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.
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.
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.
I know the educational reasons for having music programs — and drama and sports and other such programs in schools. At least I know most of them. I know that these efforts, seriously engaged in, develop the mind, the heart, the body, the character — the person. I know they are a laboratory, in which youth can explore excellence in a relatively safe, supervised environment. I wrote about that once, in a season when the human cost of such efforts had become heroically, tragically high, and it was natural to wonder if it was worth it.
It is worth it. The reasons make sense to me, and I see them in action in my children, just as I see them retrospectively in myself, playing in the high school band from eighth grade, playing on the basketball team, and singing for two years in a fine ensemble we called the Snake River High School Chamber Singers.
All of this justifies the cost of instruments, private lessons, and band fees — even all the oh-dark-thirty driving between home and school.
All of this makes me willing to bear the cost.
Why I am glad to bear the cost is easy to remember and easy to see. I saw and remembered it tonight. It is more difficult to describe, but that is my object here.