Marching Band by James G.

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Waiting for the runner up band to be called at Nationals can be the best and worst feeling in the world. Your fate is decided in that instant when the announcer either does or does not say your name. This announcement of runner up and first place had serious implications in my freshman and senior year of marching band. This announcement was followed by tears both times. In between these two years were two seasons of the band declining.

My freshman year I was completely new to the idea of being in a competition band. My freshman year was my first year playing Tuba and I was introduced to a whole new world and intense level of music. This new thing was called high school marching band. During the summer before my freshman year rehearsals began and they seemed very similar to any other band I had been in until about the third rehearsal when the marching part was introduced. After that rehearsal the reality behind the concept of marching band hit me. I thought to myself. I have to march, and play? Those two tasks are hard enough to do by themselves. Not being a person that quits often I accepted the challenge and decided to stick with it. My section leader Adam was a wonderful leader and was a great teacher. He kept me in line throughout the summer rehearsals and band camp. As the year went on I progressed fairly well. Soon enough competitions started rolling around. The first seven competitions we won first place and then it was time for us to get first at Nationals. Nationals isn’t just a walk in the park by any means. Our school had never won at Nationals and I believed with all my heart that this was the year it was going to happen. Nationals were held at the Naval Academy football field in Annapolis Maryland. All I really remember from the show is the very beginning feeling the cold wind whip around freezing my body and seeing my breath slowly rise above my head as we were introduced and given the thumbs up from the judges to begin. I also remember this same feeling of the wind blowing throughout the stadium like a wind tunnel and my breath rising at the end of our show, but the only difference was that I was drenched in sweat. The band as a whole had a very good show, and it was by far the best of the year. After the show a few hours passed by and it was time for awards. There were about twenty teams in our division and they started calling the names of the bands in their respective place starting with twentieth all the way down to sixth and the name Susquehanna Township had not yet been called. With our hopes rising higher and higher with every band announced three more names were called “Annapolis Area Christian HS, Morris Knolls HS, and Shepherd Hill HS”. This left Susquehanna Township and Timber Creek HS. I looked at my good friend David and said “Yo I think we’re gonna to do it”. He responded with a simple affirmative head nod and said “Yessir”! The next high school called earned second place and was Susquehanna Township HS. This was the most devastating moment of my freshman year of marching band. As hard as this was to accept I had to muscle up a fake smile and clap/cheer as if I was happy with the second place finish. When we got on the bus to go home tears streamed down my face and I kept saying to myself “I am not letting this happen again”.

Nearing the end of freshman year we started rehearsals before school even let out for summer break. The band rehearsing way ahead of schedule was a great sign for the upcoming year. I now was experienced in the field of marching band and I honestly believed that I knew all there was to know concerning marching band. During my sophomore year my main focus was ME.  The only thing I worried about was having a perfect show every week. The position of a sophomore in this band is very gray because you are no longer a rookie, but at the same time sophomores aren’t really in a leadership position. This was great for me, but in the end I think it hurt me that I only focused on myself. What needed to be done for the good of the band and helping others wasn’t on my agenda. I was very selfish and it was all about me. I should have been more of a leader to the freshman even though that wasn’t my position, but I knew most accurately what they were going through since I was just a freshman the previous year. The senior class my sophomore year was talented but their main focus wasn’t winning at Nationals. This angered me very deeply and it was so blatant that all they worried about was having a good time and looking out for themselves. I realized this and began to feel bad because I was a reflection of the leadership in the band and we could not win with this mindset and lack of dedication to being one band united trying to attain the goal of getting a gold at Nationals. Then the competitions started approaching and we started to somewhat get our acts together. We began collecting our first place trophies at all of the minor competitions, and again it was time for Nationals. During Nationals weekend of my sophomore year I came to practice with a completely different mindset than I had at any previous competition. I basically had my blinders on and didn’t let anything distract me and I had a very productive practice that Saturday. Then Sunday I kept this mindset throughout the whole day, including the performance. This again was our best performance of the year, but I saw some if the other bands before and after our band and I saw the writing on the wall, but I stayed positive and figured that we would still pull it out. I definitely wasn’t as optimistic as my freshman year, but I still thought we would win. Just as the names were announced the previous year, the same occurred my sophomore year. As we got down to the top five I began to get filled with that same excitement I had freshman year, but that all went away as we hear Susquehanna Township’s name called for third place. This definitely was not satisfying by any means, but I couldn’t say I didn’t see it coming. On the bus ride home I didn’t cry but I just started thinking what has to be done next year so that we can get a National Championship. Not having the first place trophy from Nationals gave me an empty feeling at the end of the season. I did not want to have this feeling again.

