Friday, July 19, 2013

Watch Your Words

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

I have spent a lot of time avoiding facebook lately because, even though people can post what they want on their pages, I don’t want to read people’s negative posts. I have recently spent a lot of time asking complete strangers not to use inappropriate language around young children. I don’t find it cute in the slightest to have a toddler curse at me or sing all the crude lyrics to the latest rap song. I have spent a lot of time asking why people feel the need to curse excessively in public. I just want to use the symbols from a Looney Tunes cartoon to blank it out. I have asked friends and colleagues why they feel the need to publicly bash their friends, significant others, family, or activities. Its just angry language. Then I think about my amazing high school students. I think about the 2 Paradigm clinic full of great students I have taught this summer and how much I am looking forward to this weekend and all those new amazing students I will teach this Saturday.

Lately, I have thought a lot about the right words to use.

There is an old cliché phrase that goes “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Yes, giggle. Just typing it brought back childhood images of myself wiggling my finger at some other kid in 2nd grade who just called me a name. Many of us in our early days were taught this phrase in some form or another. Parents taught us that this was the best defense against name calling. After all, words are better used than fists, right? But the truth is, words hurt a lot more than physical pain. Vicious words and phrases, even in jest, can leave scars that cut much deeper than any blade ever could. So why is it acceptable to use such weapons and the majority of people let others get away with it? Why do we turn a blind ear to such an obvious attack or insult? Especially when the attack or insult can be so easily averted. When did we stop watching our words?

From birth, we babble. We scream and cry and make cute noises. It’s the first steps to strengthen our lungs and developing speech. As we grow into toddlers, we are taught simple words like “mommy”, “daddy”, “cookie”, “juice”, “please”, “thank you”, “puppy”, and “potty”. As we continue to grow, we learn how to put these words into complete phrases. We are taught the right and wrong things to say as we learn the meanings of each word. All of this training brings us to our daily speech. Daily speech that is as constant in our lives as breathing. As we hit middle school, our teachers, parents, and coaches are now simply role models of the do’s and don’t’s of language. Because at this point, they should be just examples or reminders. We, as teenagers, now know better.

 We have all been victims of some sort of verbal abuse or negative comments. So, why in a sport that is probably one of the most open and accepting activities for young adults of all backgrounds, do we allow this?

Now, before you all start jumping on me, and begin calling me a hypocrite - yes, I can be negative and yes, I have strong opinions. But I constantly work hard to keep my negative or strong opinions reserved for the privacy of my closest friends and fellow staff members. Its usually over a strong drink after a long day or at dinner and never in front of the membership or other teams’ staff members.

Let’s do another childhood flash back! Ever heard of the telephone game? Whatever you say will be changed and worsen as the message gets farther down the line. You start off saying “I don’t like the color blue in that flag”. Seems simple right? You don’t like the shade of blue, but people talk and 100 people later, by the time it circles back to you, you are being rumored to say “I don’t like that stupid show by that (insert staff members name) because the incompetent flag line can‘t figure it out.” Ugh! What just happened??

Make good choices.

Let me tell you a story:

Dayton Ohio - Nutter Center - SA Prelims

We, staff members, brought our students into the arena and sat in the stands prior to our show. We wanted the girls to get used to the lights and review how the sound was, where the judges were, how high they needed to perform, etc. Nerves were high.

As we watched several groups, I noticed something rather disturbing. Some of the girls were watching the other teams respectfully but most were not. Some of them were chatting, playing around, and whispering. I even saw a few of them laughing and pointing fingers.

As the new group came onto the floor and were setting up, I called for their attention simply stating “Hey! If you see something you like, clap! Remember how it feels when you are out there! Everyone loves applause.”

More girls started clapping and paying attention at this point.

I love Dayton. I try to show love for all the shows I see and while we sat there, my team heard me praise each and every performance and they could hear how loud and proud I was about it. I made sure I was clapping and supporting everyone that walked onto that floor.

One of my girls eventually turned to me and asked, “Come on, Ms. Heather! Do you REALLY love every show you see?”

My mental reaction: Um. No.

My actual response to her: “It isn’t about if I like every show or not. Everyone likes things differently. It’s about respect. They’ve spent all their time and energy in a gym like you have. They have made sacrifices and paid their debt to be here. We don’t know how many hours they have worked. Or what difficulties they have had on their journey. Or if they have had the best of seasons or the worst experiences ever. But they are here - at WGI - and they have earned our applause. When you go on later today, do you want them clapping for your hard work and efforts or whispering and pointing?”

