Thursday, December 17, 2015

Training. Is it of a Time Gone By?

The question comes up all the time in circle of instructors, judges, and even the performers themselves. What does training mean in today's modern pageantry arts and what is considered a "well trained" color guard? If I had a dollar every time I had this conversation with someone in the past five years, I would be rich. People care about this topic. They are talking about it. They are questioning it. So if that's the case, then why aren't guards better trained? What's the problem?

I don't profess to know the answer, but I've had enough conversations to think I at least can figure out the problem. 

There are some very obvious changes that have occurred in the pageantry arts in the past decade and without direct intention, I believe they have made an indirect impact on what training means for our activity. Several shifts in design have occurred as it should in any developing art. In the past 20 years, the activity has explored planes in unique and alternate ways. The ground is being used more often. Individual responsibilities have taken on a new meaning as we continue to stage through smaller vignettes and individual moments. Dance has taken on a central focus as the driver of synergy with the equipment. Basically, the work has gotten harder, the staging has become less drill based, and the story of the show has taken center stage. 

Another shift we've had is the changing of the sheets in the downstairs captions to focus more on training. Some of us would say much of that experiment was not the success those in charge had hoped. We can say all day long that instructors must take it on themselves to learn the sheets, read their own recaps, and listen to their audio files. Some took ownership. Some did not. Many of the instructors truly didn't understand the 70/130 split, thus changing back to 50/50 and then not and then factoring the numbers. Blah, blah, blah. The reality is that, I'm not convinced the instructors truly understood it. They could tell you that training was important, but still didn't know how to translate the importance of training into a rehearsal setting. 

Finally, technology and the business of the activity has truly taken center stage. Instructors can now buy design, drill, costumes, silks, floors, and create all the production value to their hearts desire; just by the stroke of a pen to a check. Design consultants, costume companies, and flag companies are popping up everywhere. Production value and design are going for a premium right now. Does that impact training? Possibly, if you look at it from the perspective of a young instructor who barely knows how to even lead a guard, much less design one in this day and age of production values.  I've also noticed and this isn't a new concept, that in our activity, bigger aspects of the budget go to designers than techs. In many, many programs techs don't even get paid. How much of a financial value is a good tech worth? How much value is a new tech who has potential worth? If you didn't get paid, but knew the designer was getting paid thousands, how would you feel as the value of technique and the day to day cleaning process? How long would you stay around to learn to be a good tech, as opposed to going out and trying to learn design?

Now, in terms of training, what has happened? Well first, the shows have gotten harder...a lot harder. The skills in the A class that are being asked of the performers are off the charts. There are some skills such as body rolls and wrist work that you use to see in World Class. Now evolution in any art or sport naturally occurs. If you look at gymnastics, there once was a time when a double layout was considered standard setting when Mary Lou Retton displayed it for the first time in 1984. It is now a standard part of the floor routines. I'm not convinced that in color guard our training programs have kept up with the evolving design elements. When a Twenty something comes out of their World program, they are no different than we were back in the 80's or 90's, except for one big difference. Our shows had less dance, more ensemble based drill, and less synergistic qualities to the work. We had more time in rehearsal to stand in a basics block and throw quad, after quad, after quad, because that quad being thrown in basics would translate into the show with not much alteration with the body. 

When I'm talking about training here, I'm talking about the A class and bottom of Open and sometimes World. Yes. There are some incredibly well trained guards out there. I'm not talking about the top of World Class or even the top of A class, but here's something interesting. I've taught independent guards for the bulk of my guard career. When you teach an independent guard you get to see what the high schools are producing at the individual training level and some of the best A, Open, and World guards are sending their kids out of the program without an ability to truly manage a basics block. I've noticed the following issues of performers while working with various independent and scholastic teams.

  • Inability to literally stand up straight and lift the body to perfect posture through the core
  • Inability to stand in a basics block without fidgeting
  • Inability to consistently count tosses 
  • Inability to consistently catch in the same place every time. Now this one is a pure irritant. When did it become o.k. to catch anywhere between the waist and thighs and chest and consider it a good catch? When did moving under your toss become o.k.?
  • Inability to identify vertical with the pole and know when the pole is not in a perpendicular plane
  • Inability to consistently throw a basic flag toss. We get kids who can throw a flag and catch on their nose and balance it there while on one foot, but Heaven forbid you ask them to throw a basic vertical flag toss and catch on a very specific count. 
  • Inability to start together. I have a thing when I teach. We are starting together and we will do count one over and over and over and over until there is a consistent understanding of the importance of the breath before the start. I don't care how much time it takes or what time keeping Nazi is barking in my ear. If a guard can't start together; nothing else is together, which leads to....
  • The inability to subdivide beyond the "and" count. 
  • Transitions. When doing a basic exercise on let's say weapon, the transition from one hand to the other or from one direction to the other seems to be less important than the skill being worked. It's like pulling teeth to have students focus on transitions with the level of importance that the toss has. 
  • Feet. Are we standing in first, second, passe, or plie? When did second position become the primary position of the feet and why do kids struggle with it when they are asked to stand in let's say first position? 
  • Moving. Moving with a sense of purpose, timing and technique is a consistent issue facing color guards today. Point of the feel. OH DEAR GOD! Please point the feet!
  • Stepping off together within a consistent method of timing
Now let's talk about dance. Dance has evolved significantly over the past decade. The ability to move the body with the equipment is crucial, but to do that you still have to have a strong sense of center, core, contraction, and weight shift. We are getting kids out of high school programs who lack those skills. They lack the skills to move across the floor with a sense of method and timing. I once asked a guard I was consulting with while moving across the floor, if moving in lines was a requirement. The staff told me that there was no point in that anymore. I disagree. My response was pretty simple. "Don't you want them to have the same ability to cover the same amount of space during specific skills whether they are doing it individually or in an ensemble?"

WGI and local circuits have identified this problem of training. I've read the papers and had the discussions. Training sessions are being had at the local levels, so why is training still an issue? Is it that the workshop's occurring are focused on design? Do we need more classes on rehearsal pacing and how to run a technique block? If we had them, would anyone attend? Do the staff's of these programs believe they are training well, so they don't need grow those skills? I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder how right I am, because training isn't truly translating consistently into the shows beyond the top of each class.

I have a theory. I believe that there are three big issues facing us as an activity in terms of training. The first is that we have young instructors who have no idea how to pace a rehearsal while struggling with design that they've created on their own or the design someone else created for them. Looking at and evaluating their program for the strengths and weaknesses from the standpoint of the skills the kids present and the time they have in rehearsal takes serious planning and self evaluation. The design and choreography has gotten harder and instructors are struggling with how to merge training and design in a limited time frame.

