Chelsea Wilson

8-to-5 Isn’t a Long Work Day; It’s the Perfect Marching Band Step

Chelsea Wilson

One sweltering Monday in the third week of July, I stood in a parking lot with a hundred other students in lines exactly five yards apart—the outline of a football field had been painted in white over the yellow parking lines. One of my band directors stood on the scaffolding built at the side of the parking lot on the top of the hill where injured students stood and played. The other one stood in front of us. The perfect marching band step, he informed us, was exactly five yards in eight paces. Heels start on the white line and eight steps later, heels end on the white line. Forward and backward. Never step off with your right foot. Stay in step.

Then he turned on a white speaker and twisted the yellow dial on the black metronome to 120 beats per minute. The upperclassmen said we would soon hear the metronome in our dreams. I hadn’t believed them then. But I quickly learned they were right. Tick-tick-tick-tick, five-six, five-six-seven-eight-step.

Marching band was a point of pride for my school. We never worried about the football team bullying us as usually happens in movies. During half time the quarterback played trombone and marched with us in his bright orange jersey.

On that day in July when I stood in a marching basics block with the rest of the band, I hardly knew what to expect. The movie Drumline had come out a few years earlier, but the story of the college student with an attitude who couldn’t read music didn’t prepare me for the amount of work that went into every day of practice. Our first week of band camp totaled almost 40 hours and the temperature could easily top 90 degrees. Once school started we had our normal practice during band period, Monday through Friday, plus an early practice and a late practice once a week. We traveled at least four hours by bus every other weekend for two days of competition, where eight judges used specific criteria [PDF link] to determine which trophies—if any—we took home. Nobody took marching band for an easy credit.

It was hard and sometimes disappointing, but marching band is also what I remember most fondly about high school. We sweated in shorts and tank tops in July; we shivered in jackets and fingerless gloves in October. But before we marched out for our final competition each season, we stood shoulder to shoulder, turned our backs to the field, closed our eyes and hummed “Amazing Grace” together.

Did You Know?

Hailing from California, the Concord Blue Devils have won the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship more often than any other drum corps. They’ve won 17 times as of 2015, the first time only two years after earning full DCI membership in 1974.

PSG Updates

Let PSG keep you informed about the latest industry buzz and developments!

Enter your info below to receive our weekly updates!

We value your privacy and time. Updates are sent weekly to the email address provided. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.