At that point, the entire group showed more appreciation for the teams.

It was that simple. They needed an example of positive words.

Nutter Center - SA Semi-Finals

After an amazing semis performance, we couldn’t of been happier or more positive. We all were sitting in the stands after our performance watching and supporting the remaining programs before retreat. A few good friends/staff members sat down with us and we staff members all started chatting. We discussed our group and how proud we were of their 2 runs then we talked about their group and their stresses going into their semi-finals that evening.

I would turn around to watch the shows and behind me I could hear many others, including my friends, getting caught in the negative chatter. “Girl - its Dayton. Catch it!” “There is a catch tape for a reason.” “That show was boring as hell” “Opps. It’s a hotdog guard” “How did they make semi-finals?” “That girl has the solo? Bad choice.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All this negativity! What was bad was I also got sucked into it by adding in my own comments here and there between shows. I had completely forgotten where I was and who was there and the influences I was making. I just listened and chimed in. The worse part was all my girls were listening to everything we were saying too. All their energy changed. And all I could think of was …. Crap! All my positive talk might be destroyed as quickly as I tried to fix it. Once I realized this was happening, I immediately asked for my friends not to talk like that near the girls.

I think the hardest part was even from my friends, there was eye rolling, a bit of huffing and puffing at me, and a few inappropriate comments sent my way, but the conversation eventually did change. The girls seemed to stay positive for the rest of the trip.

My point to the stories - there isn’t enough staff members in the world that teach their students these moral values - these positive words. There isn’t enough captains telling their teams not to listen to the negativity around them. We ALL need reminders of what is right and wrong some times. Nobody is perfect, but we all need to be better role models to each other. We aren’t each other's parents, but we are incredibly influential in each other's lives and we are responsible for what our students do and how they are perceived.

On so many occasions, I have seen present and former students walk up to their World class idols and praise them and tell them how much they love them and how one day they hope they can spin/dance/perform like them. On too many occasions, those “idols” give this easily impressionable performers this holier than thou attitude and prance away. They don’t give words of encouragement, words of wisdom, or words of friendship. They just gave them words of self-righteousness or words of insult if they use any words at all. This isn’t the words we should be using. It’s not helping our youth grow up to be great role models. On one too many occasions, I have brought this issue up to their staff members and get the same treatment their students gave to my students - rudeness and eye rolls.

It also doesn’t helped that social media in every format allows people to see negativity from all over the world, not just in their own backyard.

So as the new season is about to start and we embark on this new journey, think twice before you speak. It is everyone’s responsibility to watch the words you use. The new team is coming in ready for a fresh start and full of positive and uplifting energy. Let’s all keep in mind that everyone is working hard. Everyone is in the heat and sweating and sacrificing and giving and pushing!

Remember: Watch your words!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Case For Why Your Dues For Band, Drum Corps, and Winter Guard Are Worth Every Dime

So after a less than pleasant day at work, I was driving home thinking about the nice frothy cocktail that would be waiting for me upon the conclusion of my very aggressive krav maga class, where I would be able to basically beat the hell out of my day and then put it to bed. I had a disagreement with a colleague who has difficulty thinking through the multiple alternatives to a problem. It reminded me of a situation years before where a colleague demonstrated that their critical thinking skills exist in a world based on ego and self-esteem. As this person who was a long time member of the team was told that her suggestions for a solution lacked insight, she became defensive and shut down. Later in the day she resorted to middle school tactics and went and "tattled" to the boss, making an already uncomfortable situation, a situation now based on lack of trust.

While thinking about my day and my nice frothy cocktail, my mind for some reason drifted to my years of color guard. I was lucky to have been zoned for a high school with a great marching band. Almost everything I know and everything I believe, in terms of how I treat people, how I handle problems, and my ability to creatively manage a tough situation, comes from that marching band. In my career as a performer, I was lucky to get to play an instrument, spin a flag, get hit in the face with a rifle, and have arms bruised by the blade of a Spanish Sabre. I performed at BOA nationals (when it was MBA), the infamous Tennessee Contest of Champions, Drum Corps International World Championships, and the Winter Guard World Championships. The build up to those competitions and the lessons learned, have stayed with me well into my 40's and no amount of money spent in college or in professional classes, will ever match what I learned during my years as a national competitor. My very core comes from years spent with band directors and guard instructors who wouldn't give up on me and demanded that I demand more from myself.

