On Becoming a Band Mom

As I mentioned in a previous post, my daughter has joined Marching Band this year.  It is something she has wanted to do for several years but until now has not been able to fit it into her schedule. Last year she was presented the opportunity to be in the honors orchestra program.  She’s played violin in the school orchestra programs since third grade. Her scores from her NYSSMA solo fest have qualified her for All County and Area Allstate Orchestra.  Years ago she wanted to be in BOTH orchestra and band, but this was not an option at the time.  For a while she played on the field hockey team, a sport she enjoyed. She;s always liked running around and hitting things with sticks, so it makes perfect sense that when she joined Marching Band she ended up playing in the percussion “pit”.

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This year’s show is called “Metal”, a conceptual piece which plays on the themes of Metal as an essential resource and style of music.  As one student from another band commented during a recent competition, “Wow, your band marches to Aerosmith.  That is unbelievably cool.”  The show itself is indeed unbelievably cool.  The guard uses metal poles, flags in metallic colors and shiny swords.  The band uniforms have had one sleeve removed so the kids could all wear tatoo “sleeves” on the exposed arms.  The senior and junior drum major (whose uniforms are completely sleeveless) not only have a tatooed arm, their other arm is wrapped in silver fabric, giving a bionic appearance on one side.

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The back of the field features several multi-story scaffolds  with decks on which several of the pit percussion students perform.

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Along the front row, among the usual assortment of percussion instruments like marimba, xylophone, chimes and cymbals are some unusual percussion elements: hollowed oxygen tanks, metal bells made from weights and an anvil….yes you read that correctly  an anvil.

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Oh I almost forgot,  there are a series of oil drums which are used at one point in a “Stomp” style percussion “conversation” with the drumline.

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Now bear in mind every band has a total of 15 minutes to stage, perform and exit the field. The show itself is about 9 minutes.  Do the math.  That’s 3 minutes at either end of the performance to get all that “metal” onto and off the field. Right, oh and during final competition it is pared down to 13 minutes.  This show is breath taking in more ways than one.

You can imagine the army of parent volunteers it takes to pull off a show like this.  This years band numbers just under 15o students. That’s a lot of uniforms to keep clean, flags to repair, instruments to keep tuned, not to mention mouths to feed.  Yes, every weekend when competition is local,  we feed the kids a hot meal complete with “grab and go”  snacks for the road trip ahead.  Every weekend a big trailer is loaded with all the show components and a small army of “Pit Crew” (they used to call them the “Pit Dads” until several Moms joined in) all caravan to the competition site to stage the show, pack it up, get it home and gear up for the next rehearsal. Rain or shine or snow. Hello, this is Upstate New York. By October, snow flurries are always an option.  If you don’t know how to dress in layers, you can’t live here.

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When our daughter joined the band I knew of course I would be part of the volunteer parent team. I mean I was PTA treasurer during their elementary years, served as a girl scout troop leader (thats a whole series of blog posts) and chaperoned field trips for as long as the girls would allow. What I didn’t know was that Band Parents are not like most volunteers  There is an immediate almost uncanny sense of belonging and acceptance.  It is like becoming part of a huge family. We have our dysfunctional moments triggered by oh, trying to fit a 12foot 7 inch scaffolding tower through an 11 foot stadium doorway, or hauling all the show components to the football stadium only to discover the keys on hand don’t open the lighting panel, so everything gets hauled by to the parking lot for that evening’s rehearsal. There were road trips in rain so intense the competition events were moved to indoor venues, after everything and everyone were thoroughly soaked from setting up and practicing in the deluge. There was an out of state trip involving a full weekend of travel, the steepest stadium access road imaginable ( the crew almost radioed for crampons and climbing ropes) and a night performance time that got pushed to just before midnight because of  weather delays. Note to would be fellow travelers:  Be advised, we Upstate New Yorkers never leave home without bringing our own weather. To pull together so these kids can get on the field and rock the judges (the drum major’s final salute ends with a fist pump)

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this crew is a tight knit, well oiled and more than slightly crazy team.  My kind of family.

I’ve only encountered this kind of belonging in a large group once before. Here, online, in the “Bedlamite” creative group started on Facebook by author, photographer and would be pirate Jon Katz.  Odd that in over a half century of life among humanity its happened twice in the same year, but I know the authenticity of my experience in the bedlam Creative Group made it possible for me to dive right into the sea of other Band Parents.  I somehow knew whatever I had to offer would be “good stuff.”

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Happy Trails good readers!

Messages from the IGA

Life has been pretty hectic since my pilgrimage to the Bedlam Farm Open House. A new school year began the day after I returned home and with it came seven new faces in the program where I am  a special education assistant. That alone has kept the teaching team on our toes. I have also become a Marching Band Mom, as my daughter now plays in the percussion pit. Add in her violin and piano lessons on alternating weeks, yeah the Mom Taxi had to hit the ground running from day one.  It took longer than I wanted to complete my blog entries about the trip, but that was an essential piece of this process for me.  Something in my consciousness shifted, connections were made and  I felt a need to document that shift. The creative spark fired by the Open Group this summer has become a reliable ember I can draw from day after day. I am taking a digital photography class to become more familiar with my new camera’s features. Homework week one?  Use the manual to find a whole list of specs and features. Week two? Shoot using only manual settings.  Hit the ground running.