The second aspect is knowing what training really means for a program at the bottom of A, top of A, Open and World. Does a Regional A team really need 25 exercises that all do different skills or do they need to really make a year long plan starting at band camp that takes one or two skills at a time and really hones in on them? Do they really understand how to detail the kids against their designed technical program? I always recommend that staff members stay critical. Stand on the side. Stand on the back 45. Stand in the front. Detail the basics program as if you were detailing your show. I always tell them to put as much thought in how the technique will evolve as they do in how the show will.

The third is the ongoing and continual struggle we have with well rehearsed vs. well trained. Can we really say as an activity that most of our guards are well trained by Circuit Championships or are they just well rehearsed? Do the staff's of the guards understand the difference? Do the judges? I wonder if it's because we've just become so homogenized in our ideas and writing, we no longer can recognize the difference. I don't care what type of toss you do, whether it's on the vertical or some odd 45 plane, but I do care when you can't show me that you know where the catch is in terms of the relationship of the body. Just to catch is not acceptable. IT'S NOT ACCEPTABLE! Just catching is well rehearsed. Catching in the same place every single time from member to member is well trained. If I was a gymnast (which I use to be), I would be forced to do a back handspring on the balance beam the exact same way every single time. The posture, core, balance, and flexibility must be perfect or you will fall off the beam. Have we just become so much of an art that training doesn't have to be that exact anymore?

Has our tolerance changed as an activity? Does well trained even matter any more?  As I go from guard to guard consulting and teaching, I have started to ask these questions. I've even wondered if it's me that's dated and then I think, "No. Training is important from the guard at the bottom to the guard at the top. All sports require detail level training. " I've noticed that instructors can't tell me the difference between training and warm up. I've noticed a lot of time spent on cell phones. I've noticed a lot of efforts being cleaned out of phrases so the show functions in basically one speed and one element of flow. I've noticed that performers hate speed changes and when the patience of the staff wears thin, they water out the speed changes. I've noticed that many staff members accepted the up down up down mentality as good, as opposed to, "Yes the flags are going up and down together, but is the body perfectly formed under it?"

Being a good tech takes patience, planning, and thoroughness. There is no getting around it and more thought needs to go into how we train young instructors and how we speak to them about their training process so all of the kids can feel successful no matter what class they compete in. 

I care so much about training that we need to go out of our ways to discuss it in open forums, critiques, and on social media.  The question should be a constant thought in the forefront of the activity. What is it and what does it mean?

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Pageantry Arts...The Great Middle Class Divide

Here is the elephant in the room. Why is it when we look out on to the field or floor what we see is primarily a middle class view of America? While watching the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving, someone posted on Facebook that the parade seemed very “white.” O.k. Why is that? In this post, I won’t pretend to have the answers. I won’t engage in political rhetoric. I won’t make a supposition that it’s a white vs. black issue. What I’m going to do is present facts. The facts will be from research bodies such as the Aspen Institute, Women’s Sports Foundation and the United Way. They are based in actual data collected over years of study and research. They are based in meetings I’ve been a part of in the past year with community leaders asking the question, “How can more children participate in sports and the arts?” It is time in our activity to begin to address why some children participate and some do not and it is time to have the conversation about what it is we really believe in as an activity, because if we don't someone else will and we might not like the results of those conversations.

In this post, I’m going to make a case for data collection. Real data collection and not just numbers based on how many guards attend Dayton year after year. I won’t discuss private entities like drum corps or independent guards, as that’s a different concept; although important for this discussion as well. This post is mostly about the public school based programs and how they are represented around the nation.  In the research on extra-curricular activities conducted around the country for the past decade, the purpose has been multi-faceted, but tends to draw on similar themes. What are the potential health problems America will be facing in the next decade? Why don’t children feel a connection to their community or school anymore? How can we increase participation of girls in sports? How does poverty plays a role in youth extra-curricular participation? How does early exposure to physical activity better serve the physical health of the nation generations down the road?

This is what we know:
  • Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, 2.6 million fewer kids between 6-12 are signing up for, participating in, and staying in the basic little league level sports such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer.
  • Boys start participation in activities a full year ahead of females.
  • By the time children reach the age of 9, they are exercising less than 2x per week.
  • Income is the number one driving force behind early participation in activities and a child’s ability to stay in that activity for several years. If a family makes $100,000 year, their children usually start activities around the age of 6. If it’s less than $50,000 per year, they start around the age of 8.
  • We know that when children and parents are surveyed about sports participation; fun, making friends, feeling a part of the team, and getting playtime always ranks first above winning, getting trophies, and participating in tournaments. Survey after survey comes back stating that children actually DO NOT like the trophy’s like we as adults think they do.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has publicly stated that the “professionalization of parenthood” has created a mentality of parents who are pushing their children to have perfect resumes to gain college admission and college scholarships forcing the cost of activities to rise.
  • 20% of all high school females do not participate in any physical activity at school or home.
  • We know that all sports and activities have risen in cost in total contradiction to the income levels of families

I could go on and on. There is stat after stat after stat on how, when, and why kids participate in sports. There is even research that looks at adults who have cancer and correlates it back to their childhood participation in physical activities. So why does all of this matter? It matters because this information allows us to look at children across the socioeconomic and gender based spectrums and begin asking the questions of why and then how we can change it or make it better.

So, is it true? Does the pageantry arts have an issue with socioeconomics? Are poor children left out? Are girls participating in color guard as their first ever physical activity, because they finally found a gender based activity that combines their love for things pretty, with their desire to be active? Here is what we know.


When asked to make a case in a public forum on why funders should begin to give money so we can perpetuate not just the arts, but also the marching arts for children of all income levels, I was unable to find enough data to make a strong case. Months and months. Call after call and my team couldn’t find the necessary data. There is data for the arts and music. There is data for sports, but data for the Sport of the Arts is limited. The data necessary to make a case belongs to how we look at statistics at the government level through the lens of the U.S. Census. The questions to ask have to do with ethnicity, income level, gender, and single vs. dual family households. Data also must be fairly recent. It doesn’t have to be last week, but when your information is a decade old and doesn’t involve the most recent 2008 recession, then you can’t make a case.  When it comes to funding and making a public case you can’t guess. In 2012, The United Way commissioned a report called The ALICE Project. A.L.I.C.E. (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). This is the group of people most often called “the working poor.” Those of us who do community work like to call those folks “The Alice Group.” The Alice Group are the kids above the poverty line, but below middle class. Their parents are only surviving based on their salaries. They are trying and surviving, but income doesn’t allow for extracurricular’s. After the recession, the ALICE Group grew. In Florida where I live, a full 45% of all families are financially surviving and that’s it; nothing left over after rent, car payment and insurance. In Florida, the average family of four survival budget is $47,484. The stability budget in Florida for a family of four is $81,972. Study after study shows that those in the ALICE Group are edged out of activities and sports.  