So, if you are a parent or young person wondering if the money is worth it, please know that it is. Every dime. Every tear. Every bruise. Every visit to the emergency room. Every push up. Every late night on a football field. Every disagreement. Every lap ran around the track. It's all worth it and let me give the young people out there, the current performers of our activity 10 reasons why.

1. Because early is on time and on time is late!

Enough said. Seriously...enough said.

2. Because your band director is too busy to deal with your petty arguments with your co-performers.

Work it out, because it's only band camp and it's going to be a long season if you don't. In the stress and pain of any competitive season, learning to work with others will be your saving grace. This is life and in life you will have disagreements and whining to the boss should not be your first option. (In most cases it shouldn't be an option at all.)

3. Because your actions impact not just you, but the team.

If you are successful, then they are successful. If you give up and quit, then those who did not give up and quit are still impacted by your selfish actions. There are fewer people who can work as a team than you will ever know. It's a skill not many have. Pageantry will teach it to you. There is no doubt about that.

4. Because your actions have consequences.

If you don't practice there are consequences, If you are late there are consequences. If you don't listen to instructions there are consequences. If you gossip there are consequences. If you try to be an individual and not a team player then, there...are...consequences. In the workplace there are consequences for missing deadlines, being late, having an anger outburst, or just for having a bad day and those consequences could be career killers. Learn this lesson while you are young.

5. Because you don't get to choose who you will do that flag exchange with.

The person marching next to you or throwing a flag at your head might just be the most uncoordinated person next to a fish trying to climb a tree. Learn to work with them and get over it. This isn't about you and the fact that you can do something better than someone else. It's about your ability to find a gem in the most awkward person.

6. Because you might not like your staff.

Your staff might be mean. They may lack experience. They could very possibly lack talent. Your staff may just be the most respected and talented group of people ever assembled in a gym and they still might screw it all up. Here's the thing, though. You are stuck with them and they are stuck with you. Learn now how to manage situations that could lead to ultimate failure and learn to work through that failure without blame. Learn to not quit when things get hard.

7. Because the team outweighs the individual always and there is no one who ever gets their own individual score.

You aren't the soloist. You aren't the 50 yard line diva.  You aren't the drum major. You aren't the flute player who only gets to play one note the entire phrase. You aren't just the freshman flag on the end of the line who nobody sees. You are part of an ensemble and everyone matters and everyone is seen. Everyone has a voice in the chorus and sometimes being in the back of the line is just as important as being the lead dog and most of the will teach you more.

8.  Because you won't win every competition you go to.

You might even get last place. (Someone has to be) You might be 25 points out of first place. Your team might even get unfairly judged or an error on the judges score sheet will keep your team from getting a trophy. This is life and life is often unfair, without explanation and without an apology. Please get over it. There's work to be done.

9. Because performing in front of a crowd is one of the hardest things you will ever do.

You will panic. You will be so nervous you might throw up. You might screw it up so bad you set your equipment up on the wrong side of the floor. You might miss the note or drop the rifle. These shows will teach you resilience. They will teach you how to recover and keep going. This skill in life is more important than anything. Learn the word. RESILIENCE! Say it again. RESILIENCE! You are going to need it and there is no better place to learn it than marching band, winter guard, or drum corps.

10. Friendship.

When you are ready to attend your 25 year class reunion it won't be the people you graduated with that you will want to see the most. It will be the people who stood next to you for an entire season while you learned to throw a quad, that you will want to see the most. It will be the person who sat next to you on the bus, who comforted you after you messed up that one note during your solo. It will be that person who said to you that the staff was crazy when they yelled at you for missing your drill set. The friends you make while preparing for those competitions are lifetime friends. You will long for them. You will miss them and nothing will replace them. There is no other time in life that I can think of when life long friends are made throughout the course of struggle and defeat.

When your band director or staff uses the phrase, "This is a life lesson," then listen. They are right. Life is hard. It's very hard, but the hard comes with rewards. Tom Hanks said it best in the movie, "A League of Their Own," when he uttered the very famous line, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great." The reward is the beauty that comes from starting and finishing something that you never thought you could. When working on a tough project, I often know within minutes who has never had a coach tell them they are wrong or played on a team where their every move depended on their preparation and actions and although not a pure science, they tend to lack the ability to listen and the ability to use critical thought. Years back, I was working on a project at work that wasn't going well. There were about 10 people on the team. Most of the team either got lazy or gave up. Some wanted to take credit for the work once it was done. Some wanted to only critique the work, without offering their sweat in the process of the work. I found that there was this one man who was working as hard as me. He was creative and critically thought through all processes of the project. One day while the two of us were re-thinking the project, he made a comment that made me know that I was in the presence of a "family member." He said, "You know...sometimes all you can do is shine S**T." I laughed and asked him if he had ever participated in marching band, as that is a phrase often used by staff members. He told me he had not just participated in marching band, but drum corps also. Needless to say, the rest of the day we didn't really work, but talked about drum corps. Furthermore, it was two pageantry people who finished the project and made it shine like gold.

