Note: This post is my entry for this month’s What I Learned From… group writing project. If you are within the reach of my words, then by all means join us! Just click on the link above for the “how to”!
Theoretical question: If you had the opportunity to step out – no, more accurately, you were actually thrust out into the limelight (and I’m talkin’ really out there) – what would you do?
Up through my second year of college I played a clarinet in the school band (uh, except for that one disastrous year I took a gym class instead, ; *sigh* I never could climb that rope). And it wasn’t some namby-pamby stage band (he said, sneeringly); no, I was in the real band – the marching band.
Why clarinet, you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya – I don’t know, exactly. I was just a little shaver, but I can remember walking into Beginners Band one day where some guy handed me a clarinet. (I guess it’s a good thing he didn’t hand me a piano; my marching band career would probably have been, um, dramatically different…)
Well, one skill you need to be successful in a marching band is the ability to march in formation. Whether it’s big groups or small groups, it’s all about synchronization.
Well, in High School, our marching routines got pretty hairy. Quite often our band of about 100 or so were broken down into groups as small as 4 people, each one having its own marching pattern. It took literally hours and hours of practice to keep from smashing into each other like a soccer riot.
Somehow, in spite of the grueling, er, grind, we managed to produce a new routine with which to awe the crowds each week at the football games. (Thank goodness they had something to keep them entertained; we hardly ever actually, you know, won a game!)
Once I got to university, though, the routines were a whole lot different. That’s because I was a proud member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band (no matter what the final score of the actual game – hey, we never lost a halftime!), and we’re talkin’ a much larger band of literally hundreds of people!
The marching style was much different; our routines were mainly the “follow-the-leader” type. Occasionally, we would make turns in unison, but usually it was simply “follow the guy in front of you and turn where he turns”. That was because it’s a much more impressive style of marching (in my humble opinion) and allows control of a bigger band much more effectively.
However… um, remember the “turn in unison” I just mentioned? Well…
I can’t remember which game this was, but this one time I was having a little trouble remembering exactly what I was supposed to do at a certain point in the routine. Follow the guy in front? Turn right? What? To my horror, I simply couldn’t remember.
As the dreaded moment drew closer, I literally broke out into a cold sweat from fear. What was I going to do? It was way too loud to ask my neighbor, and you simply can’t get any clues from watching the other guys.
Finally, the moment arrived. The Major raised his baton (which I couldn’t see anyway, so that was no help) and blew the whistle. The entire band made a reverse turn – except for yours truly, who made a right turn instead! (Luckily I was on the right side of that particular formation or it could’ve been a catastrophe of gargantuan proportions!)
So there I was, in front of 50,000 people (and possibly the entire TV audience – it happened to be a televised game) marching off into the sunset all alone, while the entire band was rapidly leaving me behind.
What to do, what to do? I quickly realized I had only one slim hope: keep marching!
As we merged together, it was a (relatively) smooth transition passing at right angles through the formation (something we had practiced quite a bit, luckily!), and suddenly, as if by magic, there was my spot!
When the moment came, I made a deft turn to the left, and was finally back where I belonged and a huge sigh of relief escaped from my lips.
OK, here’s what I learned from that experience, in no particular order.
- Being suddenly and unwillingly thrust into the limelight is a lot different than choosing to be in the limelight! Since my college days, there have been many times I’ve chosen to take the lead on something or other, and as it happens, I like it. But the experience of becoming a “leader of one” with no preparation whatsoever is unnerving at best. But at least I was able to use what I knew to attempt a solution. Lesson learned: Just because you can’t be prepared for everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for something!
- If it does happen to you, then whatever you do, don’t panic! I suppose I could have run screaming back to the main formation, or even run off the field in complete and abject defeat (don’t laugh – it’s happened!) – no one would have faulted me. But, I didn’t (and believe me when I tell you – no one was more surprised than me!) Lesson learned: By managing to control my reactions, I discovered time to figure out what to do.
- There’s nobody responsible for your actions but you. Once I was, well, out there, I figured, well, might as well do the best I can and see what happens! I was able to gage the formation and their direction, then coordinate my own steps to bring us back into to formation together. Lesson learned: Do your best, always - it will always pay off in the long run.
- People appreciate it when you give your best, even if you make mistakes. My girlfriend, who was sitting back in the stands, told me afterwards that when I made it back into formation, the people around her (who had an, er, grandstand view – bwa-ha-ha-ha!) actually cheered and clapped for me when I successfully returned into formation! I couldn’t hear them, of course, but it was an interesting outcome just the same, and nice to know anyway. Lesson learned: There are probably people out there cheering you on; don’t let them down.
- You will live to tell about it! No matter what happens, life goes on. We finished the program, marched off the field, and I even got a compliment from the upperclassmen who saw what happened (amazingly, despite how obvious it seemed from my perspective, it wasn’t obvious to that many of the others actually on the field). Then it was soon forgotten and we began the work for the next week’s game. Lesson learned: You will live to tell about it! But when it’s time to move on – move on!
So there you have it, folks! The tale of my debut solo marching performance, and in front of a national audience yet! It was
a day that will live in infamy The Day I Struck Out On My Own.
You know, in retrospect, I actually learned quite a lot from the experience. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it was a blessing in disguise.
But (and I mean this from the bottom of my heart!) may I never be blessed that way again!