All the major research released in the past decade on physical activity for kids usually leaves out band and guard. Cheerleading has just entered the data sets in some research. Dance has been looked at in rare cases and when it’s done, is focused on the children already participating and what the benefits it has on those kids. In fact, in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, hunting was listed as an activity and band never was. We can make a case for the importance of music and how it impacts the brain, but until we start tying the gender based aspects and financial based aspects to the physical part of the pageantry arts, then we will never be able to make a case for public dollars.

So, what about this income issue?

“There are fundraisers! If they want to participate bad enough, then they will fund raise.”
“The parents are lazy.”
“The kids are lazy.”
“Some parents just want a free ride and when they don’t get it they complain.”

These are common arguments and some of them are true. There are lazy parents. There are people who want a free ride. However, they are generalizations, with little support based on science. This is what we know based on what’s called “community asset mapping” and surveys through the Afterschool Network, CDC, and Women’s Sports Foundation.

  • The further a child lives from the school, the less likely they will participate in an extra-curricular activity, because of transportation issues.
  • Standardized testing has impacted the importance of physical activity at the middle school and high school levels.
  • There are more single parent households making less money than 20 years ago
  • Extra-curricular activities have risen in cost, with less connection to the community than 30 years ago
  • Fundraising is difficult for parents below the poverty line and in the Alice Group, due to the fact that fundraising is often done with family and friends and many of those in poverty don’t have family and friends with the disposable income to sell to.
  • Many fundraisers occur at times when parents are working weekend and shift work hours. 
  • More families live further away from family than they did 20 years ago, leaving out the help necessary to help with transportation.
  • Oh…did I mention that transportation was a problem?
  • Transportation, transportation, transportation

What needs to happen?
  • We first need to find out what the cost of the pageantry arts are compared to other sports and how it has or has not risen within the current economy, as well as then comparing those numbers to the average middle class income today.
  • We need to find out if the bands and guards out there are gaining or losing kids and why
  • We need to find out what works. What models out there draw kids in and what pushes them away?
  • We need to survey parents and ask the tough questions about what helps them make decisions on their ability to allow their child to participate? What struggles do they have?
  • We need to comprehensively look at the budgets of public school marching bands, guards, and other competitive units and find out which budgets include travel out of state and how it impacts the participation of the kids.
  • We need to look at the professionalization of the activity such as professional costume companies, drill writers, designers, and equipment companies and find out how the costs have or have not risen and if that has impacted the budgets to the point of excluding kids.
  • We need to officially connect the dots of the marching arts to a reduction in obesity
  • We need to identify how many girls are participating across the board in color guard so we may make a case for probably the largest gender based sport in America
  • We need to find out how many kids out there identify as gay, because the marching arts are a safe haven for children of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientation’s.
  • We need to study not just large, national based teams, but local and community based organizations to garner public support for more local tax dollars.
  • We need to look at ethnicity
  • We need to make the case…with numbers…that the more kids that are on the marching band field, then the less kids there are sitting at home watching the Kardashians, getting fat, playing video games, and causing a disruption in the classroom and on the streets. With those numbers we need to do a better job at saying what we all know. “Yes…these kids graduate at higher rates, are more disciplined, healthier, and make better grades.”
  • We need to work together to figure out a way to help local bands and guards brings costs down so more kids can play.
  • We need to stop frivolous proposals that are self-serving and introduce proposals that focus on the big picture that all children deserve the opportunity to participate.
  • We need a seat at the table when major bodies of research is conducted and demand to be included in those numbers.
  • We need a place where all data is kept and easily accessible to those who write grants and advocate.
  • We need to teach directors and coaches how to advocate with their administration and local school board for their program.
  • We need to re-imagine the activity that includes a competitive component, but also a community component for children with limited means
Research takes years and its painstaking work. It's necessary work though, if we believe in what we do. The numbers I'm talking about can't be found by just one study through some survey monkey created in an office somewhere disconnected from the reality of community work. We need to hire and recruit real researchers and encourage arts and physical wellness PhD candidates to take on our activity as a dissertation. The pageantry arts is a multi-million dollar industry. The money could be found if we wanted it to be found. We need to start getting the data to make the case for more children to participate. Period. Keep this in mind also. Public dollars fund much of our activity. "Oh but Shelba, we get nothing from our school." Oh yes you do. You do if one dollar, just one dollar goes to pay for the band director, guard coach, a set of silks, a musical instrument, the gym you practice in or a school bus to carry the band to a football game and back. Once we realize that we have a vested interest in how tax dollars are spent to fund our activity, then we will start the process of protecting it and making sure all children have access to it.

Imagine a world, where all kids who wanted to had the opportunity to participate in music, band, and guard. Envision an activity with wider levels of diversity, bringing along different cultures of music and dance. Try to dream of children having access to the marching arts in elementary schools and after school programs across the nation. What if we could prove with numbers that what we do creates healthy children who value their community and love going to school, because in that school and community is an opportunity for fun, teamwork, mentoring, and the interaction with people who care? Think about it. Now let’s start a real dialog.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The 5 Life Lesson's I've Learned as a Colorguard Tech

I'm 45, almost 46. I feel old. I've been cleaning colorguard's for a long time. Marching band. Winterguard. Local. National. Good. Bad. Not so bad. Not so good. Great. I've been around and taught or consulted with just about every type of program there is to teach. I've learned a few things along the way and as we seem to be at a point in the activity where we appear to be passing the torch to the younger generation, I would like to spend some time sharing some wisdom and a little bit of advice, before I leave the activity from full time instructor and judge to consultant and spectator. 
I love this activity. I love it! Over the years I've had an off and on love/hate relationship with it as I learned to juggle career and family, with guard and band. The older I get though, the more I realize how it has kept me going, when all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers of my bed and stay there until the storms of life had passed. It has given me a place to be on weekends and a creative outlet that makes me a better mother and better professional. It has allowed me to stay young, as I interact with young people just starting out on life's journey. More than anything, it gave me friends; friends that at times I don't feel worthy of having, as it connected me to a world beyond my front door.

Along the way, I learned a few things about myself and life through the activity and I learned it as a technician, that I'm proud to say out loud, that through it all, I became a damn good one. Technicians in our activity often get the short end of the stick when it comes to accolades and awards. We are usually paid less than designers and get a lot of blame when the toss doesn't go up together. I've learned about living life through the realities of being a tech, and I've learned to embrace the love of cleaning a colorguard and seeing those moments come to life show after show after show.

Embrace the love/hate relationship you will ultimately have with your designer

The designer chooses the show. The designer writes the show. The designer sets the stage for the effects and ultimately has the final say in the direction of the show. USUALLY.  Not always. I’ve learned that if you CHOOSE, yes YOU make the choice to engage or not engage with the designer and if you choose to build on a lifelong relationship with a designer, then you will be surprised at how much power as a technician you will have in the direction of the choreography and planned effects. If you are a good tech and can prove that by results, then the show often will get designed around YOUR skills as a technician and the ability you have to raise a guard from average to great. Technicians have so much power if they choose to have it.