Next it was my junior year and I could finally start somewhat of a leadership role in the band. I just helped out the freshman somewhat, but the seniors still had the most leadership responsibilities over the band. The only problem with this senior class is that they were very petty and immature. They fought over things that were very minute and they always wanted to horse around and just have fun. This affected not only the band, but the band instructors. Mr. P, my band director had to spend entirely too much time telling students to act right and stop horsing around. Many times he would say “This is the kind of stupid stuff that’s holding us back”. That statement couldn’t have been more true. We held ourselves back from greatness that season and the result of Nationals really made it evident. I entered Nationals weekend my junior year with that same intensity as I did the previous year. I was ready and had my head on straight when it was time for us to perform but evidently everybody else wasn’t in that same place mentally. We laid an egg at Nationals that year and got a fourth place finish. This show was far away from our best performance of the year. People were making simple mistakes that we hadn’t made in months. I knew that we had no chance of winning that year after that horrible excuse for a show that we performed. On the bus ride home no tears came, but instead I was just mad at the seniors. Their leadership, or lack thereof seemingly made us regress for our Nationals performance. On the way home I realized that now it was my turn to be a senior section leader and I promised to myself I would not disappoint. I knew that if we didn’t get a National Championship my senior year, my whole marching band career would be a bust. Nearing the end of my junior year we started rehearsals and I knew it was now all on me. It was now my turn to lead…

Finally it arrived, senior year was here. It was my turn to lead my band to a first place finish. Now that I was a senior I had a large number of responsibilities. These responsibilities ranged from keeping the underclassmen in line, to reporting progress to my instructor, to creating and teaching choreography for the band. I sat down with my band instructor Mr. P during school one day, and I asked him “What’s the band gonna do this year?” he responded with a calm “That’s up to you guys, especially you seniors”. This was just another sign that the fate of the band was basically in our (the seniors) hands. I took this conversation we had to heart and made one very large change. That change was my attitude and seriousness about marching band. The same intensity and mentality I had going into the Nationals my performance during my sophomore and junior years, I had that all year during my senior year. Every single marching practice, every music rehearsal, and every single run through of the show from the beginning of the season to the end was at full intensity and one hundred percent effort. This mindset was something missing from the band leaders in previous years. One hundred percent wasn’t given at all times and the intensity wasn’t there.

So the season started differently than every other season of my marching band career. Our first competition we finished in second place. This was definitely a setback for the band because we have never experienced a loss this early in the season. Even though this harped at my mind and thoughts I kept the same attitude and told everybody not to worry about it, but instead to work harder and harder to make sure this never happens again. After this first competition we got back on track and won first place at all of the following competitions and finally it was time for my last Nationals weekend as a part of the Susquehanna Township Marching Band. During the Saturday practice I gave a speech on how important the Saturday practice was and how it would affect our performance Sunday. The band took heed to the wise words I gave them and we had a great pre-Nationals practice. Then Sunday rolled around and it was almost time to go onto the field and I looked at my friend David who was now also a senior and section leader and said “Last chance bro, we gotta do it”. He responded with a simple look into my eyes and we both understood how serious this was and we simultaneously nodded our heads. No ore words needed to be said. We marched onto the field and again it was cold and the lights at Met Life Stadium in Meadowlands New Jersey bounced off of the metal instruments giving our band somewhat of a glow. We performed and the show was nearly perfect. It was the best show of my four years of high school. After the show all that was left was the wait. This year I was on the field to receive the award for my school since I was a senior section leader. So the announcer started at twentieth place and got all the way down to second place and our school still had not been announced. The announcer then said “In second place, we have” this seemed to be the longest pause of my life and he finished with “Lenape HS”. That only meant one thing that Susquehanna Township Marching Band won first at Nationals. The announcer then went on to say “And the winner of the 2012 Group 2 National Championship is Susquehanna Township.” In that moment my life seemed so complete. My bandmates in the stands cheered and screamed their heads off, but I couldn’t because I was on the field and wanted to be respectful. I looked over to my friend David and said “We did it.” Standing in the parking lot waiting to meet up with the rest of my bandmates tears began to form in my eyes and stream down my face. I looked up into the sky and said “Thank you.”

