In Praise Of The Jasper Marching Band


For many years I had listened to the recitals and drills occurring in the distance, at the Jasper High School, just two blocks from my home.  It was in the evenings, of course, after school, with the sun setting, glittering twilight fading into inky darkness, and the often chilly temperatures of early autumn descending upon the tormented students, marching stoically if not deliriously into the long night. 

I heard the truncated blasts of the winds, the blares of the brass, and the staccato of percussion, loud and abrupt, stopping and starting, shifting and adjusting in interminable reiterations, in some manic pursuit of an unattainable vision, to pluck the platonic ideal from the ethers, and magically transform this rabble into a silvery, mellifluous, marching band; it seemed a Sisyphean task from which no good could emerge, only frustration. 

Above the din was a voice from Mt. Olympus, emanating from a Zeus-like figure, ensconced upon a mechanical perch, as if upon some cloud encrusted peak, hurling flame and thunder, scolding, hectoring, commanding his young minions to hasten or slow, play louder or softer, demanding yet better performance from his weary foot soldiers in the quixotic quest of excellence.

I came to observe the maneuvers on many occasions, lured by the sound and fury, the evolving (and, yes, improving) renditions, the glorious misery of the students shivering in noble endeavor, with my two young children at the time some ten years ago, convinced that I would never subject them to such chaos and tribulation when they came of age. 

I could not imagine then what possible reward could justify the prolonged agony, the incessant exercises, the competitions and recitals, the unending bus rides, the grand effort and machinery and force of numbers required to produce so elaborate a display. 

Little did I realize then that as ineluctably as summer passes into fall, that indeed my young children too would blossom into adolescence and join the ranks of their storied colleagues, to participate in one of their town's most splendid institutions, one even serving as drum major for two years. 

Or that my wife and I and two other young children, the same age more or less as their older siblings when I had foolishly indulged my knavish skepticism earlier on, would attend slavishly its every performance, fascinated, uplifted, now drawn to it, to marching band, awe-struck, unable to resist its spell, deny its power, more than an enthusiast or fan, rather a zealot or fanatic who simply could not get enough. 

I too now found myself preparing burgers at district and football games like other band parents.  I too involved myself in fundraisers.  I too followed the progress of the band, the weekly report from the principal, the bombastic ruminations of its quirky but beloved leader (the band director), marking my calendar, and checking my schedule, my life no longer my own but an appendage of the marching band to which I swore unflinching fealty. 

I monitored the steady evolution of the program, the tightening and refinement of the execution, the wondrous integration of music, marching, and sparkling color guard, the ordered, frenetic, but poetic movements, the shimmering flags and leaping butterfly figurines, the exquisite and soothing musical interludes interwoven with triumphant crescendos, the ever changing contours of the marchers and guard, converging and reforming in dazzling shapes, angles, and textures, darting and dividing artfully, like black and gold estuaries merging and separating in perpetually evolving archipelagoes, resisting the entropic forces, and channeling the energy, sound, and motion, into a glorious synergy, a magnificent unity infinitely greater than the sum of its rapidly shifting parts.  What exaltation!

Their performance at State was its best.  I was convinced of their inevitable triumph.  Then, I watched in despair when, in an inexcusable lapse, two judges on the field delivered unto our lions a fourth place rank, falling behind bands our team had defeated handily only a week before.  The disappointment was profound.  I had become identified with the band.  Their unjust loss was my own, and, in truth, I am still in mourning. 

Yet the memory of the season, the exhilaration of the band’s performances through the year, lingers.  Indeed, I find myself reliving the moments through videos and photos, as if unable to relinquish it, almost wishing it could go on, despite my many other obligations.  I no longer cared.  Such had become my attachment to the hardships and travails of the band.  I had come full circle.  

There really is nothing like it.  The effort required to render order, symmetry, and beauty from some 175 odd teen-age marching musicians and dancers, delivering some eight minutes of unparalleled pleasure, mixing magically the subtle and the flamboyant, the nuanced and the majestic, the lyrical and the resounding, is nothing less than inspirational. 

Marching band brings out the greatest of republican virtues: initiative, discipline, teamwork, and devotion to a cause greater than oneself.  It is from such high-minded pursuits that great citizens emerge.  I applaud the Jasper Marching Band, its students, parents, staff, and directors.










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