Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Shoestring Broke

Last night, an urgent message went out to the band alumni from my high school: the band boosters are broke, and it's up to the alumni to take the situation in hand.

I remember what it was like to operate with no cash flow. We had to skip some contests because we couldn't afford the travel costs and entry fees. The band moms sewed the guard uniforms and flags. We wore the rapidly disintegrating wool pants from the mid-1970s uniforms because we didn't have anything else that would work and couldn't afford new ones. The director purchased percussion equipment out-of-pocket and reconditioned the old drums himself with white contact paper and black paint on the bass drum rims- although the cost of new bass heads outstripped him for a couple of years, and we marched with ghetto-looking mismatched ones until I was a junior (as soon as there was a little money, we were the first band in Kentucky to have matched black bass heads and they ROCKED). We held band camp at home all five years that I marched, with college classmates of our band director as the instructors.

I can list the major purchases from that era off the top of my head, and they were all after my first year: new XL percussion carriers for snares, quad, and bass drums; two shoulder-slung nickel-plated Yamaha marching tubas, a la DCI; one new set of cutaway quad tenors and three Challenger marching snares; the aforementioned matching black bass drum heads; and at the dead end of my sophomore year, a set of brand new DeMoulin uniforms. The uniforms were bought with a loan, and the tubas were bought on an installment plan after we traded some old school-owned instruments for them, including a double English horn that brought way more than we thought it would in trade.

Our boosters were hoofin' it, bigtime. They sold the concessions at football games and had baked goods booths at the county fair and the local fall festival, Cow Days. They sold ad space in the program for our marching contest, which they organized and ran. They did all the cooking for band camp to save money. Our two bus drivers were band parents and often waived their driving fee so we'd have money for other things. I could fold a white handkerchief into an ascot when we had the old uniforms, because we didn't have enough to go around. That's just the way it was.

So, deja vu, here we go again. After twenty-one years of trying, in the twenty-second year of the KMEA-sanctioned marching circuit, they finally placed in the top ten, and not only the top ten, but placed fourth overall in the state- then they went on to do exceedingly well in concert competition in the spring. On the heels of all of that accomplishment, there's no money; talk about your major irony! Here we are, circling the wagons and trying to get past this; I know we will, because that's just how we've always been. Once upon a time, band saved my life, and the time to pay it forward has arrived.

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