Lessons I Learned From High School Marching Band

When I was a freshman in high school, one of my best friends Hannah Tetuan had joined the marching band as part of the color guard, and I hadn’t. For those of you who don’t know, those are the people with the flags, rifles, and/or sabres. If you’ve never seen a marching band perform, go look it up, and come back. I’ll wait. Okay, moving on.

I didn’t see Hannah outside of school that year very often, if at all. Every single weekend, from August until the end of October, she was busy. I couldn’t believe it; how could marching band be taking up this much of her time? I thought she was exaggerating. Didn’t they just play a little show during halftime at football games? I was annoyed that I couldn’t hang out with her, but I was also really jealous, because I had wanted to join as well, and ended up missing the tryout dates. So, at the end of freshman year, I decided to try out for color guard. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Marching band became my life. I know it sounds incredibly cheesy and dorky, but it’s true. It’s hard for something not to when you spend all week practicing and all weekend performing and competing. The people that were in marching band with me became my family (for better or for worse). I stayed in for three years, until my senior year, and I don’t regret a single second of it. Well, maybe there are some parts that I would love to forget, like my uniforms my senior year.

Remove the lei, wand, silly glasses, and the balloons, and that was our uniform. Yeah. We were robots. See the resemblance? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, since I spent so, SO much time in marching band, I learned some important life lessons that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

1. Eliminate the phrase “I can’t” from your vocabulary.

My color guard instructor, Ms. Davis, was one of the most fierce women I’ve ever met. She had zero tolerance for someone saying that they couldn’t do something. When we were learning tosses, if we frustratingly said, “I can’t do this!” and she heard us, she would walk over to where we were standing, look us in the eye, and say, “You what?” She refused to listen or help us until we rephrased the statement into something like, “I’m having trouble doing this toss.” Over the course of those three years, I noticed a drastic change in my identity. I went from being an insecure, confidence-less, extremely shy ninth grader, to a strong, loud, confident, proud senior, and I can say without a doubt that this contributed to that. This way of thinking made me realize that there really isn’t a lot that I can’t do. If I don’t give up on myself, and I put everything I can into what I’m trying to accomplish, then I can do (almost) anything. I use this to this day, and it has opened my eyes to sides of myself that I didn’t know could exist.

2. Your body doesn’t determine your beauty

As I mentioned earlier, I was very insecure when I joined color guard. I had been bullied about my weight and body since I was a child, so I didn’t really see myself as beautiful or of any worth. But that quickly changed. By joining color guard, I found myself doing amazing, graceful, powerful things. I was throwing flags, sashaying across the football field, spinning and twirling and dancing and doing things I never would have imagined doing in front of my peers. And then something amazing occurred to me: I was good at this. I began to see my body as a powerful machine, a beautiful creation that could do amazing things. The realization that I was both strong and beautiful began a long journey down the road of self-love, and I am so thankful for every bit of confidence that I gained through doing color guard. Seeing myself and people of the same and different body type as me showed me that it doesn’t matter how you look. What matters is how you see your body, and if you respect what your body can do, and does every single day, even if that is just breathing and surviving. Your body is an amazing thing, and that makes you amazing, too.

3. Once you embarrass yourself in front of your peers enough times, you become invincible

There’s a running joke in color guard that freshman get embarrassed so much during the beginning of their marching band experience, especially the first time they have to dance in the football stands to the music the band plays. They usually try to play it off like they’re too cool to be there, like the seniors are their embarrassing mothers that dragged them into doing this, and that they don’t really want to be there. Well, that wears off eventually, and then you actually start to love acting like a goofball in front of everyone. Being in marching band means that not everyone is going to understand or appreciate the art that you are performing for them, especially at a football game. But if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing, you really don’t care what they think. If you love what you do, you do it for yourself, not for those that don’t understand it. This is a good lesson to apply to real life. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and look like a goon, and then eventually you’ll be so used to being laughed at that you’ll start laughing with them. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t go out of your comfort zone, after all, and what better reason to do that than doing something you love?

4. Perfume, hair spray, and sunscreen can become deadly if sprayed on a school bus.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I have heard the phrase “DO NOT SPRAY THAT ON THE BUS!!!” during my time in marching band. I kid you not, I have witnessed multiple freshman attempt to spray these substances in secret and immediately be kicked off of the bus if we were parked in a parking lot getting ready. Trust me, it is the quickest way to ruin a bus ride. Just say no to spraying things on buses, unless you enjoy tormenting everything around you, and clogging their airways.

5. When a band director tells you “just one more time,” it never really means one more time

Take this one to heart. If someone that is in charge of a performance art like marching band, dancing, etc. tells you that you’re going to run through something “one more time,” you will be doing that thing at least five more times. It’s sad to see the freshman cheer and run back to the beginning of the set we are running, excited that this will be it for the day, only to see their hopes and dreams be crushed when at the end the director decides that it wasn’t good enough, or that it was so good that it needs to be done again. I don’t really know what life lesson could be taken from this, other than directors are dirty liars sometimes, and to not get your hopes up for something until it’s actually happening.

6. You can’t base your opinion of yourself off of the opinion of someone else

My band director, Mr. Anderson, loved metaphors. I mean, loved them. We began calling them Andersonisms. One of the more, um, memorable ones was when he was discussing how we should respond to being judged at competitions every Saturday. He told us that some people like vanilla ice cream, some like chocolate, and some like spumoni. You may be wondering: what in the world does this have to do with marching band. Trust me, I was half awake that Saturday morning and hadn’t been listening up until that point, so I was just as confused as you. He continued with the explanation that people have different tastes in ice cream, and the same applies to art. Everyone has different tastes in art, so, although there are a few technical things that we could be judged on, we shouldn’t take a judge’s word for how well we think we did as a performer. Only you know if you put your best into a performance, or anything in life, so even if you can be critiqued about objective things, you shouldn’t base your opinion of how good you are as a performer, a writer, a musician, or a person, from what you’ve been told by someone else. Although you should take constructive criticism that is given from a good place, you should always know in your heart that if you think you did the best you could, then that is all you can possibly do, and you should be proud of yourself for that.

7. Family doesn’t have to be blood-related

One of the most important lessons that I learned from marching band is that you can find family in the most unexpected places. When I joined marching band at the end of my freshman year, I had no idea that I would find most of my best friends (and even a significant other) in the next three years. I gained a second family. This family was one that I argued with a lot, and one that I sang maybe one too many Disney songs with. But I knew that I could come to them with my problems and my joys, and they would be there to mourn or celebrate with me. I ugly cried when I had to leave them at the end of my senior season, and I still miss having somewhere that I knew I was a part of something bigger but where I still mattered as an individual. To use a metaphor, like my band director loved to do, even if you have every piece of a puzzle except one, you can put it together, but the picture won’t be complete without that one missing piece. You’re that missing piece; the world would not be complete without you.

After writing this article, I’m probably going to lock myself in my room and cry while watching DCI shows, reminiscing about the days of high school marching band. I hope that my days of being bruised by flagpoles and sweating buckets during band camp have taught you something. If you get a chance to see a high school marching band this fall, do it, and remember that even if you don’t really get into it, those kids are giving it their all. Cheer for them.