Sunday, October 08, 2006

Football Season Stir Memories

AIKEN CARD SECTION -- This animated graphic by Cindilu2 of Scrpkym's photos of Clay Aiken reflects the rotating images created by student card sections at collegiate football games.

As Marching Band Director

Football Season Stirs Memories

Rousing marching band cadences echoing the excitement and fever pitch of high school and college football contests of today almost invariably transport me back to the festive, intense hoopla of Fridays and Saturdays past.

This weekend I cheered for the Texas Longhorns -- Hook 'em, Horns! -- in the 101st annual Red River Shootout with the University of Oklahoma. I didn't attend UT-Austin, but that doesn't matter. I will always will be part Texan, having graduated from the UT satellite campus in El Paso. Same fight song with the catchy slide trombone riff, easily discernible burnt orange colors, and insuppressible Texas pride.

This is not a blog about football, but about marching bands and one in particular. In a previous entry, I recalled some of my escapades as the director of a Class B high school band in West Texas. It doesn't take much to kindle memories of that season, and some of these reflections are new. Just like the pre-game show, special guest at halftime will be my favorite pop singer -- Clay Aiken from the promo trail for his new CD, A Thousand Different Ways.

Small Town An Education

I have taught elementary/middle/high school band and/or orchestra in three states -- Texas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The only season I taught marching band occurred in Ropesville, TX, 21 miles southwest of Lubbock, and proved to be quite an education for both the director and the community.

A city girl born and bred, I had never lived in a town as small as Ropes, population 517. However, my husband was returning to classes at Texas Tech, the school was without a band director, and I needed a job -- all at the last minute. Mr. Caro had worked in the oil fields around Odessa the previous year, but he was determined to finish his music ed degree; and we were fortunate the Ropes position opened up at just the right time.

Following my interview, the superintendent of schools gave me a tour of the building. As we entered the band room on that hot August day, I noticed the windows were cracked for a nonexistent breeze. Having taught a couple of years in Lubbock, I asked if the band room was air-conditioned. The seasoned old educator just grinned and quietly drawled, "It's onnnnnnnnn."

Besides having "natural" air-conditioning, the band room was next door to the AG Department. There were a few rehearsals during which I could not tell the difference between squealing pigs and my clarinet section.Because the offspring of cotton farmers are automatically involved in the family business, there was never a possibility for before/after school band practice. Everything had to be accomplished during the school day. Our practice field was right next to a cotton gin, and students literally could neither hear themselves, the person next to them, nor their director.

There's quite a leap from acceptable newsroom chatter to public school decorum, and I was forever having to watch my choice of words around students. The high school principal, whose daughter played clarinet in the band, was quite hard of hearing. On a day the cotton gins seemed to be blaring at unreal decibel levels, my band students were unable to hear me even with my loud speaker and nonchalantly talking amongst themselves. I completely tossed etiquette to the wind, stomped my size 5 foot, and yelled through the megaphone, "Shut up, dammit!"

A few days later the principal ushered me into his office and drawled, "Ms. Caro, I hear that you have been using foul language with the band." I said all the right things and got out of there as soon as possible. No way had that dear man heard me, and I was really impressed that anyone in the band had either. I should have applied the good ole Carolina phrase "dadgummit" anyway!

Cotton Gins Rule

Determined more than ever to circumvent the noisy situation, city girl director asked around town if there was any way the gins could be turned off during our noon band practice period. Mr. Caro, who enjoyed eating breakfast at the local cafe before driving into Lubbock, soon delivered a message from the locals. "Boy, that wife of yours is trying to stir up some trouble. Tell her we don't shut them gins down for nobody!"

To which, Mr. Caro, a man of few words, responded, "Did you notice our house has wheels on it?"

Being married to a drummer had its advantages, as he always helped with my percussion sectionals. At the first rehearsal, however, he was duly informed that the guys already knew their cadence, which was: I ate a big lunch, I ate a big lunch. Mr. Caro promptly blew their minds with new material, and they in turn impressed home and away football crowds with a variety of new beats.