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Megabus Mayhem by Ross C.

Wal-Mart parking lot

            Don’t get off the bus in New York, I remembered my dad telling me as I sat next to my best friend Luke as the Megabus sped away from the Walmart bus stop in State College, PA. I had no idea what I was going to do. Should I go up to the bus driver? Maybe I should just go back to sleep and then I’ll just deal with the situation when I wake up. I had some money, but I was not sure if it would be enough to get through a night in the Big Apple. As I was having my mini panic attack inside, Luke was panicking too and yelled, “Just freaking do something!” as he pushed me out into the bus aisle. Immediately I got up and started to make my way toward the front of the bus.

It was a few days before Halloween Weekend 2012 and I was going to visit my brother at Penn State for the first time to see the Penn State-Ohio State football game as well as enjoy all that PSU had to offer. I asked my brother if I could bring a friend; more specifically, Luke because he was my best friend and we were both considering Penn State as a future school for next year. My brother said sure and Luke and I decided we were going to go up Saturday morning and come home Sunday afternoon. We got our Megabus tickets on Thursday for 8:00 am Saturday, and my mom was going to drive both of us to the Megabus stop in the morning. The bus goes from Pittsburgh to New York and passes through the Penn State area, then loops around and passes back through Sunday afternoon.

It was Friday night and I was packing at home when both of my parents gave me the “Be Careful” talk. My mom starts off the conversation by saying, “Now Ross, we know you don’t want to hear this, but just be careful when you are up there. Your brother can be a real idiot and I would not put it past him if he just left you and Luke to fend for yourselves in State College because he couldn’t remember what stop to pick you guys up from, or what time to get up and get you guys”. I replied, “Okay mom, I’ll be careful,” when really I thought, Seriously?! I’m almost eighteen I would think I could handle myself by this point. My dad then chimes in: “Now I know you don’t have hardly any common sense and when you and Luke are together I try not to even think about what you fools are doing, but can you please promise me that whatever you do, do not end up in New York”. This time I actually said, “C’mon dad, you are talking to a kid who has like a 3.8 GPA, I think I can accomplish the task of getting off at the right bus stop”. “I’m just telling you” he responded. I was actually stunned that my parents thought that I was incapable of completing daily tasks. It turns out that they would be right about what they thought, but that’s beside the point. I finished packing and I went to bed eager to get up in the morning and head to Penn State.

At about 7:30 am, my mom and I picked up Luke and we were then dropped off at the bus stop about ten minutes before the bus arrived. I had with me my backpack which had a couple school books in it for the illusion to my mother that I was going to do homework, my phone charger, a change of clothes, and a shave kit. Luke had his backpack with similar items in it, and he also brought a sleeping bag because he did not know where he would be sleeping at my brother’s apartment. He had to put that in the cargo hold of the bus before we got on because it was too big to bring with him to his seat. My mom waved goodbye to both of us and yelled before we got on the bus, “Have fun! But be Safe!” We both laughed and yelled back, “Okay!” and we were on our way to The Pennsylvania State University all on our own. As soon as the bus ride got underway, we did what any sensible teenager would do that early in the morning: we slept. We basically slept the whole way until we arrived at the Walmart that is in State College. We got off and Pete, our African-American bus driver who I could tell was not particularly happy with his life choices that led him to be a Megabus driver, told us we were going to take a fifteen minute break, but he did not specifically say that this was the stop for Penn State. We left our stuff on the bus, got off, and stood around until Pete was ready for everyone to get back on. We got back on the bus and sat down. Now we knew we were close to where we had to be because it was 11:00 am and we knew it took about three hours one-way, but we did not think that a Walmart was the bus stop for State College. We thought we would be dropped off right in the middle of campus. The bus started up again and off we went again. About ten or fifteen minutes later, Pete gets on the loudspeaker. He says, “Alright everyone, next stop New York!” At that same moment, Luke and I look at each other and have the same expression: “Oh Shit”. I could not help but think about what my dad said the night before, “Do not get off the bus in New York”.

