Hello, my name is Amy, and I’m a recovering band nerd.
See, I was invited to attend two recent UofL home football games at the very impressive Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
I am not a big sports fan on the best of days, but I have always loved attending sporting events.
I enjoy the whole package — the camaraderie, the energy, the crappy concession food and the music.
Ah yes, the music. The school band music. Cue the clarinets, please.
The UofL student marching band is 80-plus members strong, large enough to occupy their own section in the stands.
At various points in each game, they broke into a jam to get the crowd going. And then at halftime, the band, the flag corps and a lone majorette took to the field and put on a show, complete with ornate formations and clumsy dance moves.
It brought back some very fond memories. I may have even gotten a tear, er, something in my eye.
As a teenager, I was a painfully shy, awkward bookworm. I was a straight-A student. I wore glasses. I had braces. And for several years, I even had a perm.
Dude, I did not have a prayer.
When I started the seventh grade at Westport Middle School in 1985, I was coming from six years at a private, K-12, religion-based school with a total of 200 students, 198 of whom were white. Westport was huge, loud, crowded and diverse. I was terrified.
When my mom signed me up for classes, I found out that I had a choice of an elective for one period. It was band or P.E. Given that I was so uncoordinated I could not successfully throw a ball if it were on fire, there was only one obvious choice.
Mom took me to Mel Owen Music on Shelbyville Road, rented me a flute and signed me up for lessons with a very talented woman in her 30s who often taught in the home she shared with her parents. Wonder what ever happened to ol’ Jean? But I digress. (Update: She found me on Facebook shortly after this post appeared.)
Anyhoo, band saved my life that year, and it is quite possibly the only reason I made it through high school.
As a teenager, I desperately wanted to feel part of something. Standing out means being isolated, which is the worst feeling in the world for anyone, let alone a gawky 13-year-old girl. I believe that the feeling was universal among my peers … even the so-called nonconformists identified with a group of other nonconformists. (In the '80s, they were the precursors to goth and grunge.)
As one of the smart kids growing up, I had a few close, likeminded friends, but I never felt part of a group with a shared purpose. I was the least athletic person I knew, so I was not team sports material. I got picked last for informal kickball games in my own neighborhood, for Pete’s sake.
So it was through shared suffering and competition that the band became my “team.”
By the time I got to Waggener High School in the fall of 1986, I was a halfway decent musician. I could read music fluently and stay in tune most of the time. But I was not prepared for what came next – playing my flute and marching around a football field at the same time. Add to that, each step had to be precise in both size and execution. That shit is HARD, I don’t care who you are.
Anyway, my freshman year started about two months sooner than it did for the rest of the student body because of – wait for it – band camp. The American Pie movies have turned it into a clichéd joke, but I freely admit that some of my fondest memories took place at Camp Crescendo in Lebanon Junction, Ky. It was a kind of sports conditioning for nerds. Srsly.
We got up when it was still dark and learned formations on a dewy practice field before breakfast. Then we’d do it again after breakfast.
After lunch, we broke into sectionals, where segmented groups of instruments would go off to learn the music we would eventually march to. For example, the woodwinds would drag our tired bodies, sheet music and music stands to a covered gazebo in the woods to learn our part to the jazz standard “Take Five,” by Paul Desmond. (I still love that song, but that five-four time signature was a bitch.)
And then after dinner, we went back on the field. We had some fun, too, of course, but we were there primarily to work. This daily routine went on for a full week.
When we weren’t away at band camp, we were expected to report to the school practice field four days a week for all of the remaining weeks before school started. And then once school started, we stayed after school to practice nearly every day.
We played and marched for all home football games, which was a lot of fun despite the fact that Waggener's team was crappy, and on weekends, we piled into a school bus and drove all over God’s green earth to compete with other marching bands.
I loved every single second of it.
Sure, it was brutal being out in the summer sun for hours of formation practice. It was even more brutal marching on a football field wearing a wool uniform when it was still 90 degrees in September. And my jaw often hurt from all that horn blowing, both on and off the field.
After football season, there was concert band. We performed while sitting comfortably in chairs, but there was still tons of practice because the music was harder. And I can’t forget pep band for basketball games. I could probably still play “Hey Jude” if I hadn’t sold my flute a few years ago. (That’s a shout out to one of my former band directors and Beatles fan, Jeff Reed, who is now my Facebook friend.)
I’ve got too many great memories to catalog here. And yes, many of them took place at band camp. (Get your mind out of the gutter!) But there were plenty of other adventures, too.
Traveling to Rochestor, N.Y., Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Canada, for concert band competitions was marvelous. Those road trips were some of the highlights of high school for me.
I made some lifelong friends. I met my first boyfriend in the band (he played the trumpet), and we are still friends today.
My parents were both actively involved in band fundraisers. My mom chaired the annual fruit sale one year, and my dad was Band Parents Association president my senior year. I don’t think I ever thanked them for that. It meant so much that they cared enough to support me.
Being part of the band shaped my love and appreciation for all types of music. It slowly built my confidence. And I’m sure it helped me excel in school (and life) because it taught me about healthy competition.
All in all, playing flute (and later piccolo) in the school band gave me six years of some really great stuff.
As I watched the UofL students hoist their sousaphones (tubas that kind of wrap around your body) and the percussion section do their quirky, drumstick-flailing dance as they banged out a cadence, I just wanted to scream at the top of my lungs for them to cherish this time, and each other.
Then I saw the smiles on their faces, and I realized … they already do. It reminded me how grateful I am to have had MY time, back in the day.
As a confident, successful, grown woman, 20-plus years beyond her band career, I am proud to admit that I was never one of the cool kids.
I mean, if I had been, I would’ve missed out on the best years of my life.
Band nerds unite!!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.