Yesterday, Sara and I paid an after-school visit to our old middle school band director, Mrs. Cramer. Mrs. Cramer (Miss Zitlau, as I first knew her) has not only been a great teacher but a family friend for years, and I always look forward to our visits.
We got down to the band room right after the closing bell; pubescent, hormonal middle school kids poured through the doors, reminding me just how much everyone hates middle school. No matter who I talk to, I hear that middle school/junior high, for some is the worst part of the public education system. It’s just an awkward time. No way around it.
One short, porky kid – obviously a sixth-grader, based on his size – came through the door as we were greeting Mrs. Cramer. He held a blue lunch box. After standing by for a moment, he eventually he spoke up and asked Mrs. Cramer if he could leave the lunchbox on the lost-and-found table in the room — his friend had left it behind and the friend was supposed to pick it up the next day. Naturally, Mrs. Cramer asked if the lunchbox belonged to a band student; her room couldn’t just be a drop-off for random junk. The kid said something so perfectly true that I cracked up laughing when he spoke:
“All of my friends are in band.”
He said it without shame or bad intention. It wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t even sarcastic. It was a genuinely true statement.
All of my friends are in band.
That could’ve very well been me in middle school. All of my friends were in band. Most of Sara’s friends were, too. Forget middle school; this statement applies to a lot of high school kids that I know.
The band is a unique organization. In a lot of schools, it’s quite small, especially compared to other sports and activities. In some, it’s much larger. But no matter the size or the mission of the group, the spirit stays the same: band kids stick together for some inexplicable reason. I’ve been in lots of bands that were tighter than my ROTC groups. I’m not kidding.
What is it about band, though, that is so… exclusive? Not that the band doesn’t allow new members. That’s not it at all. But why do band kids stick to other band members—and only other band members?
Well, that actually sounds too sinister. It’s not that band kids only hang out with other band kids. But in a lot of cases (myself included) your closest friends come from band. Part of it, I think, is the sheer amount of time band kids spend with one another, especially in high school. From August until November, kids in active marching band programs simply don’t have the time for activities and free time outside of band. They literally eat and sleep together. They date one another in this disgusting pool of messy relationships. And even outside of marching band, rehearsals are long. And often. Until it reaches the professional level, a group can’t just get up on stage and play the music perfectly on the first try. There has to be practice. Group practice. Time spent together, creating one mass of sound, one voice out of many voices. It’s harder than you think.
But all other groups are like that. Yet you never hear someone say “all of my friends are artists” or “all of my friends are in FFA” or “all of my friends play water polo”. So?
You know what? If I knew, I’d tell you. I know that most of my closest friends are or were in band at some point—we may not have met there, but we ended up there one way or another. I know that I’m not the only one that feels this way. I know that I’ve strayed a little bit from the band path over the years in pursuit of another goal, but many of my happiest memories of school come from band.
That kid is going to do well in life. All of his friends are in band. They’re all dedicated to something bigger than themselves. They all wish to develop a talent. They are all mature enough to be a part of something that requires focus, effort, emotion, and imagination. And they all, whether they know it or not, are a group that cannot be broken by time or ability.