I believe in the perfectibility of the soul and the civic self through marching band. It’s true, in high school, I was a bandy. When everyone else was preparing for the start of school and their renewed social life, I was in the practice room with my clarinet, memorizing music. When everyone else was on the field preparing for the football season, I was on the field re-learning to march and memorizing drill. When my peers went out with friends in the evening, I was at band practice. It was not wasted time: all of the important lessons of life and civic responsibility, I learned in band.
When my peers were being told to march to the beat of their own drum, I was learning the power of marching to the beat of the same drum – there is power in numbers and in community. By working together, we can do great things, be they constructing monuments, or putting on a single great show.
When my peers were being told to be individuals, to stand out from the crowd, I was learning the joy of solidarity. I may not have liked everyone in my marching band or my section, but better the trumpet player in one’s own band than the clarinetist in another. I learned to stick together, to subsume my dislikes for the greater good.
And yet, I also learned the value of hard work and individual improvement. A band cannot succeed without the individual efforts of each member. I practiced with others, but the most vital practice was done alone, when I mastered the skills needed to work with the group.
I learned that it takes all kinds. As harmony cannot be produced alone, a symphony cannot be produced by a single section. Every instrument is necessary for beautiful music and a beautiful show. I believe we all have different skills and specialties and they are all vital – society would not just be boring if we were all the same, it would be impossible.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from marching band, though, was to have faith – in myself, in my peers, and in my instructors. Every year when I received the music and drill for the new show, I thought, “This is impossible. I don’t know how I did it last year. It was a fluke – I can’t play and march at the same time! No one could do this!” And yet, every year, somehow, the first performance came and was a success. What had fallen apart in practice came together on the field. Every year, it was a new miracle. I believe that every day in life, like every marching band show, is an act of faith. Every day that I get out of bed and think, “I can’t do this. How can I juggle all the obligations of my life? It’s impossible!” I remember marching band and I have faith that every day is also a new miracle.
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