Did you see them Saturday? If you were out on the highway, you probably saw school buses. Buses from Monrovia, Columbia City and Woodburn, heading to Lafayette. From Henryville, Fortville and Floyd Central, making their way to Evansville. Buses full of marching band students, making up a great churning movement of youth and energy and limitless potential.
It was the weekend of ISSMA Regionals, the first round of competition to winnow hundreds of marching bands featuring thousands of students down to state champions in four divisions.
High school marching bands in Indiana are a year-round proposition. Shows are designed a year in advance, music is learned through the winter and spring, and summer brings practice at drill, movement, and the combining of intricate choreography with musical expression.
In the fall the bands head out for the invitational season, most of them leading a fleet of dedicated semi-trucks, parents pulling trailers, and hordes of spectators. A large scholastic marching band will have more than 200 students. They all need to be dressed, fed, hydrated and directed. Uniforms, costumes, flags, props, tarps and instruments must be carefully transported. A small army of volunteer parents and poorly paid staffers looks after their every need in order to prepare them for their few minutes on the field.
Everything comes down to those few minutes. All the preparation, all the emotional investment, all the training is focused on the few minutes that those teenagers get to stand before their delirious parents, the crowds of spectators and the musical judges and perform. They perform for their school, for their community, for their director and for their families. But most of all they perform for one another. For they have worked and practiced and cursed and encouraged and chastised and fallen and gotten back up. And they have done it together.
These students aren’t the surly, angry, dangerous youth that so much of America seems to fear. They are respectful, dedicated and enthusiastic. They know about hard work and effort. They know about teamwork. The girls have to get along with the boys. The boys have to cooperate with the girls. They’re not perfect; after all, they are still young and can be very foolish. But by the end of a full season of working, performing, celebrating and consoling; they are wiser than you might expect.
This Saturday brings the next round of competition, this time to determine which bands compete at Lucas Oil Stadium in the state finals. It is the spirit of competition that drives them forward at rehearsals all week, always making them just a little better. Because if they compete and succeed, they get to move on. When they move on, they get the chance to play together again at least one more time. Once those chances are gone, they will never come back.
If you’re out on the road this Saturday, look for school buses at night as the bands head home. They’ll be out there, and they’ll be filled with the future of our communities. Half of them will be thinking about the next week and the opportunity to go out on the field together. The other half will be learning a hard lesson in disappointment. All of them are part of something bigger than themselves – and we are all that much the better for it.