A Lesson in Harmony

By
Updated: September 1, 2013
Riverdale band

It has begun—the 2013 high school football season. Every year it is a feast for all the senses. Our eyes enjoy the sight of long passes, hard hits, and big plays on the field as well as the devotion of the fans in the bleachers; our ears drink in the sound of those hits, the roar of support or disdain from the fans, the fireworks after the touchdowns, and the pep bands cranking out fight songs; our noses catch the aroma of hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, fried Oreos, and when it starts to get cold, cocoa and coffee. And if you’re on the field, you also get the less favorable whiff of what’s emanating from the players. Our tongues enjoy the taste of all those aforementioned treats, and our sense of touch experiences the heat or cold of the atmosphere, the numbness in our cheeks from sitting on hard bleachers for hours, and the rush of excitement when our teams perform well. Yes, the “boys of fall” give us some excellent opportunities to gather and simply enjoy the spirit of competition.

The Gordonsville Band

The Gordonsville Band

But after 24 minutes of play comes halftime, making a big gap in the evening’s activities. And we humans do not like gaps. We fill them in. During commercials, we go get something out of the fridge or use the restroom; in the margins of textbooks, we draw artwork of various kinds; when we finish one train of thought in a conversation and can’t think of where to go next, we fall back on faithful topics like the weather or favorite sports teams; in between quarters of the ballgame and during timeouts, the cheerleaders step in and pump up the crowd with their routines. We just do not like to have empty space in the flow of events. We want something to be happening. We’ve got to decorate the empty space with something pleasing to our eyes, ears or other senses. Enter the marching bands.

The study of music, like other rewarding pursuits, requires a lot of time, effort, and practice. We pick at the bands that don’t sound too good oftentimes, not stopping to consider that if we picked up the instrument ourselves and tried to make some intelligible sound with it, we’d be put to shame by those kids on the field who “don’t sound too good.” Playing a song well on an instrument requires a number of things: a good instrument (which some bands are hurting for due to short budgets), an intimate knowledge of the music that only comes from lots of practice, proper “embouchure” (in essence, holding your mouth right—I have often wondered if Michael Jordan’s skill in dunking the basketball was partially due to his embouchure), the ability to listen to the other performers in the band and stay in tune and in time with them, the ability to think ahead about what’s coming next in the song, and a desire to make the music sound musical instead of mechanical, among other things. It’s a daunting task. Add to this the pressure of memorizing a march routine, and you can understand why it may look and sound a bit rusty, especially at the beginning of the season before they’ve had more than a month or two to practice.

The Smith County Band

The Smith County Band

The good news is, whether or not the fans are “wowed” by the bands, the students are learning some good music and turning the minds of the fans toward it. The first game I attended this year was Oakland vs. Riverdale in Murfreesboro on August 23. I must confess that I do not remember what music was performed by Oakland’s band, and I did not stick around after the game to hear the Riverdale band perform their show based on music from Star Trek, but I witnessed a beautiful demonstration of camaraderie between the rival schools during halftime. Some officers from the Navy were at the game either to present or receive an award during halftime. In honor of their service and recognition of the recipients of the award, both bands took the field together for a combined performance of the song “America.” Moments like this are important, especially at games between archrivals. They remind us that no matter how spirited the competition is between teams, no matter how deep seated the rivalry, no matter how fervent the desire of both teams to earn bragging rights over the other, the event can only be enjoyed to its greatest potential if we treat our opponents with the respect they deserve as fellow athletes, fellow supporters of those athletes, fellow citizens, fellow Americans, fellow human beings. After all—the people in the other bleachers are not so different from us. They, too, want their team to win; they, too, love the competitive atmosphere of the high school football field; they, too, enjoy this freedom thanks to the country in which we live. How silly—no, how foolish—would we be to cheapen all this by playing unfairly? What ignorance we would display if, on the way out of the stadium, we snubbed our noses at the opponents’ fans or refused to shake hands just because we wear a different colored jersey! May we never stoop to the level of ignorance and pride that would cause us to look at, think about, and treat the players or fans of another team in a different way. There’s a bigger picture here and the Oakland and Riverdale bands captured it perfectly in that joint performance of “America.” You see, musicians who are playing a song together are often playing different notes from one another. Even so, they’ll sound good together until one of them starts thinking his part is more important than the other and goes playing extra loud just for the attention—then he’s no longer listening to or tuning with the other musicians, his instrument goes flat or sharp causing his part to sound bad, and the sound of the whole band suffers as a result. Mature musicians know they have to listen, blend, play in tune, and properly balance their own sound with the sound of the rest of the band in order for the “big picture” to sound as it is intended. Until then, it will just sound like a bunch of noise. Might we do the same—remembering the things we have in common while celebrating the things that make us different.