This story was sent to me by a fellow staff member from the high school band that Alicea and I work with, and it COMPLETELY represents the reasons that we do what we do.  This is why we put in the long hours, endure the long bus trips, and continue to do so year after year.

I sat my pit down for the pre-contest season talk. I was reminding them of the strides they had taken since late July. I impressed upon them the need to continue working hard and fixing this show even though it may seem that this season is all but over.

Since I had a few people in the ensemble who had not played before under my helm, I felt it was time that I share The Smithian Philosophy on contest season.

(Note: In the interest of decorum... I should warn you...pregnant women, children with beepers, some over zealous band booster parents, and band directors with misguided egos should read on with caution)

Then I, like the Gap Band, dropped the bomb.

I said....right there for everyone to hear....right there in front of little children....that *I*...Joe A Smith hate marching band.

Yes, I know. I got the same reaction from them that some of you are giving me right now. Many of them looked at me like I just told them there was no such thing as Santa Claus and Ralphy was never going to get that Red Ryder BB Gun.

How could I blaspheme in front of these children, you ask? Well, itís easy. I told them the truth.

Much of their disbelief stemmed from the fact that they knew that I had spent the better part of my last 12 years around the marching band/ drum corps activity. They knew that I enjoyed teaching marching band. They knew that I enjoyed playing in the marching band.

So, here comes the inevitable question. Are you ready?

One of my kids picks his jaw off the floor, raises his hand, and asks "So, Joe...why do you hate marching band"

A few years ago, before I did the drum corps thing, If someone would have asked me that same question I would have looked at you with half-vacant eyes and said to you amazement "Hate marching band?!? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKINí MIND!!!"

That was before I stopped and looked around.

Drum Corps didn't make me hate marching band. What drum corps did was to open my eyes to the problem.

I'll call it: Exhibit "A"; AKA: "The marching band contest"

Now, I am not one of these people that will run off screaming that the only reason that High School Xís marching band beats everyone every year is because "They paid off the judges," "The contest is rigged," "The judging panel is from Mars sent here to make my life a living hell" or something absurd like that.

The simple fact of the matter is that High school Xís marching band won because they performed exceptionally well. Not that High Schools A-W performed poorly, but on this night, in this place, on this clipboard, a panel - whom you hired to give out integers that roughly correspond to your bandís performance - gave your band a number that was lower than the other guysí number.

Live by the score. Die by the score.

I do not fault the judging community. After all, they are doing exactly what we have asked of them. They listen to the show, talk into a tape recorder, tell you that they "enjoyed the show, wish you luck, and hope to see you again later in the season", then they assign a number to your marching band program.

This is where the fault comes in.

I have seen entire legions of teenage kids crushed because the judges gave them too low of a score...well, correction....

I have seen entire legions of teenage kids crushed- not because they got too low of a score, but because somewhere along the line a parent, a director, or a fellow band member led them to believe that if they donít finish first, the whole season was a wash.

Forget the fact that the band played the show of their lives, a seasonís worth of blood sweat and tears culminated in one magical night, and thousands of people were entertained. All that is left for them is "The band came in second. The season is lost"

Let me give you some advice that will save you some tears down the road.

You are going to lose.

Iím not trying to doom you. But I think that you should know that somewhere along the some night, in some place, on some tape recorder, on some clipboard, some panel will give you a number that is lower than someone elseís number.

Numbers are just numbers. They are useful. But in the end they fail us during October. We can give out numbers until we are all blue in the face but...

There is only one way to truly win on the marching band field

Great bands are not great because they pay off the judges, or because the contest is rigged.

Great bands are great because they have made the decision to be great....all the time. When they practice, they practice with one goal in be the absolute best at what they do, and to leave their best show on the field every time they perform it.

When you are constantly striving to be the best, you will step on the field. You play your show. And you will win.

Not because you scored higher, or took first place, or took high drums, or high winds, or high silks.

You will have won if, and only if, you perform to such a degree that when the bass drum taps you off the field, the audience has no question in itís mind that you...without a shadow of a doubt...belong in the company of greatness.

Now, I like scoring high.

I like kicking butt.

I like winning trophies.

But when you are 25, and it has been 12 years since you first picked up your drum, you will not remember what any of those cheap plastic trophies look like.

What you will remember are the important things.

You will remember being on the verge of tears as you go home because that dayís practice was the toughest thing you had ever experienced.

You will remember the way the grass smelled as you were warming up for your last show.

You will remember how the wet astroturf felt beneath your socks during retreat.

And you will remember looking around the field and realizing that, on this night and in this place, you unquestionably belong among the elite.

-Jason C. Frith


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Revised: September 19, 2001 .