When Luke pushed me into the aisle, I had to make my way down from the upper portion of the bus to the lower front of the bus where Pete was. I think that he was a little bit surprised that someone had gone up to the front to say something to him because that was obviously not the norm. Stumbling over my words I managed to say, “Uh yeah, we need to get off the bus”.  He just looked at me and said, “Well if you have anything in the cargo hold, I can’t get it for you”. Without even thinking I shouted, “Okay that’s fine!” I motioned for Luke to come up to the front of the bus and Pete let us off about a mile and a half away from the Walmart stop. When Pete let us off, everyone on the bus was just laughing hysterically at our expense so that was nice. I called my brother to tell him what happened and of course, I woke him up so he could not have even picked us up because he was not even there. He laughed about the situation, and told me he would be there in a few minutes. While Luke and I were walking back to the Walmart, Luke said, “Hey wait, I forgot my sleeping bag!” I answered, “Yeah, um the bus driver said that he could not get anything from the cargo hold so it’s basically gone”. “That was my favorite sleeping bag, dude,” he said. I said that I would buy him another if he cared so much for it, which I could not believe. We made it back to the bus stop, where my brother greeted us with laughter, but we made it to State College. I really wished I had known that the bus stop was actually at a Walmart rather than right in front of Old Main like I had imagined.

We chilled at my brother’s apartment for a short time after which we went to the football game. It was my first Penn State football game, and it was awesome. PSU ended up losing, but it was still sweet. Then we chilled at the apartment and got the “real” tour of Penn State from my brother and his roommate. My brother also had his buddies from high school up for the weekend, so it was an all-star lineup of about eight people in a 350 square foot apartment. To sum up the Saturday after the bus ride, I couldn’t really say because I do not remember much past 8:00 pm.

Then came Sunday morning. I somehow managed to get up at 10:00 am because the bus was scheduled to arrive to pick us up at 11:15 am. We had to get on a bus in State College that would take us over to the Walmart where the Megabus was. Even with the grogginess, we were actually good on time on getting to the bus stop, but naturally, the bus did not show up until 11. I’m thinking to myself on the bus ride over to Walmart, It would only make this trip perfect if we had to sprint to the stop just to get on the bus. And my second thought was, “Please do not let it be Pete driving”. Well, we got off the stop and across the parking lot sits the bus with Pete just closing the doors getting ready to go. Luke and I leapt off the first bus into an all-out sprint to catch Pete and the Megabus. I heard over my shoulder from my brother, “See ya!” but we kept running. We flagged down the bus and got on with Pete chuckling a little to himself. Yeah, it’s real freakin’ funny buddy, I thought as we climbed onto the bus. Again, Luke and I both slept the whole way on the bus ride back to Pittsburgh. This time though, we actually recognized the bus stop in Pittsburgh and we able to get off at the appropriate time. My mom picked us back up and she asked how the weekend was and I just said to wait until I get at least three more hours of sleep. Later, I told her and my dad the whole debacle, and of course they laughed and gloated about how they were right. I could not say anything because they were right; I am not as smart as I thought I was. Luke and I almost managed to go to New York City. Unreal. I do not have the slightest idea about what we would have done if we ended up in New York. I wish I had actually listened to my parents about how to be careful and conscientious of my surroundings rather than waiting until the bus is already moving to New York before I ask to get off.

 

The syllabus that killed my self-esteem.

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photo by Alamy I found at the Guardian site
(I am citing my pilfering)

“Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt; by way of Gregg Rogers)

which reminds me of….

Thou shalt not covet” (God; by way of years of Catholicness)

I was working on my first syllabus. I’d heard it would not be fun. It was for a freshman rhetoric and composition course at the university where I’m in my second year of teaching. The kitchen table was full of crap. I had piles of stuff. Most of it was made of paper and had words on it: a pile of new textbooks, a folder, a spiral notebook, the battered syllabi from my first year, a pen, my laptop, and a half-cup of cold coffee. Sitting closest to me was the text book I planned to use this semester. God. I sat there hoping I’d picked the right one. If I didn’t, the world would probably stop spinning and sweet, innocent freshmen would be damaged so badly they’d never drink again.