I dedicate this to every hard ass instructor and coach I ever had.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Go Ahead and Audition...It's Your Soul Calling

It's July. It's a pivotal month for the pageantry activity. Drum Corps is in full swing. Marching band is in its beginning stages and winterguards are setting their budget and signing contracts for rehearsal space. Shows are being performed. Shows are being planned. It's a time of year where many performers are making decisions as to whether they will audition in September for a winterguard or November for a drum corps. It's a tough decision on many levels, because not only is a performer nervous about the outcome, they are also entering into a potential contract that involves time and money. The contract they will potentially sign is a contract that will be paid for in sweat and tears. This is a given. This is a fact. 

Why would anyone in their right minds put themselves through any type of audition? They are fraught with uncertainty, intense competition, and possible embarrassment. Any good audition will require large group work, small group work, and individual show and tell. Strangers called choreographers and technicians will be eyeing you. Fellow performers will be sizing you up. Are you better? Are they better? Do you deserve to be in the same room as them? What is their background? OH NO!! They were a silver medalist at nationals last year!! 

The goal of an audition has many purposes and it's a two way street. The organization, dance company, theater troupe, drum corps, or color guard you are auditioning for is looking to see who is not just the most talented, but who best fits the image of the organization. Who speaks their language? Who fits their mold?

I have had my share of auditions in my lifetime and they are nothing short of hellish. I'm not talking about your regular every day hell, either. Auditioning for a performance troupe is the type of hell that makes you long for a tarantula to crawl on your face and lay eggs in your ears. Drum corps, winter guard, guard captain, drum major, music ensembles, theme park, dance company. I've auditioned for all of them. I've basically screwed most of them up and made a damn fool of myself in the process. In one audition for Opryland (a very popular theme park in Tennessee back in my day), the director asked if anyone had any acrobatic experience. I jumped from the seat I was sitting in and yelled, "Me! I do!" I did, too. He asked for me to show my skills. I set it up. I took a deep breath and started may tumbling pass. Round off, back handspring, double full twist. It would be great. Except...I misjudged the distance and double full twisted off the stage and into the pit. Between that and having to sing an excerpt from a Dolly Pardon song (which was more tragic than the double twist), I didn't get a call back...surprise, surprise. No tarantula in the world could have made me feel better after that audition. I simply just prayed for death. 

When I auditioned for the Star of Indiana, I was a bit older and a bit wiser. I had honed my dance and spinning skills. I really wanted to make it. This wasn't just a fantasy. This was a dream. I wanted to march a top 12 drum corps so bad, that I would have done almost anything to march. There were something like 80 girls for about 30 spots. Dance, equipment, choreography, technique, and interviews filled the weekend. I wanted this so bad I could taste it. I believed in my heart I deserved to be there. I was ready for this. I could handle the pressure. I remember having to do each piece of choreography by myself in front of various staff members. I hated it, because although I could do the routines, I could not always remember them. Remembering choreography was always my downfall. I would later learn that it was because I had Attention Deficit Disorder. I couldn't focus. I remember doing the jazz piece for the staff. I knew the routine like the back of my hand. When my name was called and the music started, my mind shut down. I couldn't remember it. I couldn't remember anything. NOTHING! Not the opening pose, not the ending pose...NOTHING! I held back the tears as they gave me another chance. 

I blew it. It was awful and that was just day one. The weekend went on and I spent my time beating myself up and damning myself to ultimate failure. The more I thought about the failure that I was, the more I screwed up. It was an awful audition. I left the camp in Indiana and drove the 6 hour drive home to wait the ever consummate rejection letter. My entire life hinged on this audition, because it was all I had. I couldn't afford to march any other drum corps. Star was it and if I didn't make it, then I wasn't marching. I don't know why it happened and I don't really care, but all I know is that I received a letter in the mail inviting me for the December call backs. You just never know what fate will bring and everything inside me wanted to give up that November day. If I had given up and listened to my head over my heart, I wouldn't have that amazing corps jacket that today is placed neatly in the box for my child to one day pass down to his children and it wouldn't have a World Champion patch sewn to it.

