Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Marching Band Memories

I've been busy preparing for the presentation I'm giving tomorrow evening on my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs – 6:45 p.m. at Barden Park in St. Cloud – so I've had to neglect the blog for a few days.  But I felt compelled to write an entry today to call attention to a recent Star Tribune article about a reunion of Litchfield High School marching band alumni.  Marching band memories have been in my head ever since I read it.

I posted a link to the story on Facebook and got comments from a few of my Jefferson High School (Alexandria) marching band buddies, one of whom recalled how Litchfield was well-regarded during our time in band, and how elated we were the first time we beat them in a competition.

Here's a photo of the band from the 1985 Alexian yearbook, the year I was a junior.

I never got the chance to play for G. Oliver (he died 21 years before I was born), but I think my high school marching band experience is the closest I'll ever come to knowing what it was like to be in one of his bands.  Although I'm not one for boasting, I think it's fair to say that during my time in high school, under the direction of John Anderson, our marching band was stellar.  We worked hard, and the results showed – like in July 1985 when we won the coveted Grand Champion award at the Minneapolis Aquatennial Parade, despite the heat that was so intense, our black shoes almost stuck to the melted tar on the street, and despite losing a few members (temporarily) to heat exhaustion.

It was our strong performance that summer, in all our competitions, that led to an invitation for the band to play in the 1987 Cotton Bowl.  Unfortunately for those of us in the band who graduated in June 1986, the timing of the invite left us out of the fun – and gives us something to grouse about at class reunions.

We practiced our music and our formations on the lawn outside the high school and in the streets of Alexandria on summer evenings until our arms and embouchures were tired and our director was satisfied, the direction "Guide right!" drilled into our heads.  We learned discipline and focus; we learned teamwork and sacrifice.  We learned that every person makes a difference, and that differences are forgotten in the cause of something greater than you.  And we learned how to change our clothes quickly and covertly on a schoolbus after a parade.

When I'm at a parade now and I hear a drum cadence, it all comes flooding back, and I am tempted to fall into step and grab someone's marching horn.

Alexandria hosts the Vikingland Band Festival every June; the festival started that summer of 1985, between my junior and senior years.  Every few years, former band members are invited to return and play in the parade in an alumni band.  I wasn't able to attend in 2009 or 2004, but I did participate in 2001.  Marching down Broadway while playing the school song made me realize how much I miss playing my horn and being part of a musical group.

Here I am in the 2001 Alumni Band, marching above the date.  I would not have smiled and waved back in the high school band days; we never smiled or acknowledged the crowd during a parade.

Here's my dad giving 8-month-old Elias a great view of his first band parade.

Here's what Elias thought of his first band parade.

Maybe one of these summers the Jefferson High School Marching Band alumni can challenge the Litchfield Marching Band alumni and our other formal rivals to a contest.  It would be fun to get those competitive juices flowing again, and see how much we've retained from those glory days.

We could skip the quick-changing act on the buses, though.  Some experiences are better left to high school students.


  1. I never thought about the lessons learned from marching with a band. I think that people who want to cut music programs from schools need to read what you wrote:

    "We learned discipline and focus; we learned teamwork and sacrifice. We learned that every person makes a difference, and that differences are forgotten in the cause of something greater than you."

    Nicely written. Makes me want to get up and march in a band! (I suppose I should learn to play a band instrument first)

  2. Thanks, Myrna!

    You could march with your mandolin ...