Utah state championship. Tomorrow is the Bands of America Western Regional, which draws fine bands from Utah and other western states, including California.
These are also John Miller’s last two marching band competitions before he retires next spring, after 30 years as Director of Bands at AFHS.
And last week at Pleasant Grove High School, the AFHS Marching Band hosted the final competition of the regular season, the Mt. Timpanogos Marching Band Competition, where over 3,000 students in 43 bands gathered from schools in Utah and Idaho.
All these lasts and possible lasts inspire some thoughts.
I find band parent Mark Standing on the highest row of the stands at Pleasant Grove High School’s football stadium. He and I work with a few others on the American Fork High School Band Booster Publicity Committee, feeding press releases, stories, and commentary to print and broadcast media. We’re at the Mt. Timpanogos Marching Band Competition, so we’re technically working, but it’s that rare sort of work they must mean when they say, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Regrettably, we can’t support our families at this; it pays exactly 100% less than our day jobs.
Mark gestures toward the blanket next to him and says, “She’ll be back in a few minutes. She’s from Sky View, and she says she’s a psychotic band mom.”
I am not a mental health specialist, but I understand that psychosis is a disorder in which one becomes detached from external reality.
I look forward to her return for three reasons. Sky View is my second-favorite Utah high school marching band, after my own American Fork. Band moms are dizzyingly high on the coolness meter. And I have some long-standing grievances with reality generally.
Today is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays – and perhaps you’ll forgive me if I parse that word as holy day. If we raise our aim above the purely horizontal, thanksgiving – or gratitude, if you please – is one of the highest acts of worship.
Usually on this holy day, I think of the big stuff, from infinite grace born of God to the spilled blood of patriots and the wrenching sacrifices of their loved ones. All of that is still there, still here, still the object of daily gratitude. But as this holy day has approached, I have reflected on smaller, more personal things. I hope this doesn’t sound too self-serving. In any case it has been an interesting year – and I know it’s not quite over yet.