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Marching Band: If You Are So Lucky

September 12, 2014

An Ode to Marching Band Kids and Parents Everywhere

MichelleAndTrumpetsDaughter Michelle, 2nd from left, with Broadway High School Fighting Gobblers Band.

If you are lucky

… you just might live near a local high school and hear the marching band practicing on the football field during these still-long September evenings. Jaunty marching tunes float through the neighborhood, compliments of a hard working bunch of teenagers who get their kicks playing nerdy and difficult band instruments rather than pushing an odd shaped ball into an endzone.

P1060339Broadway High School playing at Gate City, Va., in state football championship game, December, 1997.

… you just might get to the state high school football championship game for the first time in your school’s history and the day is below freezing and the valves freeze on your daughter’s trumpet during her solo and your team plays with all their hearts but loses anyway (nevermind the mud, the refs, the yada yada).

JMUSpiritJames Madison University fans celebrating one of 10 wins the year they went 10-2 and played in the national playoffs.

… you might even get to the national I-AA college football championship game in 2004. Your team plays with all their hearts AND WINS and even though you (and some of the sideline players) are freezing, you are so glad you drove the 400+ miles to see your middle daughter play in the band (but can’t find the pictures now).


… you just might finally finally get to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City (2001) which you have dreamed of all your life.

P1060376Our daughter Tanya is on the right side with JMU marchers in the Macy Parade, middle one turning and smiling at us.

… you might get to see your own child marching into Columbus Circle and Herald Square in that wonderful city, and the kids are allowed to ignore normal marching band etiquette and actually turn their heads and smile, and you are just so happy even though freezing, especially when the post Sept. 11 crowd of strangers around you, barely two months after the terrible trauma, joins in yelling your daughter’s name so she turns and smiles happily and you capture it on camera because the bystanders have left you squeeze up to the front.

P1060364Doreen, Michelle, Mr. David Snively and Tanya, at his retirement party.

… you just might have the good fortune of your kids having dedicated, funny, fun (and sometimes cranky) band directors who give themselves to this crazy, quirky bunch of teenagers going through all the stuff that teenagers go through, such that when he retires from this crazy band life, all your daughters come back home to help fete him.

NashvilleSymphony Nashville Symphony warming up at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

… you just might end up so happy that this crazy band life has led to a fantastic career for one, working for some great mid-sized city symphonies in an artistic administrator role she totally seems cut out for.

P1060360Tanya while working for Nashville Symphony.

.. you just might feel that all of the 4 a.m. risings and midnight pick ups and bad bus behaviors and $$ for lessons, raising money for uniforms and trips, $$ for gas running 10 miles back and forth to school yada yada seem worth it.

P1060362Tanya comforting Michelle at “last” game at old Broadway high school field

… you just know your children are gonna make it through good times and bad when you snag a rare photo like this of deep sisterly camaraderie when the band plays what everyone thinks will be its final time on the “old” high school field before moving to a new school building the following year, and your very sentimental oldest daughter’s heart is torn right in two even though they’ve just beaten their arch city rival  (and then they end up playing one more game with a half time show on that very field because that is the year they get in the playoffs and on to the finals at the state level, mentioned above). If you are so lucky.


Our family back story on band.

MichelleTrumpetMichelle and her first trumpet in middle school.

Neither my husband nor I had ever been interested in band in school (band?? Huh? No thanks!). When my oldest daughter began middle school, she let us know she wanted to try band. Her instrument of choice was a trumpet so we went to the local band store and rented a trumpet for the first three months, not sure she would stick with it. Even though her sisters took piano lessons, she had never been interested, so, whatever. We weren’t overly-pushy-get-them-in-everything kind of parents. She did like music and had learned to read music through the children’s choir at church. So as she began on the trumpet, we suffered through the pfllts that wouldn’t quite come out, the screeches and off notes while she practiced in her very small bedroom in our 1100-square foot house, doors closed.

But when she got to high school, we soon learned marching band took on a life of its own and would forever impact her choice of friends, her activities, her history—and the lives of her sisters, as they also chose to participate in band.

EdieTanyaGinaFlutesTanya, second from left, with best buds Edie, far left, and Gina, far right, all flute players.

