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.


  1. My daughter is in winter guard and marching band in a wonderful district. I couldn't agree more with all of the above. These programs have helped her self esteem, her discipline and her overall growth many times over.

  2. I'm a former band kid with one of my kids in band. I also volunteer countless hours on my local school board where I work passionately to make sure the concepts in your article are understood and respected. Daniel Pink wrote a book titled "A Whole New Mind" that supports these same ideas. Thank you for publishing this.

  3. Thank you for posting these thoughts, Shelba. May I copy this to share with our MB students and parents?

  4. Life transformations are priceless. I never self-actualized until, after marching in Band and Corps, I instructed and managed in Guard for just as long. You're so right - It didn't matter that we were only kinda-OK-medium-good - the key was the process for being awesome together as a unit. Being on the instructor side disintegrated the barrier between theory and practice in such a sublime way. Having to manage an organization disintegrated the barrier between self-interest and altruism. Muggles who never get to march have no chance of ever believing that such disintegration of barriers can even occur.

  5. So really describes my son! Thanks for the great message. :)

  6. Thank you and thanks to my competition band and choir directors and coaches who passed on these life lessons. I rue the fact that the current "everybody gets a trophy" practices have damaged our workforce, but remain inspired that there are still pageantry people being groomed to "hold the fort" and create new solutions. Well done, Shelba.

  7. I'm so proud of my nephew, who not only marched in the band, but worked with a GREST team and won awards. He has just graduated from High School and is heading off to college. I've ALWAYS been proud of him, believed in him and admired him. After reading this, I know he will become successful at whatever he does. He will continue to work hard as an individual and as a team member. I love you, Thomas Anderson. And I am proud to be your Aunt!!! And very proud of your parents, also.

  8. This is wonderful! Well said! I'm going to share your story with our Drum Corps Pages!

  9. I am a band mom and run our FB page as well. I just posted a link to this post for all parents and students. You said it perfectly!

  10. Great post! Where did you go to school? I was in the Franklin High School band and would bet you and I marched against each other at some point!

  11. Love it, my youngest daughter is in her second year of marching band at our high school and she absolutely loves it. Her two directors are the most amazing, talented and gifted people I have ever met. The teachers in our school love to have "band kids" in their class because they are so well behaved and I attribute that to our Band directors........

  12. I dont' get the "Drum Core" obsession, especially when you choose a hobbie that takes you away every weekend for 10 weeks! How does one choose this obsession over the love of thier life and family? How does this obsession turn to the one they love and tell them, I don't want you involved in this part of my life, I don't want you around because you stress me out? I want to enjoy this alone because you just don't get it? explain someone.!

    1. Kids leave their families all of the time in the summer for traditional summer camps so what is so different about sending your kid away for a couple of weeks to do something amazing? Heck, in most organizations, parents are encouraged to travel along with the group and help with all of the little things that keeps things ticking like cooking meals, repairing the equipment, vehicles and uniforms, driving, bandaging injuries, etc. If a kid tells their parent that they don't want them along because they stress them out, then maybe that parent needs to look at the way they are behaving when they are around the organization that is causing the child stress. Some parents don't know how to get along with the other parents or try to tell other kids what to do where it is not their place to do so and some don't know how to let their child grow up and want to coddle them the whole time which can cause a lot of social anxiety for the child amongst their peers. And then their are the true corps/band/guard parents... the ones that do anything that is needed to get things rolling and are always around for a good hug after a rough day. These are the ones that treat the rest of the kids like their own. They are the ones that you call 'mom' and 'dad' even years after you've stopped marching :)

      The point of this whole thing is that it's not about choosing corps/band/guard over family. It's about your family letting you go for a little while to learn and grow with an experience like none other. You will travel the continent seeing more places in one summer than some will see in their lifetime, you learn to trust people you may or may not like, learn to deal and even excel in situations beyond your control and you will learn dedication. I would not be the person I am today if it were not for my experiences in Drum Corps and Winter Guard. When I was a kid, I always dreamed of getting to perform at Walt Disney World, and thanks to Drum Corps, I got to do exactly that as part of DCI's 2005 Honor Corps. Anyone who has not been a part of the activity will not understand the feeling of performing in front of THOUSANDS of people in a single performance. It is incredible and despite the injuries, the sweat, the tears and the money spent, if I had the chance to rewind time, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

      And for the record, it's Drum Corps (s not e).

  13. my kids never had to go to camp its my job as a mother to take care of my kids my kids never told me they didn't want me somewhere so I don't know what that feels like bottom line is it's not the core or corpse whatever you wanna call it. maybe it's my boyfriends obsession with the drum major and his wife to be someone's Lackey is an understatement to drop your plans with your significant other for your drum major because of what he wants to do is not acceptableto drop previous plans just because. its not acceptable to make a commitment with your family or your loved ones and break your commitment to them! At the end of the day you want support you better appreciate your family and put them first and thought at least

  14. "On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again. The life I love is making music with my friends, I just can't wait to get on the road again!"

  15. this is like my directors brains on paper couldn't hep but laugh don't know what i would be without marching band D-Ville Panthers RULE!!!!

  16. I read this somewhere, credit unknown:
    "Drum Corps: to those that know, no explanation is necessary, to those that don't, no explanation is possible"

  17. My daughters were in band with a learning disabled student and an autistic student. They were top scholars and never would have met these other students were it not for band. each of the differently bled students struggled but were ultimately successful in functioning in a group. My girls are in grad school now and especially keep in touch with these bandmates. For elite students not in band or a similar activity, they may never have the opportunity to work with a person with challenges until they are in the workforce. Band taught my daughters infinite patience and perseverance.

  18. did band and corps and taught both for many years, I also did theater, visual arts, traditional musical ensembles and sports, While I enjoyed my time in”pageantry” I eventually moved away from it, as I realized it was a limiting activity. While the musical and movement instruction has improved immensely since I started in the ‘80s the overarching sell is still “life lessons”, with the unspoken but firm message that doing marching band makes you “better” (and doing corps makes you better still) than a concert/jazz/ rock musician ‘drama geek’ or other artist. It’s also an activity that remains primarily a outlet for white middle class youth, and instruction outside of color guard is almost always delivered by twenty something white males. Not exactly a cross section of modern American culture.

    The over riding thing i took away from marching was the ability to spot dysfunctional people and organizations quickly and movie away from them at rapid speed, Despite the fact that DCI bills it’s self as “marching music major league” many of its corps are still bedeviled by constant equipment failure, extreme drama between staff members, and a “get tough” verbal abuse culture that remains based on the military of the 1950’s. This despite the massive acceptance of athletic variance in training by sports teams, the hyper organization/maintenance routines displayed by other transport based activities such as NASCAR or touring recording acts, and the zero tolerance for verbal abuse that most successful businesses have adopted. One only need to look at the recent events at Ohio State to realize this culture is ‘cross platform” and alive and well.

    If more proof be needed simply look at the original article, the OP goes on of several paragraphs about how he learned various life lessons during his marching days, and then goes on to belittle his co workers work ethic, and bonds with another “family’” member, to “get’er done”. This is classic “pageantry “ double speak, Leadership there is defined by cutting away those deemed “undesirable” and then taking a small team to the summit. While this may work for Seal Team Six, in the day to day world you do really need to work with those of wildly disparate backgrounds; true leaders look for the strength in each person, encourage it, and take all comers and by making them comfortable with themselves with in the organization increase their contributions. We don’t all need to be the same to be successful, we just need to be understood.


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