My favorite and most horrific audition though, was for the 1991 winterguard season of the Pride of Cincinnati. Finally. Finally. Finally. It was my turn to perform with a world class guard. I had this wrapped up. By this time I had added a year of drum corps to my resume'. I knew the director, as he at one point consulted with my high school team. I had this. It wasn't a matter of making the guard, but a matter of making the sabre line. I drove to Cincinnati from Knoxville very early one September Sunday. It's important at this point to set the stage. Remember now, in 1991 there were still age-outs and this was my age out year. There were no GPS devices or smart phones. (This is very important to the story).

Auditions started at 9! I left around 4 in the morning, which was plenty of time to get there. I was very excited and very confident. I honestly believed I had this one. The universe I would learn, had other plans for me and a very twisted sense of humor as well. My first error of many was that I was directionally challenged  There was no GPS and this girl couldn't read a map. So...I had to trust the directions that were given to me over the phone; except for one tiny problem. In the process of transcribing the directions, my A.D.D. kicked in and I inverted the numbers of the exit to the rehearsal site from something like "28" to "82." Let's just say that as I drove past Dayton and saw signs for Columbus, I started to think that somehow I might be wrong, since the guard had "Cincinnati" in its name. The next problem was that I was running out of gas. Mom and Dad had given me a Chevron credit card. That was Tennessee. Funny how Chevron wasn't really popular in Ohio at the time. As I drove on fumes, trying to figure out where in the hell to go, I made a stupid choice. I randomly asked a stranger for directions and begged him for gas money. He gave me gas money, for a nice lift back to Cincinnati.  No I wasn't raped and my body wasn't thrown into the Ohio was stupid none the less and really freaky. 

I made it to auditions...two hours late and now completely rattled. I got there just in time for weapon technique, which I totally rocked at. Sometime around lunch we were asked to show a few special skills. In the process of the "special skill" portion of the audition, I hit my head with a rifle. Blood poured out of my head and on to the floor. Holy Mother of God! All I could think was, "What have I done to piss off the winterguard gods today! What?!?!!!" Hospital bound and on my way out of the gym, I clung to the door as the staff drug my blood soaked self out yelling, "PLEASE DON'T CUT ME! I SWEAR I'M NOT SOME SPAZ BASKET CASE! PLEASE OH PLEASE! I'LL DO ANYTHING!! " (This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it's how I like to remember it)

Having missed most of the day and barely making it back from the emergency room in time for the final announcements, I dragged my embarrassed, bandaged head, defeated soul back to the floor. I blew it. It was over. I had nothing left to give. My age out year and I would never walk down that tunnel of the Dayton arena. When I was interviewed I was asked how I thought my day was going. My response was a simple laugh, with a simple answer, "Are you kidding? It was awful!" Then I asked if I could borrow 20 dollars to get home. 

Surprisingly, I made the guard and I was told by Ping that he liked my never quit attitude. I still think I owe him $20. 

Here's the thing. If it's in your soul you have to audition. Don't worry about your talent level. Don't worry about your failings. Don't worry about the outcome. Some of the most important moments of my life came from auditions and the lessons I learned because of them. Because of learning to audition, I learned how to interview for jobs and outsell the other candidates with barely a thought. I learned how to assert myself at professional conclaves and parties I didn't want to be at. Auditioning in the performing arts gives you strength to know that you can handle just about anything. The fear you overcome is more than most people have to overcome in a lifetime. Chances are, you will at some point question your ability. You will believe you aren't as pretty or thin as the other performers. You will see someone better than you. You will want to leave. You will want to give up. It's important to know though, that one mistake and one weakness doesn't damn you. Any organization worth being a part of will be looking at you in a 360 degree view and they don't expect perfection.

If there is any question in your mind as to whether you should audition for a guard or drum corps next season, then that is the one sign that should tell you that your soul speaking to you and telling you to go for it. You have to audition, because if you don't you will always wonder what the outcome could have been. What's interesting and what you must remember, is that you as the performer really don't know what the organization you are auditioning for needs. You might just have that one thing they are looking for that no one else has. You might have the look or the spark or that one skill. Maybe, just maybe, all you have going for you is a positive attitude and never give up personality. I'll tell you that from a person who has run more auditions than she can count, I'll take the positive, humble attitude over the arrogant, know it all on most any day. I'll teach you the rest. So give it a shot. Go for it. Audition. Screw it up. Fail. Fall on your face. Hit your head with a rifle. Forget the routine. It's all o.k., because if you want it bad enough, the universe will find a way to give it to you. I promise. So go ahead. Your soul is calling.