I've spent a lot of time over the years being irritated with designers. They aren’t moving fast enough. They are taking my cleaning time. They keep changing things. It’s the day before prelims…”WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE FLAG FEATURE IS CHANGING?? You know what I have to say to all of that? Boo Hoo! Stop. Just stop. Learn to express your needs and struggles that you’ve been having with the guard or the phrase and work together. You know where else this skill comes in handy? The work place. Marriage. Parenting. I saw my ability to work under pressure as a technician truly come to life, when I had a toddler with zero social skills and the innate need to throw tantrums in every Target we walked into. I had to learn quickly how to meet his needs and mine at the same time. Embrace the love/hate and build a relationship with your designer.

Learn to move slow. Learn to move fast. Make a list. Be prepared.

Technicians have to be able to think on their feet. I’ve teched several great World programs over the years and in those environments you tend to race against the clock as a technician. What starts on the schedule as a nice leisurely hour to clean and clarify the sabre feature with drill, can on a dime, turn into 15 minutes in some hallway with barely enough space to toss. So fine. You have 15 minutes in a hallway and you can’t work the big toss, catch in your teeth upside down thing that you really needed to work on. So what do you do? What else can you fix in that quick 15 minutes? I’ve seen more technicians in my day waste that time by complaining and wondering how to fill the space. This by the way happens at every level. It snowed. We missed practice. It rained all week. We had to work on a stage and still had a show on Saturday. Being a great tech means learning to manage adversity.

Teching a guard takes planning. It’s a daily task of critically evaluating your program and finding the key effect moments, the moments that can wait, and the moments you may never get to. It means that when you are lucky to get the hour to truly detail and clean the sabre feature, then you don’t waste it with mindless chit chat and looking at your phone or trying to figure out counts that should have been figured out by watching a rehearsal video. Video's, judges commentary, and recaps are all there at your disposal. Do you use them to plan?

As a tech, I find the hardest skill to have learned is the ability to move slow and understand that some skills take time. Sometimes you will spend an hour cleaning a phrase, but the results come a week later once the muscle memory and emotional energy has settled down. The question is this. Do you as a tech know when to move fast and when to move slow? Do you have the patience for both?

In life, there are times when moving slow and waiting to see the results of your labor is not just a necessity, but a natural course of action. Life dictates to you the course of action. Do I move fast and jump to action or do I slow down and let my mind rest?

Share the blame. Share the success. Stop making excuses.

When the guard doesn’t do well and they looked panicked, hurried, or rushed while on the field, whose fault is that? Is it their fault or is it yours for not preparing them well enough? Did you just teach that phrase yesterday, not giving them the time to absorb the information? Did you waste time on your phone, when you could have done just one more repetition? What about when the toss goes up together and the crowd goes crazy? Was it you that cleaned it or the designer that timed it well? Have you spent time preparing them mentally as well as physically? Do they feel good about themselves?The success of the staff’s ability to communicate their needs and work within the restraints thrown at them is a direct result of the success of the team. These are some of my favorite excuses.

“But I cleaned it already.” (Apparently not)

“The kids don’t practice at home.” (Then make them practice harder when you are with them)

“We never get a gym” (No one else does either)

“It rained all week.” (Everyone got rain this week)

“The designer didn’t finish the show in time.” (Welcome to the world of being a tech)

“The designer changed the feature.” (See previous response)

“I never get enough time to clean it.” (And you never will)

And my favorite…my all-time favorite…

“The judges just don’t like us.” (They have criteria to follow. Did you follow it?)

I’m a person that has numerous flaws. I acknowledge them and often times celebrate them, but I will not make excuses for them. If my guard sucks, then well…the buck stops with me, because I did something wrong along the way either through staff communication or organizational preparedness.

When you are on the job, no one cares about your excuses. They care that the job got done correctly and in a timely manner. Period.

Get in the mix of it all

The older I get, the more of an opportunity I am getting to consult and sit back and watch from the stands and observe instructors teach. I’ve noticed several things that can make or break the success of a team and I ask this question for all reading this. Do you as a technician engage with the students or do you sit in the stands, stand on the sideline, watch every text message that comes through your phone, or only view the program from the front? When really looking honestly at those I’ve taught with or consulted for, many times the problems occur because of the lack of on the field/floor engagement with the performers.

“Sally Mae you are doing the angle wrong.” “Sally Mae I’ve told you already. The ANGLE is wrong!” “Sally Mae…DO YOU HEAR ME? THE ANGLE ON COUNT 6 IS WRONG!!” “Do it AGAIN for Sally Mae!”

How about this? Get on the field, stand behind Sally Mae, put your hands on the flag and help her understand the angle. It will save time and her self-esteem. When observing staff members, I see that many never view their program from the back or side, only from the front. More is seen from the side or back 45 than from the front any day.

How about this one? “No phones in rehearsals. I want you present and engaged at all times.” Is the staff present and engaged? Really? Are you?

I’ve also learned over the years that watching the design or writing process go down is crucial in my understanding of the show. As a tech, it’s so much more than counts. It’s teaching character and motivation. It’s understanding efforts and intent. Do you leave during design time or do you watch and listen?

Talk about a life lesson. Is your life viewed from the front only or do you, as Robin Williams once demonstrated, stand on your desk and view the world from different angles?

Stop Feeling sorry for yourself and grow a thick skin

I have zero tolerance for this one. What you present to your performers as a person, is how they will perform on the floor. Are you confident? Do you love yourself? Do you always put your best foot forward, even when the world is beating you up? Do you speak negatively about yourself in front of the kids? Do you post negative comments on Facebook so the kids pick up on that energy? Can you stand up tall when a designer says to you that they want the feature cleaned by the end of the day and when that doesn’t happen say, “It’s getting there. I’ll make sure it gets there,” or do you pout with a sullen look? 

What about critique? We all have it happen at least once a season if not 3 or 4 times a season. The big name judge is sitting across from you. You have 3 minutes. Do you sit down with good posture and ask pointed questions to clarify the intent of the commentary or do you slouch and immediately place yourself lower in the pecking order than the judge? Do you take comments in stride when they say they don’t like it or do you complain, without looking objectively at the comment? Do you blame a judge, before looking deep inside yourself?

So I admit this next comment out loud. I realize I’m a bad person for it, but I’m going to say it anyway. I hate it when staff members cry or get upset when they are told that their work isn’t good enough. I become like this piranha out for blood. The reason I’m like that, is because I have been in rehearsals where I was expected to accomplish a task and didn’t. I was yelled at. I impacted the score. I did. My inability to accomplish a task in the training or cleaning process, impacted the overall score. I learned to grow a thick skin so I could objectively listen to the concerns of all involved. 

