Tuesday, August 8, 2006

It's Okay, I'm With the Band

I spent the weekend with my sister at what may have been one of the geekiest events I’ve ever attended. She drove two hours to my house, and then two more hours to a small PA town so that she and I could watch two whole nights of drum and bugle corps performances. That’s right, folks. I’m talking marching band.

It isn’t your old-school, stand-in-place, stiff-as-a-board, your-mom-made-you-join, parade band. It’s not what I call a “dancing band”, the likes of which you may have seen in the movie, Drumline. It’s definitely not the kind of band that spawns “this one time at band camp" jokes, either, so let’s not go down that road.

When I say drum corps, I mean highly-skilled brass players, percussionists, marchers, and dancers between the ages of 14 and 22 who audition against tight competition to make the cut and then spend the entire summer training and rehearsing so that they can travel across the country to perform an 11-minute program, all the while building up their ranking to prepare for the finals competition, which will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, this year. The members of drum corps are at the height of their skill, pulling off maneuvers and tricks – both physical and musical – that test belief. They make it look easy, but it’s deceptive; hours of practice, gallons of water, sore muscles, and countless bruises contribute to the mastery of this sport. Some might call it lame, but I call it awesome.

It was with this mindset that my sister and I arrived at the stadium. Our combined 13 years in marching band (she as a flute/piccolo, I as a color guard member: silk and sabre) had created diehard loyalty to the entire institution, and this event was the closest we could get to these groups this year. We were psyched, gabbing through our tailgate dinner and checking the stats on her Blackberry. We looked with shifty eyes at fellow spectators with their individual corps shirts (“You always see the crazies out here,” my sister muttered), and happily ate our sandwiches against the familiar, comforting thrum of percussion lines in the distance and the tick-tocking of the wood block, urging on color guards. Ah, this is what I love, I thought. It made me want to step on the beat, march 8 steps in 5 yards, and snap my head to the commands of the drum major, and we hadn’t even begun. Oh, the anticipation!

Once inside the stadium, the aroma of fried food (mm, funnel cake) and the rustle of a gathering of band people hinted at the awesomeness to come. We were finally there! My sister and I quickly found our seats, by which I mean those too-small spots on metal bleachers, which are seriously too small for even relatively small people like my sister and me. It was tight, but who cares! Our favorite drum corps rocked the house, and watching them in person for the first time made me so happy. I wanted to stand up and watch their whole show, but seeing as that would have been rude, I settled for cheering every time they did something ridiculously hard, and was it my fault that it ended up being almost every thirty seconds? And then they won! YES! Booyah!!!

After a night crashing at a friend’s house and then taking in some local flavor the next day, my sister and I went back for round two, but not before supplementing our pasta salad dinner with some half-sour pickles and red fish candy from the local farmers’ market. Yum. That night brought a spectacularly original show with tiger “skins” as visual effect and another based on The Godfather. It almost made me wish I had seen the movie, because, sadly, the only things I know about it are the lines quoted in You've Got Mail. Even more fun, my equally-fanatic sister and I created peanut gallery commentary that could have rivaled that of Statler and Waldorf of The Muppets Show fame. All of this excitement culminated with a 2-hour drive home that somehow only took 90 minutes, thanks to my sister’s “driving like a banshee”, as she put it.

Maybe I could have been part of a drum corps at one point, if I had had the guts to try out and the money to finance it. I could have been simultaneously muscular and tan (minus a killer sock line) with thousands of screaming fans, which sounds eerily similar to how I imagine being a rock star might be. But watching it over two gorgeous evenings with my sister next to me was okay with me, too. You can bet that when the finals air on ESPN2 in a few weeks, I am so calling the TV. I sat through almost all of the Penn State bowl game this year, so I think it could be a fair trade. This is my bowl game, baby!

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