Tenx9 Nashville’s first theme of 2016 was “Whoops.” Here’s Tenx9 regular Tony Laiolo’s tale about a high school marching band mishap senior year.
Senior year of high school. The best of times. First day of classes, first thing out of the band director’s mouth. “You’ll be excited to know that this year for the first time ever we are going to be a marching band.”
Oh, we were excited all right. Marching? Nobody asked us! Why are we being punished? The boys who’d had junior high P.E. with Coach McWilliams weren’t strangers to marching. His strategy for turning marshmallows into men was to march us around the dirt field doing military call-and-response cadences. “Your stomach is in, your chest is out, sound off, 3, 4.” When we messed up — which was constantly — he’d go all drill sergeant and get in our face with this evil glee.
Not a happy memory, and the concept of stirring in music and uniforms did not exactly improve it. We didn’t know where this brilliantly stupid idea came from, but we figured it had something to do with our arch-rival, Pacific Grove High School, better known as P.G.
Some background. The last game of each football season — this is the Late Jurassic, before playoffs were invented — was a battle between the two schools for possession of The Shoe, a perpetual trophy featuring the bronzed football shoe of our typing teacher. From back in the day. The game really hadn’t been much of a “battle” for a while. The last time P.G. won The Shoe, we seniors had been in kindergarten.
You’d think that kind of domination would be sufficient for your booster types to sit back, puff out their chests permanently and leave well enough alone. But there was one thing that made P.G.’s humiliation incomplete — their accursed, cast-of-thousands marching band, who were apparently born marching and never met a competition they felt like letting anybody else win.
A typical game would feature four quarters of our boys marching down the field, piling up the score versus their alleged football team, and a halftime show of the P.G. band marching down the field, “piling up the score” versus no one, because we — our band — would be busy trying to blend into the bleachers.
Only now — in our senior year, the best of times — they’d march off the field and we’d march on. Like a punchline. Like a patsy. Like the Washington Generals being fed to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Our uniforms arrived. Where P.G.’s were a vibrant, blinding, Roman legion-style red-and-gold, ours were gray-and-gray, with the merest whisper of red. Gray-and-gray. They looked like something you’d be buried in. You know, if they fit better.
We started learning to march. Measured strides? Knees lifted to uniform heights? Military precision? Um, no. Even when we did everything more-or-less right, the “wow” factor was conspicuously absent.
At least this so-called show would not be going on the road. Only P.G. marched at the other guy’s place. But we had five home games and soon enough there we were — first home game, filing out to the end zone at halftime to “entertain” the crowd — one way or the other.
Our drum major was a new kid named Duane. I don’t remember how he won the job. Probably no one else wanted it, and maybe Duane saw it as a good way to become part of his new school. You know: “Here, kid. You get the big hat and the big baton. You’re somebody.”
Well, yeah, you’re somebody with a hat that’s taller than you and a high squeaky voice that when raised to give commands gets even squeakier and cracks up the band. Welcome to showbiz, Duane.
Somehow we got through the first four home games, more of a curiosity than a spectacle. Hard to be spectacular when there’s only 30 of you. But we sometimes approached adequacy and built a fragile confidence that maybe we wouldn’t be completely ostracized from society.
But all along, the rhino in the room was the P.G. game at season’s end. We knew what was coming and there was no way to avoid it.
Only, as it turned out, there was a way to avoid it. As we put on our burial suit uniforms before the P.G. game, someone said, “Where’s Duane?” Well, there was no Duane. Duane was “sick.” Duane would be missing all the fun.
So, plug in the understudy, right? Whoops. There isn’t one. No Plan B. Now what? And there he was, in the trumpet section. Class president, basketball and track star, one of the smartest guys in school. Bob! Come on down!
Bob wasn’t crazy about the idea. Like I said, he was really smart. But he was also ridiculously responsible and really, picturing any of the rest of us out in front was like, “hey, let’s run around with our heads cut off.”
So Bob swallowed his qualms and said yes. And in truth, the band probably had more confidence in Brand New Bob than it had in Deathly Ill Duane.
And he did great. After the P.G. band worked their wonders and levitated off the field, he led us out and we started our routine flawlessly. Maybe we were going to be OK.
Bob really only made one mistake. Out in front of us and facing back toward us as we all marched upfield, he gave the command for the whole band to hang a left. To his left was the home side, our side, which was exactly where we were supposed to go. But remember, he alone was marching backwards. His left was our right.
So at that instant, a random half of the band followed his command and hung a left. And a random half of the band did what they were supposed to and hung a right. Chaos. Cymbals crashing into bass drums, trombones into tubas, flutes into foreheads. It was by far the most entertainment our band had ever provided.
We managed to finish the routine and sheepishly came off the field thinking “thank god for our football team.” Just two quarters from now our guys would be hoisting The Shoe overhead for the 12th year in a row, and no one would remember our band’s 30-car pileup.
Just one fly in that ointment. The scoreboard. For the first time in 12 years P.G. won the football game. In our senior year. The best of times.