Now, I've taken my kids to a few band competitions, the Bands of America Regional Championships at North Huntingdon being the most recent. They had an idea of how the event worked, but as anyone who has been to Grand Nationals knows, it's a whole new level.
As we walked through the Indianapolis Convention Center to get to the stadium, my kids gawked at the teeming masses of high school band students, both in and out of uniform. Drumlines warmed up behind the closed doors we passed. We peeked through open doors to see rooms filled with nothing but racks of uniform bags and open instrument cases. Almost everyone's jackets, tee shirts, or sweatshirts were emblazoned with the name of a school. We skirted past an entire band sprawled on the floor of the convention center hallway, executing a peaceful-looking child's pose in a perfect grid formation as chaos swirled around them. I kind of wanted to join them.
My girls marveled at the size of the domed stadium. When we entered Lucas Oil Stadium, we were greeted with an experiential cacophony: a blast of warm air as we entered from the cool, rainy outdoors; great crowds of people; the explosion of colorful merchandise gleaming at us from the Expo; the call of volunteers hawking glossy program books; the thunder of the drumline on the field; the tantalizing scent of popcorn and hot dogs.
I know it was tantalizing because that was the first thing my kids begged me for, even though we had just finished breakfast. That, and my seven-year-old clamored for a hot pink practice flag that was twice as tall as she is.
After much wheedling (on their parts) and dragging (on our parts), my husband and I each grabbed a child's hand and navigated our way to our seats.
I was blown away by the quality of the performances we saw on that field. It was hard to imagine that some of these kids were a mere four years older than my oldest daughter. Not only did they play beautifully, but they executed demanding drill, sang, and even danced and tossed rifles (not just the color guards, but the band members, too!).
I wondered if there was a severe case of food poisoning: for a while, every single band I saw simultaneously dropped to the turf during their performances. But every one of them got up and finished their shows, so it must have been just a 24-second bug. Still, we judiciously decided to keep the kids away from the hot dogs.
We watched a lot of bands in preliminary and semifinals performance; over ninety bands participated in Grand Nationals. I had to remember to pace the kids: seven- and ten-year-olds still need sleep. Apparently, so do forty-year-olds. My husband was happy to take the kids back to the hotel room for a mid-afternoon break.
Sadly, our hometown band did not make finals. My ten-year-old was crushed. I used it as a teaching opportunity: sometimes we try as hard as we can, and still don't get what we're striving for. And it was an opportunity to talk about good sportsmanship: just because the other bands aren't wearing our school colors doesn't mean that they don't deserve a standing ovation. Each one of those students worked just as hard as ours did. After all, we all love band: that's why we're here.
That evening, we returned for the Bands of America Grand National Championship Finals. I didn't think it was possible, but the level of energy and excitement in the stadium had increased tenfold since we'd left the building less than two hours before. The number of spectators grew; it was shoulder to shoulder in the main concourse. I nearly lost my 5th grader in the crowd (luckily her new sweatshirt was emblazoned with our school name and her section, so she probably would have been returned to them in case of emergency).
We found our seats and settled in. Saturday evening we were treated to yet another round of stunning performances. We had seen a number of these bands perform earlier in the weekend, but the excitement of finals brought their performances to new levels. They fed off the energy of the crowd, and every single one of those bands left everything on that field.
I was as proud of those kids as if they'd been my own.
As the bands assembled on the field for the finale, I thought about how important this event was. These kids spend so much time and energy doing something they love. Something positive, artistic, and life affirming. Something that makes them smarter, more creative, better problems solvers and team players. These teenagers are the polar opposite of troublemakers: they make themselves and the world around them better for having been in band. It is so valuable to provide an event like this to recognize their achievements.
Looking back, I had learned an awful lot from my participation in band. The importance of team work. The commitment to excellence. The value of camaraderie. In short, I learned the importance of music education.
From the announcer's booth, a voice thundered, "You are all truly winners in life."
As a parent, how could I not want that for my children? How could I not want that for EVERYONE'S children?
"Go for it! Break ranks!"
As the brightly colored regiments on the field dissolved before my eyes into a kaleidoscope of color and sparkle, I watched the kids co-mingle and congratulate one another. I may be new at this band parent thing, but I promise to do everything in my power to support my community's children as they march along life's pathway to becoming true winners in life.