So, I am building a small portfolio of photos and blogs post ideas. Oh, I’ll throw in a few of those bad haikus from time to time too. Meanwhile there was a whole garden and a little fish pond to tend to over this long weekend.  I am facing a small dilemma regarding a bullfrog, but that’s the background for another post. Unseasonably warm weather has kept things in bloom far longer than usual. Without a killing frost, the weeds have held on longer too.  It was quite a jungle out there. We lost a few trees in the big thunderstorms this summer,  so I had quite a bonfire going last night. It was the first time since the Open House that I have had more than a few minutes to sit and just be.   What a beautiful night, even though clouds prevented any stargazing. I found it surprisingly easy to get lost in the flames and just watch the sparks shoot like fireworks into the night sky.  I found myself sending a few prayers of gratitude soaring with them.  Life is balancing out nicely right now.

So this afternoon when I looked at my grocery receipt I was confused. “Turn your groceries into towels!” it proclaimed in large print across the bottom.  Why on earth would I want to do that? While my family is pretty adventurous when it comes to cuisine I doubt they would consider eating towels. I was not wearing my prescription sunglasses so I could not read the smaller print that might enlighten me to the advantages of converting groceries into towels.  It was a mystery that had to wait.  I ran several errands, came home, made dinner and forgot all about it, until I sat down at my computer. There on my desk was the receipt with the mysterious offer. So I read the details.  Apparently grocery purchases at this store earn points towards  featured items, which this month happen to be towels. Bear in mind this is one of the last IGA (independant grocer alliance) markets in our area, a midsized Upstate New York city.  Like the small family run farms Jon Katz blogs about, IGA are a vanishing breed. Granted, I (like Alec Baldwin’s now famous Mom, Carol) cannot imagine living beyond driving distance of Wegmans. Still something about this offer made me feel a little guilty.  I realized I don’t shop at the IGA very often, even though it is closer for quick trips where I only need a few things ( which happens every other day it seems)  Maybe my life is not as balanced as it seemed. I should (no, not should  I made a vow not to “should” on myself a few decades ago) I will stop there more often…after all who doesn’t need a new towel or two once in a while.

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All Good Things Conclusion

You know that quote “all good things come to those who wait” and the platitude “everything happens for a reason” which we console ourselves with when faced with crushing disappointment? If you detest them then stop reading NOW because this is the final chapter of one of THOSE stories.

They talk late into the evening, about dogs and kids and favorite stories from the Open Group page.  The next morning after coffee and some peach bread, her simple offering of thanks for gracious hospitality,  they set out in a small caravan towards Cambridge.  After passing through Saratoga Springs, still bursting with activity of races and weddings, they agree to let their own GPS directions be their guides.  This gives her a chance to grab a few roadside photos which  ever so slightly appeases the ghost of the missed Adirondack foothills sunset moment of the previous evening.  She also has time to checkout the Cambridge Farmers Market, where she is seriously tempted to buy a pair of alpaca wool socks for Jon Katz.  Its a reference to a running joke in Open Group.  She settles for a loaf of sour dough bread from the RoundHouse Cafe Bakery stand with some local jam to serve as lunch, then  drives north  towards Bedlam Farm. She notices her heart is fluttering.  It is not far and she is one of the first to arrive. She is greeted by Pearl one of the original Bedlam Farm dogs who now lives with Jon’s daughter Emma.  Soon Lenore comes over and sitting with these two dogs is a cherished moment.  They are a direct connection to Rose,  whose story is her favorite of Jon’s books.  More Open Group members arrive and there are introductions and hugs and stories. She wanders around, absorbing every joyful moment.  There are donkey talks with Simon, Lulu and Fanny,  Fran’s wonderful miniature gardens, Maria’s studio filled with her amazing scarves, whimsical potholders and pincushions, the much photographed dahlia garden. Jon notices her pirate bandanna and takes a few moments to show her his Jewish Pirate emblem tatoo.  Mary Kellogg gives an inspiring and moving talk about encouragement and the boldness of publishing as an older woman. Mary reads a poem that speaks of choices. She hears the line of “making a ripple,” when others merely sit and feels these words open a big door for her. A group photo is taken, which she is grateful for, knowing it will serve as proof this afternoon was not just a surreal dream. “A dream come true,”  a fellow Group Member says as they stand along the fence watching as Jon and Red do their sheep herding demonstration.  Rose would have been a joy to see, but Red!  Oh Red!  It is an ethereal experience to watch his powerful, graceful outruns, to feel the intensity of his focus as it directs even rebellious Zelda’s movements.  She notices she is not the only one with tears in her eyes.  They smile at each other and the realization hits her.  Things happened for a reason; the previous car trouble, the delayed trip, the time of waiting  gave her this moment to be shared with old friends who have just met. From this moment “she” has become one of “us.”

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