I had the pleasure, make that the “privilege” of watching the Watchung Hills Regional High School band take the field again last night, take my breath away…and take home their third 1st place trophy in a row.  This week they won 1st in Class at the Somerville High School Competition along with Best Music, Best Percussion and Best Overall Effect.  Week after week, the level of competition continues to rise, and with it my anxiety level, but the kids appear to be growing more confident with each and every step off the line.  One look at the focus, determination and passion in their eyes as they march by, likely tells the reason why.  Oh, that and the hundreds of hours of practice they’ve put in since August.

As the parent of freshman at WHRHS, I began worrying about 7 minutes after 8th grade graduation ended about what my son’s entry into high school would be like?  As most freshman parents, I had many sleepless nights wondering if he’d make friends, fit in, feel alone, left out, find his place among the masses?  After all, we all hear the stories about those who struggle, we’ve all struggled at times ourselves, these high school years are not easy during the best of times.

At the end of August, I loaded him up with a water jug, lunch, snacks, sunscreen, hat and his instrument and dropped him off at his very first day of Band Camp.  I had been a member of my high school band, so I was certain I knew how this would all go…but I could not have been more wrong.  That morning, I dropped off a boy who was also anxious about the uncertainty that lay ahead…but that afternoon, I picked up a totally different kid!  One who had just made about 70 friends all in one day.  It was so easy to see, he had found “his place”, or better yet, maybe they had found him.

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Surprising to me, Band Camp wasn’t just an 8 to 5 day filled with learning the music and the show, it included evening “bonding” events such as Movie Night (hosted at one student’s house), Dot Book Night (Don’t know what a “dot book” is?  You’re not alone!), Ice Cream Socials, etc.  There was something just about every night.  And what I came to realize was these kids actually didn’t want to be apart, they looked forward to spending time together, on AND off the marching field.  Right from the start, it was easy to see that this wasn't just a group of kids who got together to play some music, this was a tight knit band "family" led by strong, warm and inspiring Drum Majors, supported by confident and talented Section Leaders and upper classmen. All of whom worked seamlessly together to ensure every member of the band, new and old, felt like they belonged, that they mattered, that they were now part of something bigger than themselves and that they were anything but alone.  The result?  My son, a freshman, one of the “new kids”, well, he had not only found “his place”, but also “his people”.

As wonderful as this all was, the best part was yet to come.  On the first day of high school, the day that usually causes spikes in anxiety for new students and parents alike, my son walked into school already having more friends than he could count.  He had no worries about who he would eat lunch with, since the band kids typically ate lunch in the band room together.  And there was no question about who he would be “hanging out with after school” because he would be spending most of his free time at marching band practice.

And practice they did and continue to do, just about every minute they can squeeze in…after school, before competitions, at football games.  Make no mistake about it… these kids work hard!  Having played both high school and college athletics, I can tell you, they work harder, put more hours in than any sports team I’ve ever been a part of.  And of course they couldn't possibly do it on their own.  They're fortunate to have an amazing group that surrounds them, from their director, assistant director, and multiple other support staff to the band parents who make magic happen behind the scenes. 

True, theirs is not a “team sport” in the traditional sense, and most schools don’t even consider marching band to be a “sport”.  (Ironic, because the marching band typically has the largest number of participants of any organized club/sport/organization in the school.) And in marching band one might argue, they don’t practice to become a “team”…they practice to become ONE.  Perfection in marching band means that 70 individuals perform ONE piece of music in perfect harmony and perform ONE choreographed show in absolute synchronicity.  Their “sport” is much more unforgiving than other sports as well.  Just think about it,  there are more than 100 opportunities to “fail” in every show…from missteps to missed notes. Talk about complexity multiplied to the nth degree!  

Oh, and let’s not forget that these are “students”, with parents who expect them to also find time to devote to their classwork, to keep their grades high, to also strive for academic excellence as well.  And these WHRHS kids are bright, talented, gifted students who carry very challenging course loads filled with AP and Honors classes.  Did I mention that they work hard?  Which brings me back to last night’s winning performance, and WHY it’s such an incredible accomplishment on SO many levels.

But at the end of the day, at the end of the season, it isn’t about the number of wins.  As parents, we know that involvement in a quality music program can help to shape and guide our children.  We’ve seen the statistics, we know that encouraging our children to participate in the arts will help them academically as well.  However, what marching band gives them goes well beyond that.  It gives them a chance to find “their place” and “their people”. 

At WHRHS, even though their success depends entirely on uniformity, what makes this marching band so special is that they have also found a way to support each other on their journey to becoming uniquely talented individuals on and off the marching field. 

Last night, as parents, it was easy to see and hear how truly talented they are and for the third week in a row, the judges agreed!