Updated: Jul 19, 2020
This time of year takes me back to my high school days.
I was a proud Band Nerd. Although I was into sports as well as music, my dreams of gridiron glory were dashed by an unfortunate incident during summer two-a-days. Quarterbacking the second-stringers, the ball was snapped and I spun around to escape the clutches of a defensive tackle. Disoriented and with empty space ahead of me, I heroically sped like Forrest Gump…right into my own end-zone. I even spiked the ball.
Coach had seen enough. Knowing my love of music, he suggested my energies would be better spent performing at halftime. So, I joined the marching band, where I had a better chance of moving down the field in the right direction.
Not that band was easy. Marching in sync with a couple hundred people while blowing through an unwieldy trombone takes more coordination than is natural. Music should be played in a climate-controlled room as cultured people applaud politely. Marching band strips away that civilized veneer, with blistering heat at the start of the season, driving sleet if your team makes the playoffs, and the season-long taunts of opposing fans.
It requires self-discipline, focus, and the willingness to learn. It exposed us to the happy truth that with persistent hard work, we can achieve more than we imagine possible.
Beyond musicality and discipline, band taught me the value of forming a diverse, vibrant community while reaching for a wonderful goal. As all bands do, mine sought to be the best. But while some band members could march and play with ease, others needed help and encouragement. To be an outstanding ensemble meant every single member mattered, not just those possessing extraordinary gifts.
So, we learned the balancing act of being patient with each other while expecting excellence of each other. We found our diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and experience strengthened us. Band revealed the truth that to thrive, we genuinely needed one other in all our variety. It fostered a joyful culture of having each other’s backs. In elevating, protecting, and moving in harmony with others, our eyes were opened to every person’s inherent value. It was also huge fun.
Most importantly, marching band was self-giving school. Rising early for practice, seeking the common good rather than your own advancement, forming bonds of mutual support, and finding great satisfaction in achieving a shared objective beyond your self-interest, means you are growing into a fully-realized human being.
Marching band may not be a perfect analogy for how we might coexist and thrive as a community - or even as a nation – but I like it. I’ve seen it work on the scale of groups like a church, not least because the ethos of a healthy faith community includes band-like characteristics. Devotion to a cause larger than ourselves, persistence, inclusiveness, discipline, self-giving, humility, and interdependence add up to having a blast in the process of learning what it means to live abundantly.
Anyone can be a Band Nerd. It doesn’t require us to have ever touched a musical instrument. It only means we march to the tune of knowing we need each other to be our best.