It’s the end of October. In Indiana, that doesn’t just mean it’s time for football playoffs. Here, it’s also marching band finals season.
I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Indiana, marching band is big. It’s huge. And for the families involved, it’s all-consuming.
Yes, I was in the band, and darn proud of it. Two years on clarinet, one year as first bass drum (yep, five foot nothing and 95 pounds at the time, picture that, everyone) and one year as drum major. If it hadn’t been for band, I never would have met my future-husband, never would have had the chance to meet the amazing friends on the field around me each of those years, and never would have had the chance to go back and teach for several years after I graduated.
But the biggest thing that marching band taught me was to believe. Believe in our band, believe in our program, and, most of all, believe in myself.
I wasn’t the best musician on the field, or the best marching maniac, but I always tried to give it my all. And when our band learned the end of my junior year that our school had outgrown its Class B size group and was moving up into Class A, I didn’t panic. While the room filled with groans of agony, I turned to my friend Sue and simply shrugged. “So? We’ll just have to go out and win in Class A.”
And you know what? We did.
And not because the competition was lighter in Class A – far from it. We were now going head to head with schools far larger than ours, and with budgets for their programs that I’m sure exceeded ours as well. It wasn’t our amazing flags, terrific music or stellar marching that won the championship – it was the heart and soul we all put into that show.
Of course, we were tested all along the way. The competition was fierce, the weather unpredictable (like fall always is in Indiana) and we were on a mission to come into Class A and make a statement. But by the end of October, the fight to the top began to take its toll on our group.
Being one of four drum majors that year, one of my many (albeit unspoken) responsibilities was to keep the band pushing forward. The week before our state finals competition, I started to hear some people grumbling—they were burned out, and just ready for the season to be over. And I remember being frustrated as heck that we were so close to achieving our dream of winning, and yet had people whining that they were sick of not being able to sleep in on weekends.
So mid-week I asked our director before practice if we (the drum majors) could “borrow” the band for a few minutes. I got a warning look from him, then was granted my request. “Ten minutes. No more.” See, we wanted to help inspire them, give them that last little bit of motivation to stick it out just a few more days. We got everyone huddled up and I began the most important pep talk of my life. Truth be told, to this day I still can’t remember what I said, or what any of the drum majors said for that matter. But we must have done something right, because by the time we were called out to practice, our band’s attitude did a 180. The passion had returned. It was incredible.
(I had an underclassman come up to me several years later and say she’d never forget my speech. Too bad I didn’t record it – I’d love to hear what I said.)
And with that collective resurgence in our commitment, we went on to become the 1992 ISSMA State Marching Band champions that year. It’s a memory I will never forget. But it wasn’t just about winning – it was believing that we could do it, and then going out and following through. About not giving up with the going got tough. About not tucking our tails and running when we were moved up a class before the year began. We had so many opportunities that year to throw our hands up and say “we can’t”. Instead, we dug our heels in and proved “we can”.
It’s a message that each and every one of us took from the field and could carry into our adult lives. I know that when I’m faced with a new challenge—good or bad—I still try to do my best and push onward. To fight through the tough times, because I know that better times lie ahead. I dig deep and remember the lesson that Director Steve Barber helped to instill in us all: believe.
As the band marches on to state finals next weekend, I wish Steve, Brad, and all their students the best of luck. And regardless of what size trophy they bring home, may they all leave the field with the understanding that they were part of something extraordinary. The lessons they’ve learned through their broken reeds, cracked drum heads, stuck valves and torn flags, will stick with them for the rest of their lives. And, hopefully, this amazing experience will lead them to dream big, to always give it their all, and, most importantly, to believe in themselves.
Go get ‘em, Homestead. We still believe.