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Marching Out From the Shadows

by Lisa Gemperline

One of the many jobs I signed up for as band mom was to help with the food for band camp and the weekly competition. I also was fortunate to be the band photographer. Instead of going every day to band camp, I decided to follow the band around for one day during band camp, from 8 am to 10 pm. At the end of this day, I gained a new and profound admiration for the unseen efforts that create an award-winning band program. Having only had a band program for two years, I was curious to see what steps were taken to make an undefeated marching band season possible after only one year. First of all, I witnessed an army of parents helping on and off the field: band dads toting equipment at each performance and some rehearsals; band moms sewing, organizing, cleaning, cooking, fundraising and more; and a dozen staff members that oversee each group of students as well as the band directors and committee chairs. But what was the most inspiring was the students: their hard work and dedication was something that deep inside I thought, “I could never have done that.”

Needless to say that after a day at band camp, I was exhausted. The kids start by warming up, tuning up, and just waking up. They worked tirelessly on music, drills, marching, team building, and sheer endurance. They rehearsed outside until the heat was unbearable. After having lunch in the school cafeteria, they kept practicing in the air-conditioned gym until 6 pm. Then, they went back out onto the field to rehearse even more until 9 pm! I knew this band meant serious business when I came to the school one evening and the band kids were running around the school for physical conditioning.

Each Wednesday night, I came to watch the creative process. The band director broke down the show into numbered sections. I loved watching the students practice the elements of each section: each step, each note, and each placement on the field. Every 30 minutes the director gave students a water break where they would run to their water jugs, take a few sips and hurry back into formation. When the band’s energy would start to lag,someone on the field would yell out and all the other band members would reply with a shout! They seemed happy, fulfilled, and ready to get back to work.

In my backseat view of the marching band, I’ve seen: students nearly pass out from heat exhaustion; pushups on the field to account for missed marks; tears of frustration for trying their best and still messing up; hopeful alternates waiting in the wings for a chance to perform; and kids sitting alone at lunch and other band kids coming to the rescue. I’ve heard “Please,” and “Thank you,” and “This is so great,” come from the mouths of teens. I've heard mesmerizing beats by the drumline and magical notes from the front ensemble. I’ve heard trumpets blat, clarinets squeak, mellophones smooze, and the whole band together make goose bumps on my skin. I’ve sat in the cerulean night sky and witnessed artistry and creation in its most mundane yet awe-inspiring forms. I often thought to myself, “I would love to be a part of something so magical, so inspiring, so difficult, and yet so rewarding.” Just the honor of being there, participating in my own small way, was enough to inspire my senses and my awe at creating art. I can only imagine what it does to the students who have to know so much, perform so well, and to find it deep inside of themselves to give it their all.

Lisa Gemperline is a photographer and arts enthusiast in Farmington, Utah. Mother of five and Grammy Lou to two grandchildren, Lisa seeks opportunities to see things others can’t see, with the aid of her lens and camera. “When I’m behind a camera, my mind shifts from worry and fear to excitement, hope, and wonder. It’s like magic.”

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