Here’s the reality. You were given 30 minutes to clean a phrase and it’s not clean. I’m sorry, but the flags still don’t go around together. Why? What you did with your time…without excuses? Judges are the same way. They have one job and that is to rank, rate, and comment on your program. If you aren’t in it to be told the truth, then why do you do it? We put our kids out there every rehearsal and every show to be evaluated by the staff and then evaluated by the judges. We expect them to have a thick skin and so should we and if we can't handle a moody designer or uptight judge, then how can we handle the real challenges in life such as sickness, job loss, or death?

The older I get, the more I realize that there is no black or white answer to life. It’s an abstract based roller coaster with tunnels and light, that takes you up and pulls you down. You have to be strong, but willing to admit that you’re fallible and capable of learning from the lessons of your mistakes, as well as the lesson that it might just be out of your hands. As a tech, I’ve made just about as many if not more mistakes, than I have had successes. I continue to make mistakes, but I try. I try so hard to learn from them. I use my friends to be my mirror and with that friendship, they allow me to be theirs. I’ve learned to listen with the intent of wanting help, as opposed with the intent of a defensive posture. My friends are tough. They tell me when my guard sucks and they tell me how to fix it. They also celebrate me when they see I’ve struggled with a team and now that team reaps the benefits of what is and always will be a collective effort of kids, staff, administration, parents, and the audience. My friends celebrate me as a person and help me understand the power I have as an individual. They have been with me in colorguard and they have been with me in life. They help me grow.

I think, that’s the ultimate purpose of life, at least for me and I learned it as a colorguard technician. We experience, we learn, and we listen and along the way…we find a few friends who serve as our mirror and confidant and tell us, "It's not clean enough. Try again, but I know you will get there." In return, we acknowledge the struggle, thank them for their honesty and offer them the same in return.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Color Guard's Greatest Gift: It Helped Me Eulogize My Dad

General Omar Bradley once said that bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death. I'm not sure I truly had a grasp of that statement until September 25th, 2015. I have always believed strongly in the lessons I've accumulated over the years of performing and teaching in the marching arts, but the the lessons that remains steadfast and sits atop of them all, are the ones about having grace under pressure, recovery, and stepping up to the plate when you are most needed. My marching arts career has been a dream. I admit and have always admitted that it's been a statement of luck, so much more than it has been a statement of skill. I was lucky that my parents bought a home where I was zoned for a high school with one of the best marching bands in the state of Tennessee, that made me a state champion and BOA finalist. I was lucky to have performed in the Star of Indiana  and I was lucky to have performed with the Pride of Cincinnati. It was location. It was money. It was luck. I admit that. My teaching career followed a similar path that brought me into circles I didn't deserve to be brought into. The universe gave me this gift of the marching arts and I have no right to do anything, but say thank you.

On September 25th, 2015, I had to say goodbye to my dad. Anyone who has gone through this level of loss knows that it is without a doubt one of the hardest damn things you can possibly experience. The days headed into the funeral I functioned. I did what I had to do and went through the steps necessary to stand up strong as people offered their condolences. During the days post September 25th, it has taken everything in my power to just get out of the bed. I want to turn back time and I want to hear his voice again. I want another lecture on how I need to save more money for retirement and to remember to lock all the doors before bedtime. As we know however, time cannot go backwards. It can only go forwards.

On the day of the funeral I was prepared to sit back and listen as the minister offered words of comfort and my uncle told funny stories. I was ready for as my mom says, a good cry. The good cry however, would never come. One hour before the service was to begin, we got word that the minister couldn't make it. My uncle asked me to help him speak so there would be more than one voice for people to hear. I was standing near this large picture of my dad from when he played high school football when the question came and to be honest, I nearly passed out. I felt the blood rush from my face and could feel my heart race. I said yes without even considering what I was saying yes to, while my mind was screaming, "You have got to be kidding me!"  The yes from my mouth came from a place deep inside, that was taught to me through many rehearsals and performances, from many instructors, when I was asked to perform when I didn't think I had the courage to manage it.

"Yes. I will catch the toss."
"Yes. I will perform this phrase tonight, even though I just learned it today."
"Yes. I will get this phrase clean for the regional, although you just wrote it two hours before showtime."

For every kid I had taught through the years and asked them to raise their own standards of excellence, I found myself looking down the same hole of fear.

From the moment I was asked to eulogize my dad, to the time we were moved into the chapel, which was about 45 minutes, I took an old sheet of paper from my purse and furiously started taking notes. I texted a friend or two for support. They coincidentally were pageantry people as well.

As my uncle spoke to open the service, my hands shook like you wouldn't believe. In my mind was every motivating phrase I ever heard David Baker, my old high school guard director say, and every word I ever said to a scared performer, "You can do this. Remember...It's only 5 minutes of your life."  I knew a few things about what would happen next. I knew that my family needed me to be strong. I knew that I didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to my dad and this was the one thing I could offer him and I knew that I had been in tough situations before and could do this. I just had to pull from every performance I had ever done and harness the fear.

I knew in my mind that if I let myself cry before I spoke that I wouldn't get through the eulogy. Even as the music played Leader of the Band and in the lyrics I heard the words, "...and papa I don't think I said I loved you near enough," I held back the tears; while my body shook. I kept thinking, "I can do this. I can do this." It's another thing you learn that in color guard. Keep staying positive. Believe in yourself. You have to stand up for the team, even when you are afraid to walk on the floor and do the solo, knowing it might just be a 50/50 shot you'll catch the toss at the big moment.

When the song ended, my uncle stood up and introduced me. I had no idea that I would be speaking in that very moment. In my humorous voice I thought, "Oh my God. This is like the moment they call your guard in Dayton in 13th place, when you were expecting 8th. What do you mean they are calling our names this fast??" My feet, I think, literally froze to the floor. I can't tell you how I made it up to the podium. I don't even remember it. All I remember is that I had my notes and started speaking to a room of about 75 people, with mom right in front of me. Oh the moments mom and dad watched me drop a rifle or fall off a balance beam. I remember thinking as a kid, how I must have disappointed them with every drop. As an adult, you learn that they were only there to support you. They didn't care about your drops or falls. They only cared that you were having fun and doing your best. They were simply proud of you. This however, was not a color guard show. I needed to pull this off for the family. I needed to do right by the man who always did right by me.

When I opened my mouth to speak, I looked out into the audience and did exactly what we ask every performer do in every guard and at every show. Stand up straight. Lift your head up. Make eye contact. Find the judges and make it personal. Make them want more. Don't be afraid to show emotion and remember to smile. Enjoy yourself. Once you take care of the basic elements of performing, everything else seems to fall into place. I spoke to the audience as if I were speaking directly to my dad and telling him everything I wanted to tell him all along. I thanked him for supporting his kids and always keeping us safe. I told stories to illuminate who he was as a dad and mentioned how when I was in drum corps, it was one of the best days of my life when he came to see me win. He told me I was always a winner to him.

