Marching Band more than just a band marching

17 Jan

I went to a very nice family dinner party last weekend. Like most good dinner parties, there were lots of kids running around, plenty of food and drink, creative table decorations, a kids’ table (actually, several of them) and an abundance of good company.

About 200 people packed the Willink cafetorium for the banquet.

But unlike your average family dinner party, this one hosted about 200 guests.

The occasion was the Webster High School Marching Band’s annual awards banquet, held to celebrate another successful year, and to honor the exceptionally talented musicians — and dedicated adults — who worked so hard to make it so.  I attended at the invitation of Janet and Gerry Sander, whose daughter Kristen performs with the band’s color guard, and who have been involved with the band for countless years.  They are extremely proud of this organization, what it has done for their children, and what it has done for Webster.  They wanted to share that pride with me, so that I could see firsthand what Marching Band is about.

And what I saw was one big, noisy, musical, laughing, happy family.

Now, I’ve been involved in any number of organizations and clubs and attended all sorts of awards banquets.  They’re all pretty much the same.  The organization’s president/chairman/head coach leads off, glowing things are said about the star performers, trophies/certificates/letters are handed to those who earned them, there’s polite applause, coffee and tea are served, and then everyone goes home.

This gathering followed that pattern exactly. Well, up to the first part, where band director Brian Wilt introduced the evening’s events. But after that, things got out of step (so to speak) just a little bit.

It’s a tradition that every senior create a poster for the awards banquet, with images from the year. This one was made by clarinetist Hannah Harrison, who was named to the All-American Marching band this year.

Every student in every unit was invited to the stage to receive recognition.  And all the adults who selflessly gave of their time to support the band all year were recognized — the equipment crew, medical staff, chaperones, board of directors, bottle and can drive volunteers, Autumn Fanfare organizers, boosters.  And here was a switch: the kids gave gifts to the staff members. (My favorites were the Mario backpack, a huge plastic tarantula and the New York Yankees hat for the Red Sox fan, which all the unit members signed so he had to wear it.)

Towards the end of the evening all of the seniors came up on stage for special recognition and a gift bag which included a beautiful Marching Band blanket for their college dorm room.  When they all went back to sit down, you could see the balloons tied to the gift bags all gathered around one table. These kids weren’t sitting with their parents. They were sitting with the friends they made in marching band.

That is family.

The evening ended with a moving, 35-minute video (put together by the Sanders’ older daughter Jen) spanning the entire year of practices, competitions, trips, band camp, and just the serial craziness that went on behind the scenes. It included personal messages from the seniors, in which they tried to put into words what Marching Band meant to them. And they all said pretty much the same thing:

“It’s the friends you make and the fun you can have,” said one senior.  And another added, “Marching Band is the best sport in high school.”

I think I get it now.

P.S. The Marching Band is introducing a terrific new rogram for young children this year, called the Webster Kidets Marching Band. It’s a parade band for children grades 4-6, designed to teach children the basics of music and motion.  It’s a one-month program, one night a week that will end with a performance in the annual Fireman’s Carnival Kiddie Parade. Click here for more information.

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