Kids are the worst.
There’s a tremendous premium put on being cool in high school. When you’re a kid, being cool means not caring about anything. If you’re caught exhibiting even the slightest hint of an earnest devotion to something, you are immediately and relentlessly ridiculed for it.
“You’re in 4-H? Gay.”
“You’re reading for fun? Gay.”
“You’re in the band? THE BAND? Super gay.”
But I soon came to learn that there was a certain freedom from all that when you’re in the band. It’s kinda like, “Well, the cool ship has clearly sailed, and I’m not on it. Might as well go all in and listen to Meatloaf.” I definitely still worried about what everyone thought about me when I was in school, but I never felt that way in band. These kids took me under their wing and said, “Sure, you’ll be made fun of for this. But when you’re with us, you belong.” There’s no dollar amount you can put on that.
There were a lot of upperclassmen when I joined as a seventh-grader. Most of them had been involved in the music program for a long time, dating back to when there were separate junior and senior high bands. They were there when Blake launched the indoor percussion program, and it was clearly a central source of their pride. These kids had invested a lot of their time and energy into getting the group off the ground. There was always a real sense of ownership in their voices when they talked about it.
It wasn’t about winning back then, not for those kids. Winning wasn’t something that happened a lot from what I could gather. I don’t know much about the history of the music program at Lock Haven High School, but I know they were really good in the late ’70s and early ’80s. But from a purely competitive perspective, the band was in a down swing. There had only been two indoor percussion seasons so far so that plane was barely off the ground, and the marching band hadn’t made it to ACCs in a while.
But like I say, that didn’t seem to matter to anyone. We went out and competed every Saturday, we performed as well as we could, and then we ended up taking home a second or third place trophy. And that was fine with everyone. Winning wasn’t expected. I think that’s why it was such a big deal when it started happening.
I remember one marching band show my first year. I think it was at Bellefonte. After our performance, we all sat together in the bleachers as scores were announced. We didn’t come in first. No one seemed to mind. But the weird part about that night is that we actually won something else.
“Best Marching. Lock Haven High School.”
Who? Best What? What Haven? We were all super psyched, but also a bit confused. I mean, we never won caption awards like that. Like, ever.
After the awards ceremony, as we were getting ready to get on the bus to go home, Blake circled everybody up. I remember this clearly because why was Blake circling the whole band up? This was marching band, if anyone was going to give us a little talk it would have been Tribble. But no, it was Blake circling us up. As we huddled around him, he informed the group that there was a judging error. We had not, in fact, won best marching that night. We all sighed. “Yeah, OK. Sounds about right.” But then Blake went on.
“We didn’t win marching,” he said, “but instead we won best percussion.”
And, I mean, that whole group just ERUPTED. The screams were deafening. I was literally startled by how overjoyed everyone was. Everyone. Horn players, majorettes, color guard. Everyone grabbed the first drummer they saw and hugged him hard. Winning was such a foreign concept to us. It was awesome.
That was the first time I got to experience the particular kind of joy that comes when a group wins something together. That night, on that football field, a judge looked at our show — this thing that we built, that we had worked so hard on and devoted our lives to, a thing forged in sweat and dedication and love for each other — and said, “you guys did it best.” That’s a feeling you don’t forget.
That’s when the winning started. And the thing is, it never really stopped.