My dad was not a showy type of person. His daughter however, is. I get that from the activity I've been so richly blessed to be a part of and the activity he worked his ass off to afford me the opportunity to participate in. I thanked him for that as well. I told those who were there to offer support, that I wish I had told my dad that I loved him more and that he did it right. Just like the song says. I thanked God for helping me win the family lottery; that brought me to an activity that became my second family. It was that pageantry family that has always been there in the hard days and the ones there to support me in my loss.

In the end, I'm not sure I could have spoken on behalf of my family if it hadn't had been for the marching arts. Sitting at the airport on my way home, I thought of every stammer, ummmm, and pause that wasn't intended. I thought of every thing I should have and wish I had said. I was rather hard on myself, but what I did was what every performer out there in the history of the activity has done. We question every moment of our performance, because it has taught us to learn and grow through every rehearsal, performance, and moment. So dad, this is for you. Your money was well spent and thank you for always being there, even when I dropped my rifle.

Oh and FYI...Apparently I did a pretty good job, because I have had several offers to be put into people's wills so I will speak at their funeral. I think I'm looking into it as a new career choice. Give me a call if you need a good eulogy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Social Media and the Marching Arts...What Did We Ever Do Without It?

I've been thinking about this post for a while. We always talk about the activity in terms of era's. We compare shows from ten years ago to now and make judgment calls on which one was more ahead of its time.  We talk about instructors and judges who have left us too early, but left an indelible mark that most will never truly get credit for as the generations move further and further into the future. There are constant debates on how the shows have changed for the better or the worse depending on how you define pageantry. The sheets have changed, the shows have changed, the judges have changed, and all the kids at some point in time grow up, but in my opinion, the most significant change we have seen in the activity is the advent of the technological era and social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have all been infiltrated by this activity rich in creativity and history and just as it exists in all other parts of society, it's the users who are pushing the envelope in new ways, thus pushing the activity to change. 

Pew Research Center states that 95% of all U.S. teens are online daily and 74% of those kids access the internet through a mobile device. They discover new music through sites such as YouTube and Spotify. The radio is so last year. So the reality is that we just have to keep up. The technological future continues to move and we are just lucky to hang on to the coattails. 

We all know that any good business model today cannot exist without the forethought of promotion through social media. If you are not connected to the social elements of the internet, then chances are you won't have a business 5 years from now and the pageantry arts isn't dissimilar in its nature. We have followed the same path that every other industry has followed in terms of the growth of technology and how it is used to better our corner of the world--Email, websites, texting, social media. They are all in use on a daily basis and have completely transformed the way we interact with each other and share ideas in an activity where ideas at one time were only shared through videos sold after the fact and face to face conversations held at shows and board meetings. There was a time when we had conventions. I remember attending the WGI convention in New York and if I remember correctly, was on the same weekend as the Army/Navy game. Staying in the same hotel were the West Point boys in uniform  beaming with youthful football testosterone; sharing space with color guard people who convened to learn that you should not put performers in horizontal stripes. It was an interesting weekend to say the least.

I was thinking the other day how I missed the conventions and the face to face dialog. There was a time when going out to dinner with judges after a local show was common place and much of the real critiques took place over hot wings and cocktails. I remember one bar side critique many, many years ago after circuit championships and before Dayton, when a prominent judge (who wasn’t judging us in Dayton) drew his version of our ending on a cocktail napkin and told us that if we changed it, that we would easily gain a placement or two. The staff discussed it and even fought over it and  low and behold (as my grandmother would say),there we were the Wednesday night before prelims changing the ending; using a cocktail napkin as our drill chart.

Those days however are gone. I have found over the past several years that we’ve become a very “business like,” sort of group. I go back and forth on how I feel about it and to be honest, I still don't know where I stand. Sometimes I think we’ve lost the personal touch, but then there are times I feel we’ve gained nothing but, the personal touch.  I also feel at times that we’ve turned into some sort of reality tv show of over sharing our personal rehearsal stories, because to be honest, I’m not really sure if I care that a guard with a staff I’ve technically never met had 97 kids at auditions and they are all “THE BEST GROUP OF KIDS YOU HAVE EVER, EVER, EVER SEEN IN A GYM AT ONE TIME. OMG HOW WILL YOU CHOOSE THE RIGHT ONES!!” 

Facebook has allowed all of us to connect in ways we’ve never connected before. There was a time when the only thing I really knew about my fellow competitors and the judges putting the numbers down was maybe their history in the activity. Nowadays, we know intimately about the lives of those we compete against. We see each other as human. We know each other's politics. We know where everyone is judging on any given weekend and we know scores before the judges themselves barely know them. One show last year I was judging and as a judge was not privy to the recap even during critique. I found out who won the show through Facebook as critique was ending. Facebook allows us to connect in the off season and we get a glimpse into rehearsals that were once closed to the public. We serve as witness to someone’s basic block and new phrases a person writes in their off time. Facebook has allowed us to peer into the world of our competitors, allowing us to start calling them friend. It has allowed us to see that many of our problems are very, very similar from guard to guard.

The way we judge has even turned technical. For the record, I’m the judge that gets the small little anxiety attack each season when some computer whiz kid creates a new way of inputting numbers or creating recorded dialog. I’m the person the contest staff hates to see coming, because inevitably they know they will have to send some stressed out staff person into the stands to say the phrase, “We can’t hear your dialog” or “Your numbers aren't calculating correctly.” At some point during every show it seems I say they phrase, “Well shit! This thing isn’t working right.” In the end, it’s usually what they call user error. There are judges who use Ipads to take pictures of the guards during long show days to help jog their memory 8 hours later in critique. I knew a judge who saw the same error over and over throughout a show and somewhere in the middle, took her Ipad out and took a pic of a sickled foot to show the instructor the importance of the issue later on in critique. I personally thought it was brilliant.

The way we rehearse is changing. We are using technology to not just video rehearsals, but we can slow down a motion in real time while on the field and show a performer so they may fix their error in the present moment. Last season I was Skyped into a rehearsal from another state and able to give feedback to the staff while I sat in my hotel room drinking a glass of wine. (a brilliant way to consult I might add) There are apps that allow us to experiment with drill, floor colors, uniform changes, and music well before we waste precious time and resources. Guards are setting up Facebook pages to share phrases they practice and get feedback from staff.

I think though, the funniest and most useful yet annoying technological shift has come through texting. What in God’s name did we do in Dayton before we could text each other?

“Where r u at?”
“I’m at the bar girl. Where u?”
“I’m at the arena. About to watch Pride.”
“Awesome. Enjoy. The cocktails went up by a dollar this year!”
“Pride was good.”

I mean…what was life like without that crucial dialog? How did we exist before texting each other that we were in the parking lot and will be to warm up in five minutes? How did we find our guards without some text telling us that they were warming up by the big tree near the parking lot on the west side?