The syllabus I used last semester was designed by my department. So it wouldn’t work now that I’d gone feral and picked my own book. I also have a new teaching schedule; last time it was MWF classes but now it’s T-Th.  So I sat at the ready with my spiral notebook and my spiraling thoughts.  And a pen. The spiral notebook wasn’t even mine, really.  It was a middle school leftover from one of my daughters.  The cover had monkeys with wings and halos.  Angel monkeys.

I was at the table with my monkeys and notes from the first few days of classes from last semester. I also had the new text book. I started to scribble into the notebook in an attempt to get the first week onto the books. After I’d been at it for a couple hours I felt like I was making progress. Well. Kinda.

I was having the brain melt down I had in grad school all the time; I was doing four things at once. This time I was thinking about which papers students should write.  I was thumbing through the text.  I was finding readings online.  And I was having thoughts.  Lots of thoughts. This thinking lead to reading the book. I started with the regular chapters. Then I moved to the essays in the back of the book. Then I was onto more essays that had nothing to do with anything I’ll be teaching:  Did you know guys with no hair on their chests are called “smoothies?” There’s loads of bangin’ stuff in this book!

During this brain melt down I was unloading the dishwasher and feeding the dog. Crapfest – my rescue goldfish needed a water change. Had I eaten? Where was my son? Oh, there he was. I’d fed him while I was cleaning a spaghetti sauce explosion out of the microwave.

That was the first day.  This continued for a few weeks.

During this syllabus debacle, I had some ideas about what tidbits I’d add to my own syllabus; things from last semester. Things like: don’t bring a computer to class and don’t text.  Basic stuff.  But I needed some help.  A mentor.  Mentors.  Professors and lecturers who have gone before me. The Grand Syllabists.  That secret group with the special handshake and the peculiar nod.  I’ve heard some of the men even have funny mustaches.  So do some of the women.

look-at-the-neighbors-babysitter

Love this drawing! (Found it at nooutcasts.or)

So I went to the departmental website looking for syllabi samples.  And there they were.  Free samples.  Just like toaster strudel in a dixie cup at Wal-Mart.  A flavor for any schedule you may be teaching.  I downloaded a few freebies.  The Grand Syllabists would save the day.

I clicked one open and it started out great.  I enjoyed reading the opening paragraphs.  Damn!  I should take this class. This sounded like a great teacher.  I kept on with my gander and got to the schedule of classes.  This was very important.  How did this teacher parse out classes per topic?  What types of papers were assigned?  Did they have nap time built in?

My gander was gandering along just fine through the first week.  It looked pretty standard. But –  there it was – in the second week of class. Foucault. FOUCAULT?  What?  What! Are you kidding me? Is this freshman English?  I used to hear his name bandied about in grad school.  It wasn’t my area so I ignored it.  But now, years later, he popped up again.  Jesus.  Mary.  And Joseph.  Seriously?  Fou- Who?  How could I use one of his writings if I had no idea who he was?

What it really meant is that I’m an idiot and I should not be teaching.  Obviously.  I know his name.  Foucault. I can pronounce it as I took French for four years.  But that’s it.  I’m 49 years old and I wouldn’t know Foucault from F-Troop. I had to go to Wikipedia to get some basic information.  It didn’t really help.  Why didn’t I ever take a philosophy class? Damn the Grand Syllabists!

After a few hours of feeling like a complete loser I made myself step away from the table.  I tried to think of the two quotes at the top of this blog.  And I remembered something I’d heard from a peer at a recent departmental meeting.  He said he teaches to his strengths.  So, I focused on last year, which was good.  Nobody died.  I tried to think about all the good papers I read last year.  Obviously I taught my students something.  Either that or they were Grand Rhetors when they arrived.  Maybe it was a bit of both.

I finally got my syllabus done about two days before classes began.  And I’m happy with it.  I did find another sample that helped.  I’d say it was more my style.  I even stole an idea for a reading.  It’s about the use of the word “retard.”  I like doing provocative things in class.  We analyze TV commercials and song lyrics. I also sing.  Their ears are dying.

*  I fully support the use of Foucault.  More power to you.  Can you come give me a tutorial?