One day waiting with other band moms to pick Michelle up after a day at summer band camp, I so well remember Becky Dean’s mom informally orienting me to the world of band parents: the parades, the trips, feeding the kids before games, how the Stoops family took care of transporting larger equipment to away games in an old open bed truck (yes, really!), and especially emphasizing how this was a good bunch of kids who basically did not get in a lot of trouble (unless on the band bus) and the kids became family to each other. She also clued me in on the band parent meetings, the fundraisers, the annual auctions, the chicken barbecues, the pizza and candy sales.

DoreenInParadeDoreen carrying one of the big ones in a Broadway Homecoming Parade.

So the band world became our world for the next dozen or so years, as all three girls were adopted into the band family including one who went on to play flute for four years in the pretty awesome Marching Royal Dukes (hear them below in YouTube videos) at nearby James Madison University, a huge band of 400-475 participants, depending on the year.

JMUTanyaBandTanya as a Marching Royal Duke member from 2001-2005.

Our youngest daughter even joined the pit band while in high school—the percussion section playing xylophone, cymbals, bass, or wherever needed most, and loving almost every minute of it, except at the end of a very long parade on a hot day as a relatively small girl carrying a good sized drum.

P1060365Doreen in competition at Parade of Champions, JMU.

By the time Doreen participated, Broadway High School band had finally graduated to taking part in marching band competitions, so all of our kids (in one setting or another) got to taste what it was like to stand on the field of a large college stadium while the stands went wild. One of them once said “I felt like I was a rock star!” During the years when their school football teams (high school and college) lost far more games than they won, we went to the games to see the band on the field, not the team.


So each fall when I’m traveling near a school or university and hear strains of a rousing John Phillips Sousa tune, a current movie theme song, or a stirring trumpet screeching out the high notes on “Firedance,” a big lump rises and I squeeze back tears, remembering, and being moved by music that speaks of our daughters, their loves, their friends, their lives–and by extension what they gave to our lives. A new found love of music and being in the band.

In the Bible, from the book of Exodus to Revelation, trumpet or trumpets are mentioned at least 129 times, flute or flutes 16 times, and cymbal or cymbals 16 times. But my favorite is Psalm 150 where the Psalmist seems to go wild throwing out a whole string of wonderful instruments:

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Psalm 150.

So go, marching bands everywhere, and follow, you lucky parents. Enjoy this wonderful fall season of music and football!

A 1999 version, my favorite, of the JMU MRD playing Firedance.

A 2006 version, showing the much larger stadium at JMU.




From → Faith, Family Life

  1. I love marching bands and all the pomp and circumstance they evoke. You don’t miss a memory, Melodie. Great photos too!

    • I’m guessing you only experienced marching band as a band parent–with your conservative background. Right?? Or was playing in a marching band ok in Pa.?

  2. Robert Martin permalink

    Oh, the serendipity… I have a 14 year old who is a flutist… She marched in her first football game field show two weeks back… has another football game tonight, and has her first field show competition tomorrow…

    Yup… we’re band parents now…

    • Oh, I love hearing this!! First games and competitions are just awesome. Thanks for letting me know. Best wishes to her and all of you as you travel this journey.

      • Robert Martin permalink

        I’ve been on this journey before as a sibling… my sister went ALL OVER the place when she was in the HS band… so I’m familiar with the life from that perspective… it’s fun watching my daughter experience it and being able to give some of my insights from following my sister all around.

  3. Athanasia permalink

    I enjoyed the band story. Sound like much work, but much more fun and rewarding times, for all of you. Cross country was my children’s activity of choice, but that did not involve any real depth of parental involvement other that taking turns at feeding the whole bunch the night before a meet. And cheering along the way.

  4. At least with cross country, they can continue to do anytime, anywhere (at least if there is a path or trail) whereas with band, it takes a bunch!! But yes, the community aspect of band was an unexpected bonus, for us.

  5. Kristopher permalink

    I happened across your blog while searching for pictures of the Broadway band yesterday. In high school, band was my life, and I shared that life with your family. You may not remember me, but I wanted you to know that your family has touched my life, and I think of them fondly from time to time. Thank you for taking me back.

    • So are you an Estep? I do remember Esteps, not sure which one you are, but this is so SWEET to comment and reminisce a bit.
      Yes, band was such a huge part of the girls’ high school life too! Band was such a family.

      • Kristopher permalink

        Yes, I am. No relation to the one who was (I think) in Michelle’s class. I was between Tanya and Doreen. In fact, I was there for that very long parade on a hot day. I run into Gina and the Hoovers once in a while, but haven’t seen or heard from your girls in a long time. It’s good to see they are doing well.

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