Eleven Minutes……

We began our RV vacation in Clarksville, Tn., a “military” town located 50 or so miles north of Nashville. Sharon, a retired elementary teacher and administrator suggested that I attend my first ever band competition, where High School bands from around the country compete against each other, showcasing their hours of hard work in what can only be described as magnificent displays of choreography and musical talent. Our grandson, Lucas, the young man in the photograph is one of three drum majors in the Camdenton (Mo.), marching band. I came away from this experience stunned. Let me explain.

Military veterans remember well the chaos that is unleashed when a group of young people begin the transition from folks milling around in a parking lot to the precision of close order drill. In the beginning, it is not pretty. The truth is that military close order drill, for most folks, is relatively easy as the movements are very basic. If you have ever watched a military drill team, this precision is taken to a much higher level, but even at that, involves relatively few folks, and no one outside of a marching band is required to play an instrument while executing a carefully choreographed presentation. Yesterday, we watched as 27 High School bands were given an eleven minute time frame to showcase the hours upon hours of practice, call it training, that has consumed a major part of their lives in High School.

On many occasions I have expressed regret at having never been involved, beyond listening, with the world of music. I am rather erratic when I stamp my feet or clap in response to the music I hear. Not so for these very fortunate young people who are going to benefit for the rest of their lives from this tremendous experience and opportunity. Let’s dig deeper into the meaning of all of this.

The competition yesterday was a part of the Bands of America series of competitions that draw bands from across the country. This was the first competition, this year, for Camdenton with competitions slated for Branson, Mo., San Antonio, Texas., and the Grand Nationals, in Indianapolis, In. The competition in these events is top tier, and Camdenton’s presentation was terrific, but marred by a sound glitch which may have contributed to their failure to win in any of the judged categories. To the untrained eye, they were flawless, but then again, to the untrained eye every pass by the Blue Angels is flawless! This event was held in the football stadium of Austin Peay State College, a beautiful school rich in tradition. This loss was unexpected and deeply felt by the kids in the band, the unbelievable support staff made up of parents, supporters and volunteers from the community. In so many ways, losing is winning. Their shared disappointment only deepened their commitment to excellence and has provided an opportunity to show grace and class in defeat. Tears, yes. Resolve, oh yes indeed!

These kids, under the direction of Mr. Paul Baur, have trained (practiced!) for hour upon hour in freezing cold and searing heat. Paul Baur is beginning his 24th year in the business of directing this activity. They are on the field at the crack of dawn and into the late evening hours. (Dawn practice shown below.) Bonds are formed and names seared into young memories that are for a lifetime. Teamwork becomes second nature and precision the norm. A deep understanding of support roles and back of the house necessities is developed. All of this for half time at football games and a precious few opportunities during the school year. Everybody remembers the quarterback, few will remember the young man or woman pounding out a rhythm on the snare drums. How unfortunate. As a side note, it is interesting that academic excellence often follows the folks who are involved in this activity.

I will never look at marching bands the same way again. In an America that is deeply divided at every level, the Bands of America provided an opportunity to enjoy young people, exceedingly competent mentors and the communities they represent come together and accomplish something that is heartwarming and spectacular. If you have the opportunity to attend one of these competitions, don’t miss it. Eleven minutes backed by endless hours of preparation resulting in an excellence that is so enjoying. Wow!

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