Drum Major Makes Sacrifice

One of the neatest kids I ever taught was the Ropes drum major, who had been elected to the position at the end of his junior year. Unfortunately, Darren was also the band's only tuba player. A band without bass is very top heavy and doesn't sound as good. This senior proved his maturity by volunteering to blow the whistle and give vocal commands from his sousaphone position in the back of block formation. We marched the entire season with our drum major in the rear.

I'm not sure about today, but in the 1970s, some Class B Schools had band programs and some didn't. On several of our away games with non-band schools, we encountered football fields marked off in 10-yard increments. This was always a shock to the system of students who had spent the entire week drilling eight steps to five yards. Though "16 to 10" sounds like an equal equation, it's a stretch in precision.

HALFTIME SHOW: Featured in this clickable haltime show are graphic artists Amazing_CA, 1 and 2; ABeautifulMind, 3; Invisible926, 4; and Clayquebec1, 5. Photo credits include Scrypkym, 1, and KarenEh, 5. MommaJudy provided the screen caps for 4.

Football Reigns In West Texas

Like most West Texas communities, football was king in Ropesville. Many in my low brass sections were star football players, so I had to work around that situation. However, when I realized that the JV Team, which played on Thursday nights, was also suiting up on Friday nights just to sit on the bench, I went into orbit. The coaches and I calmly came to an understanding that if a player suited up on Thursday, he was to be in a band uniform on Friday night.

I never knew if I would have a 24 or a 32-piece band until late in the week, so I planned shows accordingly. The night before we went to marching contest, though, I was determined we would perform that particular show at half-time, even without the varsity players. With everyone present, we fielded a respectable 48. To pull off a step-two drill with that many holes required tremendous concentration on the students' part. They have to wait not only their two beats, but also the two beats for each person missing.

Seems as if I spent the entire half-time squatting on the sidelines with my megaphone, "Keep going ... don't stop ... keep moving!" The next day with all 48 members present, the band earned an Excellent rating at the marching band festival, their highest mark in years.

Potpourri of Uniforms

Ropesville's 12-year-old band uniforms were ancient by most standards; and this collection was not only tattered, but also filled with sizes no one could wear. A previous director had apparently outfitted the entire fledgling band program, grade 5 - 12. Twelve years later, the program had grown, and only high school students required uniforms. Lots of very small sizes went unused year after year.

We pieced together jeans and sweatshirts with partial uniforms for football season, and I went to work making a case for new attire with presentations to the school board. To this day, I think the deciding factor was the night my drum major told the story of our trip to Lubbock to march in the annual Cotton Festival Parade.

The band rode to the city on a school bus, while I followed in my station wagon, filled with drums and various large instruments. Darren was to get the band lined up while I checked us in; but when I returned, everyone was still sitting on the bus. Having seen the flashy uniforms and shiny instruments of other groups, Ropes band members were too embarrassed to leave the bus.

Darren gave me a "leave it to me" kind of signal, so I did. I don't know what he told the band members to get them off the bus, but soon we were taking our place in line for the parade route. We had worked particularly hard on street drills, the drummers had hot new cadences, and the band sounded very good.

A Surprising Outcome

Afterwards, students and chaperones rushed to enjoy the rides at the fair while I slipped over to the music store to pick up some supplies. When I returned to the fair grounds, I was very surprised to be greeted with "Congratulations! ... Good show, Ropes!" from several area band directors.

The Ropes Band, which almost didn't get off the bus, had been awarded an Honorable Mention Trophy in the Cotton Festival Parade. Darren accompanied me to the next school board meeting and told that story. New uniforms were approved that very night.

Despite this flood of fond memories, our weekend's cold, rainy weather finds me perfectly content to celebrate my love for football, bands, and festive fan atmospheres from the comfort of my own den. I'm off to cheer for the Carolina Panthers!

Have a great week, Clay Nation!



1 comment:

Silk Willow said...

Hi Caro!
thanks for dropping by :) I so LOVE your Clay Aiken pix! Where do you get them? I can't get over how handsome Clay is. And what a wonderful talent.