The Case For Why Your Dues For Band, Drum Corps, and Winter Guard Are Worth Every Dime

debaseinstallFinancing the Marching Arts

So after a less than pleasant day at work, I was driving home thinking about the nice frothy cocktail that would be waiting for me upon the conclusion of my very aggressive krav maga class, where I would be able to basically beat the hell out of my day and then put it to bed. I had a disagreement with a colleague who has difficulty thinking through the multiple alternatives to a problem. It reminded me of a situation years before where a colleague demonstrated that their critical thinking skills exist in a world based on ego and self-esteem. As this person who was a long time member of the team was told that her suggestions for a solution lacked insight, she became defensive and shut down. Later in the day she resorted to middle school tactics and went and “tattled” to the boss, making an already uncomfortable situation, a situation now based on lack of trust.

While thinking about my day and my nice frothy cocktail, my mind for some reason drifted to my years of color guard. I was lucky to have been zoned for a high school with a great marching band. Almost everything I know and everything I believe, in terms of how I treat people, how I handle problems, and my ability to creatively manage a tough situation, comes from that marching band. In my career as a performer, I was lucky to get to play an instrument, spin a flag, get hit in the face with a rifle, and have arms bruised by the blade of a Spanish Sabre. I performed at BOA nationals (when it was MBA), the infamous Tennessee Contest of Champions, Drum Corps International World Championships, and the Winter Guard World Championships. The build up to those competitions and the lessons learned, have stayed with me well into my 40’s and no amount of money spent in college or in professional classes, will ever match what I learned during my years as a national competitor. My very core comes from years spent with band directors and guard instructors who wouldn’t give up on me and demanded that I demand more from myself.

So, if you are a parent or young person wondering if the money is worth it, please know that it is. Every dime. Every tear. Every bruise. Every visit to the emergency room. Every push up. Every late night on a football field. Every disagreement. Every lap ran around the track. It’s all worth it and let me give the young people out there, the current performers of our activity 10 reasons why.

1. Because early is on time and on time is late!

Enough said. Seriously…enough said.

2. Because your band director is too busy to deal with your petty arguments with your co-performers.

Work it out, because it’s only band camp and it’s going to be a long season if you don’t. In the stress and pain of any competitive season, learning to work with others will be your saving grace. This is life and in life you will have disagreements and whining to the boss should not be your first option. (In most cases it shouldn’t be an option at all.)

3. Because your actions impact not just you, but the team.

If you are successful, then they are successful. If you give up and quit, then those who did not give up and quit are still impacted by your selfish actions. There are fewer people who can work as a team than you will ever know. It’s a skill not many have. Pageantry will teach it to you. There is no doubt about that.

4. Because your actions have consequences.

If you don’t practice there are consequences, If you are late there are consequences. If you don’t listen to instructions there are consequences. If you gossip there are consequences. If you try to be an individual and not a team player then, there…are…consequences. In the workplace there are consequences for missing deadlines, being late, having an anger outburst, or just for having a bad day and those consequences could be career killers. Learn this lesson while you are young.

5. Because you don’t get to choose who you will do that flag exchange with.

The person marching next to you or throwing a flag at your head might just be the most uncoordinated person next to a fish trying to climb a tree. Learn to work with them and get over it. This isn’t about you and the fact that you can do something better than someone else. It’s about your ability to find a gem in the most awkward person.

6. Because you might not like your staff.

Your staff might be mean. They may lack experience. They could very possibly lack talent. Your staff may just be the most respected and talented group of people ever assembled in a gym and they still might screw it all up. Here’s the thing, though. You are stuck with them and they are stuck with you. Learn now how to manage situations that could lead to ultimate failure and learn to work through that failure without blame. Learn to not quit when things get hard.

7. Because the team outweighs the individual always and there is no one who ever gets their own individual score.

You aren’t the soloist. You aren’t the 50 yard line diva.  You aren’t the drum major. You aren’t the flute player who only gets to play one note the entire phrase. You aren’t just the freshman flag on the end of the line who nobody sees. You are part of an ensemble and everyone matters and everyone is seen. Everyone has a voice in the chorus and sometimes being in the back of the line is just as important as being the lead dog and most of the time…it will teach you more.

8.  Because you won’t win every competition you go to.

You might even get last place. (Someone has to be) You might be 25 points out of first place. Your team might even get unfairly judged or an error on the judges score sheet will keep your team from getting a trophy. This is life and life is often unfair, without explanation and without an apology. Please get over it. There’s work to be done.

9. Because performing in front of a crowd is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

You will panic. You will be so nervous you might throw up. You might screw it up so bad you set your equipment up on the wrong side of the floor. You might miss the note or drop the rifle. These shows will teach you resilience. They will teach you how to recover and keep going. This skill in life is more important than anything. Learn the word. RESILIENCE! Say it again. RESILIENCE! You are going to need it and there is no better place to learn it than marching band, winter guard, or drum corps.

10. Friendship.

When you are ready to attend your 25 year class reunion it won’t be the people you graduated with that you will want to see the most. It will be the people who stood next to you for an entire season while you learned to throw a quad, that you will want to see the most. It will be the person who sat next to you on the bus, who comforted you after you messed up that one note during your solo. It will be that person who said to you that the staff was crazy when they yelled at you for missing your drill set. The friends you make while preparing for those competitions are lifetime friends. You will long for them. You will miss them and nothing will replace them. There is no other time in life that I can think of when life long friends are made throughout the course of struggle and defeat.

When your band director or staff uses the phrase, “This is a life lesson,” then listen. They are right. Life is hard. It’s very hard, but the hard comes with rewards. Tom Hanks said it best in the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when he uttered the very famous line, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” The reward is the beauty that comes from starting and finishing something that you never thought you could. When working on a tough project, I often know within minutes who has never had a coach tell them they are wrong or played on a team where their every move depended on their preparation and actions and although not a pure science, they tend to lack the ability to listen and the ability to use critical thought. Years back, I was working on a project at work that wasn’t going well. There were about 10 people on the team. Most of the team either got lazy or gave up. Some wanted to take credit for the work once it was done. Some wanted to only critique the work, without offering their sweat in the process of the work. I found that there was this one man who was working as hard as me. He was creative and critically thought through all processes of the project. One day while the two of us were re-thinking the project, he made a comment that made me know that I was in the presence of a “family member.” He said, “You know…sometimes all you can do is shine S**T.” I laughed and asked him if he had ever participated in marching band, as that is a phrase often used by staff members. He told me he had not just participated in marching band, but drum corps also. Needless to say, the rest of the day we didn’t really work, but talked about drum corps. Furthermore, it was two pageantry people who finished the project and made it shine like gold.

I dedicate this to every hard ass instructor and coach I ever had.