Spring 2006. I’m biting at the bit, thrashing in my head, about my parents’ idea that I continue on with band in high school. Specifically Marching band. ‘None of my friends are doing it,’ I thought, already losing ground with the friends I had made the year before when my family’d moved to this new school. ‘I don’t want to wear the dorky uniforms nor do I want to go to the football games.’ I was so desperate to be cool. All of these thoughts were coming from one thing: Fear.
August 2006. I’m at band camp. All 12 kids from my school had been alternates. The other flute from my middle school and I were lucky enough to have two members get kicked out, thus giving us their spots. The music is insanely hard; I’ve never played sixteenth notes in all my life! I’m only 14! I’ve just been playing for three years! How do I do this? Insert tutor here, a friend from sixth grade, who helped me through the muck and mess of eighth and sixteenth notes. Zoom through the season to October 2006, and I’ve made it. Somehow, with God’s grace, I’ve made it through my first season and I. Have. Loved It. I start getting ideas about learning a brass instrument and trying out for drum corps. I didn’t even know what that was two months ago. Now, I’m all about all things band and all things New York.
December 2006. We learn that Harrison High School’s marching band is going to Grand Nationals in Indianapolis for the very first time ever in November. Seniors are so upset, but everyone else is thrilled. We’ve made it now! Soon the whole country will know about us!
November 15 & 16, 2007. We travel through states I’ve never been to. We stop at a mall in Kentucky. We stop at a high school in either Ohio or Indiana, I can’t remember now, to do some practice and stretch our legs. We’re only an hour or two away from Indianapolis. Three hours later, we are practicing in bitter cold I’ve never felt before in November in a high school parking lot outside of Indianapolis. I wonder about the families in the houses which back up right to the school, right to the practice field. I wonder if they know what they’re witnessing. Sure, to most it’s just kids practicing for band. But for us, it was writing history. I cherish those moments of one of my band directors (who had grown up in Ohio and gone to college at Indiana) rocking back and forth, freezing, while only in a black hoody. I remember the two snowflakes that fell on us, made us freak out a little bit. I remember thinking how nice it would be to go to a high school with buildings big enough to accommodate all students. I remember the industrial-ness and the dirty black-ness of the quiet nights in Indy. I remember them and they are a part of me.
November 17, 2007. I play my heart out. Not only me, but everyone else in this family of band. We play our hearts out and have the best performance of all of our lives in semi-finals. When we exit through the tunnel, our drum majors are crying. Other bandmates are crying. This is it. We know for sure we’ve made it to finals. And we had. We came in twelfth (due to poor nutritional choices by ourselves and band leaders, and pure exhaustion as well as several freak things). So we came in last. But we made finals. We are in the top 12 bands in the whole entire nation. And it’s the most beautiful show I’ve ever heard.
December 2007. We learn that we will be marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2009. The juniors and seniors kind of go ballistic. But the underclassmen are thrilled. How lucky we’ve been!
October 2008. We are in Massillon,Ohio, about to take the title again from a championship we won three years ago, before I got there. We are playing Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and Imogen Heap’s “The Moment I Said It”. (Video). We drive forever through the bleakness of Ohio. And I relish it. I relish the buzz of excitement on the bus, the buzz of excitement in the high school gym where we all sleep, the awkwardness of everyone showering in a bathing suit. So much hope, so much life found in us in this bizarre environment of left-behind manufacturing towns. Maybe we’re what’s keeping this town alive this weekend.
We get told, two weeks before BOA Atlanta, that Mahler wrote this symphony after his young daughter died, and it’s what he thought she would hear upon reaching Heaven. My eyes still well up at that. The gift of a father to his daughter, long gone, on to better things. How tender. I’m determined to honor God, Mahler, and his daughter with my performance of this show.
Fall 2009. My ankle and legs have started to turn on me. I have to sit out multiple weeks. But I still march at competitions and at BOA Atlanta and in Macy’s. I held my pee for over 12 hours, from Knoxville to New Jersey, not wanting to go in the bathroom on the bus, and no pit stops were made because we were supposed to be sleeping, driving all night up the Eastern Seaboard. I’m in my city that I love: New York. I leave my group to follow behind me, saying “Alyssa!” When i cross a crosswalk on red. “What?” I say. “This is how you do it.”
And I love Ohio (and Indiana) for the gifts they gave me; a hope I’d never felt, a bond with people I had a limited amount in common with. These experiences touched my soul in ways that I doubt anything else will again. And I am so thankful for the blessings. For the friendships, the tutelage, the travel. All of it. I am so, so thankful.