Sunday, August 17, 2014

How High School Marching Band Changed my Life... at Age 40

I was never very involved in high school. I didn’t play sports, and I wasn’t in any clubs. The final bell rang at 2:40pm—if I wasn’t already a mile down the road by 2:45, it was because I was serving detention. For me, “being involved” equated to conforming, or giving in, or… something. What it was I would have been giving in to, I have no idea now and I’m not sure I knew back then.

I’m married now, with two teenage children. Both of them are hopeless band nerds, and believe me when I say there is no way for me to fully express the unabashed pride and affection I feel when I make that statement.

But I didn’t always feel that way. Band, especially marching band, is an enormous time commitment for students. Because it is for them, it is for their parents too. The rehearsal schedule is filled with long, grueling, twelve-hour days spent on a blacktop in 90 degree weather. Most days, rehearsals run even longer than they’re scheduled. Competitions, especially the out-of-state ones, can result in the band not arriving back home until 3 or 4 in the morning.

For the parents, having a kid in marching band can be inconvenient and annoying. It can make or break weekend plans, and even cancel vacations. For a guy like me, the whole program seemed ridiculous and too much.

Now, I want to be clear: when I say my kids are hopeless band nerds, I’m not saying that marching band is a hobby they enjoy, not even close. They love it with an unquenchable passion, and it was that way from their first day of rookie band camp. So even in the beginning, it was hard for me to speak out against it… as much I may have wanted to.

My daughter is my older child. Her first year with the band, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention. I worked a lot—night hours, which are a staple when you own a pizzeria—and my wife handled most of the picking-up and dropping-off duties. Honestly, I didn’t think my daughter would stick with it, but she did. It became so important to her that when her second year rolled around, I agreed to begin fundraising for the band through my pizzeria. As a result, I began spending some time at the school.

Let me tell you—I was blown away, completely and immediately. It could be 8:00pm and there would still be 200+ kids at the school, still working hard. And they were happy to be there! My wife scoffs every time I say it, but I still can’t help marveling at the idea that there is a whole other world, a ‘school after school’, that I never knew about.

I began to start coming early to pick up my daughter (and eventually my son too, who joined the band in his last year of middle school), just so I could watch them rehearse. I marveled at their attention to detail, their unrelenting spirit, and the pride with which they carried themselves. Even after 12 hours in the hot sun they still gave it their all, and they loved every minute of it.

My son and daughter, they looked so alive, so proud, especially during performances—something that would have terrified me when I was in high school.

It made me realize there was a major component of my life missing, one that had never been there before simply because I’d never had the courage to commit to doing something I love. Work and money had always seemed too important—an excuse. But there my kids were, doing both what they had to do (regular school) as well what they loved. They’d committed. Fearlessly.

And so in November of 2011, I wrote the opening line to my first novel. It wasn’t ready for publication until April of 2013—work kept getting in the way, family and friends kept getting in the way, life kept getting in the way—but I stuck with it. I stayed committed. If my kids could do it, I could do it.

That novel has found its way onto more than 50,000 Ereaders. My next four novels have already sold thousands of copies. I get fan mail. I have an enormous subscriber list that gets bigger every day.

Courage, conviction, and commitment to a passion were all it took, and I never would have learned that lesson if not for my kids and, of all things, high school marching band… at age 40.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent article! In marching band, everyone counts equally. If the new freshman isn't as good as the senior section leader, the whole team is weakened. And no one practices all season just to sit on the bench on the sidelines.


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