The most crucial part of the technological era has come from the under currents of education that has been created. For what we have failed at on the national or local levels, individuals are taking the reins to create dialog in the sharing of information. Older instructors, designers, technicians, and administrators care deeply about the future of the activity and see how in our youth we made mistakes and desperately want to help younger generations avoid those same errors in this post Penn State, post FAMU, social media based litigious era. There are Facebook pages set up for young instructors to post questions that many of us “old folk” had forgotten was even once a concern. There are podcasts, blogs (ahem…), and a crosscurrent of conversation for the need for online classes and instructor certifications. People are talking and maybe, for the first time ever, we are really talking to each other. The dialog is happening in real time and person to person. We are starting for the first time to discuss issues related to the kids such as childhood obesity and its impact on the activity. There are people discussing issues related to females or young males who are gay and the unique problems they face. Recently an instructor posted on Facebook an issue about a performer who he thought might be suicidal. These are real issues and we are finally talking about them. It's no longer just the problem of how to create a good production design, where the only experts are the great designers of our time.

I have been lucky to be a part of many conversations had behind the scenes about the need out there for rich dialog and the desire to leave the activity better than we found it or to give back to something that gave so much to us. The greatest shift without a doubt is the shift to online communication that surprisingly, is putting many of us for the first time ever on the same page. We are able for the first time to get an idea of trends in not just shows, but trends in teaching styles. People are sharing the problems they have in their programs and others are offering solutions. Gone are the days where only a few held the power of communication. We are able to boldly discuss proposals coming out of our national organizations and we have a voice. Does it change anything? Not always. Does it put pressure on those in charge? Absolutely! 

We aren't quite where I would like to see us as an activity in terms of real dialog that creates change and education for the younger generation, but we are closer than we ever have been and I for one am looking forward to the technological future. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

As Another Summer Fades to the Roses

It's coming up on the end of summer and for those of us who live our lives by the seasons of the marching arts, we know that our seasons don't follow the traditional norms of the Gregorian calendar. Our winter ends in April and our summer ends in August. Winter starts in October and Fall begins in July. We are forever beginning one season, before the current one has ended. For me, summer always begins the weekend of the running of the Kentucky Derby. It's the start of a new season that cycles us through the Triple Crown, Memorial Day, and hockey playoffs. It's the signal to a new season and the questioning of what lies ahead. The end of summer for most us reading this, culminates on a Saturday night in August, when the new drum corps champion is crowned. Not long after that, we will be looking toward a new school year, football, marching band, and winter guard. It all cycles through and just like that, summer fades to autumn and it is season's that dictate the meaning of time in our souls. It's DCI week and it's the week we start to say goodbye to another year of drum corps, as we change our profile pics on Facebook as a tribute to an activity that has meant so much to so many. 

I was thinking today about the kids who have worked so hard this summer to bring us the next phase of drum corps. They are achieving feats on the field that most of us could only imagine. I often wonder if Nadia Comaneci feels as I do when she watches gymnastics and how her sport has developed into a world she couldn't have imagined when she stood on the podium accepting her gold in 1976. I had the privilege to see not just one, but two DCI shows this summer. Living in Florida doesn't afford me the pleasure to view drum corps without significant travel and money, but this year I made a point to see two shows. I relished in the music, talents, pageantry, and friendship. I spent time visiting the past as I greeted old friends in bars and coffee shops for long felt hugs and conversations of times gone by and present day struggles. The beautiful thing about drum corps is that time stands still during those moments. I've noticed...and I'm not the only one this happens to...that during a weekend of drum corps, you feel as if you have been lifted into an alternate universe that can only be described as a gigantic bubble that wraps you up in laughter and music. It's our own world and it allows us to time travel while we tell old war stories as if by telling them, we can connect with a piece of ourselves that got lost somewhere in the concept of the "real world." In the weekends lost to drum corps we forget about the bills, the madness of politics, our careers, and the struggles daily living brings to each of us. Returning on Monday is like a cruel time warp awakening you to a dystopian society.

When the summer began for me back on May 2nd, during the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby, as I watched the first of three races that would guide the nation towards hope as American Pharoah raced to toward the roses, I knew this summer would be more than any normal summer for me. Life as it always does, can catch up with us and sometimes we have to stop and pay attention to the crazy and dirty details, whether we want to or not. It was important to me this summer to connect with a part of me that has so much. Saturday, August 8, is our activity's run for the roses while characteristically and notably ending what we know as the summer of 2015. 

Dan Folgerberg once wrote a song about the infamous race called, Run for the Roses. In his typical eloquent fashion of writing songs, he describes a horse that is born into the sport as if the universe told him upon birth, "This is your calling. This is your time." When I hear the song, I always think about the kids starting their season in their time and how this song perfectly encapsulates growing into the champion they become by August. 

"They never can prepare you for what lies ahead" he says. What an understatement that is. You can't possibly prepare for the emotional roller coaster that leads you from May to August. The internal struggle as you fight to become better than you could have imagined. Your sore boyd and exhausted mind makes you feel that you can't do another day, but you do and you wake to enjoy one more day in the sun of a mid western football field. 

"Your fate is delivered your moment's at hand." When Secretariat won the Derby in 1973, he did it in a little less than two minutes. Your entire life comes down to two minutes around a track and all your training and all your life's energy exists to live up to the gift the universe gave you when you came into the world. It's right around two minutes that the performers stand on the field staring up at an audience that's staring back at them, waiting for the drum major to signal the start of their ultimate moment. In their hearts they know that their moment is at hand and they must deliver.

"It's the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance." It seems to me that the older we get, the less opportunity we seem to have to take the chances of a lifetime. Maybe that's why in middle age we start to look at our lives as what we have settled for and what we have grown to tolerate. Life as precious and beautiful as it is, seems to get harder the older we get in its series of give and takes. Taking chances becomes harder as family and finances become priority. I'll never forget the night I stood on the field in Buffalo for finals as the announcement was made, "Star of may take the field for competition." It all came down to a single moment where my entire life seemed to have lead me to this one moment in time, where I could feel my heart as it connected to the beat of the first note. Every practice came down to the breath I took as I started the show with my fellow performers. I wanted to win. I wanted to take it all. 

"It's breeding and it's training and it's something unknown that drives you and carries you home." You know, the beauty of the American spirit is that we will always strive to achieve more than could have ever been imagined. We look to push our bodies harder than we thought it would go and our minds into creative realms that forces generations of the past to scratch their heads and wonder aloud, "Isn't that remarkable." I have to personally thank the Star of Indiana for its breeding and training it gave me in the short two years I competed on the field of drum corps. I realize now that it wasn't drum corps I trained for. It was life. 

Two years on a football field that lead me to a championship ring taught me so much more than how to spin a flag. I learned perseverance to stick with it when life got hard. I grew a backbone that allowed me to stand up for myself and for my beliefs, when no one else would. I learned when to cry and when to suck it up and push forward without fear. I learned how to hold on to the people that mean the most and to not throw away the moments the universe hands you randomly and indiscriminately. Because of two seasons of drum corps, I know how to stand on my own and then pick myself up when I have fallen down and recover in a count or less.

