The March toward Success
Returning to the stands after our energetic half-time performance, my high school marching band stayed poised, secretly sweating under those black, Aussie hats with plush, white plumes. The out-of-breath musicians and flag girls awaited the cue from the band director before taking a seat. A collective thud reverberated throughout the field as one hundred uniformed bottoms hit the cold, aluminum stands with exact precision. As clarinet section leader, I looked to Mr. McMath for every move. Like a military commander, he commanded respect and discipline, and like a kind teacher, he garnered our affection. That fall was Mr. McMath’s first leading the Northwest Guilford High School Marching Band.
The year before, I marched with terror onto the Astroturf of the RCA Dome in Indianapolis at the Bands of America Competition. Our band was the laughing stock of this large-scale competition because our then band director decided to take the dullest show to ever disgrace the field and his rag-tag band of unpolished talent to a contest intended only for the country’s best. I’ll never forget the humiliation I felt in front of tens of thousands of judging spectators as our lackluster band mustered what little spirit, form, and musical grace we had amidst bands bursting with higher budgets, greater talent, and more enthusiasm. That band director did not command respect. Thankfully, he left after that season for greener pastures.
Under Mr. McMath’s new leadership, however, a fresh spirit swept over the band during pre-season band camp. The weather remained hot and humid, like the year before. The same students, more or less, marched the field. But the attitude of the band transformed. One word from Mr. McMath and we ran to our drill spots with an eagerness previously unfathomable. We memorized our music in record time. The audience at football games started to stick around for the half-time show. We were on the move.
At a regional competition in November, we won the spirit award, on top of first place. With tears, Mr. McMath said that, more than our musicianship, he was proud of our sportsmanship at the competition. We represented our school well.
In late December, we traveled to sunny Tampa to compete against marching bands from across the country. We confidently took ownership of the field, implementing all the lessons that Mr. McMath had taught us. Our sound was clear, our articulations were effective, our direction changes were precise, and we marched with our toes to the sky. With pride and passion, we projected our horns toward the judges in the press box and sung, through our horns, the last note of our show. As the final pitch resonated, a feeling of achievement overcame me. After meeting a swarm of photographers, musicians and parents, we respectfully took our seats to show our reverence to the remaining bands.
On that New Year’s Eve, we congregated at the awards ceremony. Gripping each others’ hands and holding our breaths, we were enraptured to hear “Northwest Guilford High School Marching Band” following the words, “Grand Champion.” At that moment, I fully realized that it takes thoughtful and inspired leadership to fuel success. That was Mr. McMath’s gift. This I believe.
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