I have almost a quarter century behind me since I stood on a football field with a flag in my hand and I can't help, but acquiesce to the love that I carry inside me to this day for the people and the moments they helped me create. As I look at the profile pictures on Facebook as they change from our daily lives to the lives we lead during the Summer Music Games of the past, I look at them with longing for times gone by, the connection we have to each other because of this silly activity, and love for a life we have been so lucky to have lived. 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Love and Time...I Think I Get It Now

It's 1:00 a.m. in the morning as I sit here staring out of the window of the 9th floor of the Omni Hotel in the city of Atlanta, contemplating the last 9 days that took me from DCI San Antonio to DCI Atlanta and from the real life of professional work to band camp. Work to marriage. Friendship and love. As I stare out the window looking down on a city that has over the years offered me so much, drinking a glass of cabernet and listening to music from artists that speak the language of love, I find comfort in an activity that hasn't just defined me, but supported me and loved me, even when I haven't always felt supported and loved and when I haven't always loved myself.

4de484ae52a555c10141ce261958b027.jpg (236×314)Love.

As a writer, love is the one topic that keeps me writing. What is it? What does it mean? Where does it come from and why does it seem that some are more deserving of the emotion than others? Love. What are its forms and why do we spend a lifetime trying to define it? I think, for the first time in my life, I understand love. I found it in a form so different than the normal love we all have in family and friends...I the moments of stillness while moving from one pageantry activity to the other. 

The first time I came to Atlanta for anything related to the marching arts was in 1997, to see a BOA regional with Ron Comfort. Ron called me up on Friday morning and said, "Hey girl...take off work we're going to Atlanta." So...being the irresponsible 27 year old I was, I did take off work and we did Atlanta that is. It was a weekend that was not just fun. It was epic. We still talk about it to this day. Over the years, I have returned to Atlanta for more BOA, DCI, and WGI. No matter what the season, I keep returning to Atlanta and when I leave on Sunday, I always leave with a story and a memory. I have so many people to thank for my many Atlanta's, as they go so beyond the marching arts. It's about the hang. It's about the Omni. It's about that awful TacoMac. It's about warm ups and the dome and music and twirls. It's about watching this activity/sport of ours progress and grow. It's about friends who hold your hand throughout life.

I sat tonight watching drum corps from my club level seat on the 45 and couldn't believe how in my lifetime, I've seen this activity move from some dorky marching "thing," to art. It's art that is unmistakable and remarkable.I teared up watching the Blue Devils and reveled in the awe inspiring works of friends I once shared a field with back somewhere in the 90's in the bug filled, heat driven madness of the Midwest. 

During my DCI weekends in San Antonio and Atlanta, I had many a cocktail with great people and long time friends. The meetings were random and they were special.

The absolute randomness of the moment with friends, which create those moments that you know will never happen again. The ones between friends. The deep conversations and random acts of hugs and touch that occur during the unplanned laughter over a glass of wine and the intimate conversations about our lives. It seems that the older we get, the fewer those moments appear, but the more special they seem. It's in those moments when we fear to say, "I'm so tired, but I have to go to sleep now." Knowing once that sleep comes, we will wake up to the monotony we call our lives. Drum Corps weekends give me that randomness and lately in life...I need it. It's those friends you see on a concourse headed to their seat that has your history. They know your past. They know you.


To live in the moment is probably the greatest lesson drum corps ever taught me. There is no tomorrow and there is no yesterday as you stand staring into the the sea of a thousand faces with your head lifted waiting for the momentous words "you may take the field." It's in that moment when you know you're alive, feeling your heart beat as if its on the outside of your chest. Of course today, they don't tell the performers to take the field, but it's still there. It's whispered in the air to those of us who lived this activity many years ago. Its a brief moment of silence while the performer waits for the announcements to stop and the music to start. It's the stillness that tells you that you are alive and living, while you wait to give your all to thousands. There were approximately 18,000 attendees in Atlanta watching young people give their all and the only thing I felt for them was love.

I watched two young performers tonight walk in front of me on the concourse of the Georgia Dome. They were wearing their corps jackets with shorts, sandals and a tan that screamed Iowa, Illinois, and every other mid western marching field in the middle of nowhere. They must have been just a mere 18 years old. I wanted to walk over to them and beg them to hold on to this. Love it and get to know every soul on that field you march with, because one day life will take hold. The jacket will be tucked away in a box somewhere and the Midwest tan will be just a memory. I wanted to tell them that they will find that in life, they will have to pay hefty bills to the debtor known as career, spouse, children, and time. I wanted to reach out to them and touch time. I wanted to say that one day, many years down the road, they will watch as their parents age and die. I wanted to tell them that they will go broke at some point and that their heart will get broken multiple times as they struggle day to day to find meaning and purpose in this thing we call life. I wanted to hold them and say, "You were beautiful on that field today." I wanted to hold on to them like they were a time capsule whisking me away to a moment in the early 90's when I heard the words, "You may take the field." I wanted to know if their heart raced like mine did and if the feeling of performance has remained unchanged with the art that has developed throughout time. I wanted to tell them to remember the silence of the seconds between when then announcer's voice ended and drum major's hands lifted into the air to signal the start of a memory.

So as I give one last hug to life long friends and look back to see them move off into the distance, here at the end of my two weekends of drum corps, I am reminded of my moments on the field of pageantry. Those moments however, were almost a quarter century ago and as in life those moments are gone; tucked away as a part of my soul. I carry them with me, though. I carry every person, every laugh, every tear, every hug, and every kiss into the hard moments of life. They get me through. The friends and lovers are why we live and why we keep coming back for those moments of silence within the hugs.

It's love. No matter what corps, band, or guard you marched in, it's love. I get it now. We search so hard for love in our lifetimes, but we were given such a gift within the marching arts and that gift is love. We are so lucky! One day many days in the past, each one of us woke up to some random act of universal madness and found that our destiny's would be found on some football field in a corn pasture in Iowa. We woke up to love and what I have found is that it's the only love that personally...has been unchanged and has gone unwaivered. When life got hard, it was the friendships that existed in the Atlanta's and the Georgia Dome's that have kept me going. It's those friendships that remind me to live as Federico Fellini once said...spherically and with wild abandon. 

My wish is that we carry that palpable feeling of "you may take the field" with us throughout time. When life gives us those life changing moments when we don't really know they are life changing until time has passed into the distance, then years later we can truly say we lived and in the end we will say that the greatest gift the universe handed us was the gift of now, when we stood upon the drum corps field and heard the words "you may take the field." Because as it is in life...there is no tomorrow and there is no yesterday. There is only now and regardless of tomorrow it is now that matters and now that is real. You know, all the hours of life add up. I'm just happy mine adds up to the love I found in the pageantry arts.