The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 1: Kendra

The wind whipped through Kendra’s thin excuse of a raincoat, and harsh droplets stung her cheeks and speckled her glasses.  Her arms were drawn into her sides as she stood, shivering, her feet planted in a 45-degree angle and the tips of her fingers red and numb.  Locked in her left hand was her cell phone with its shattered screen protector and worn case, opened on an intricate display of symbols and letters across a coordinate plane.  She squinted at the screen now, at the highlighted dot at the head of a thin lime line, the opposite end of which marked where she currently stood.


The wind picked up, flung a punch directly into her slight form.  Behind her, someone let out a curse he thought nobody else would hear.  He must have nearly shouted, since she could hear him well enough despite the thick foam plugs wedged into her ear canals.  Not that she blamed him.  She was biting back her own gripe, but she was saving her lips and breath for playing, and she did not have much air left.


A command made faint by the plugs in her ears prompted her to travel to her next dot.  Another backwards move–seriously?–in sixteen counts, and diagonally to boot.  Still, she scurried to the next spot on the field with haste, if only to warm herself for five seconds.


The hand holding her horn was frigid.  Even with the grease-stained, formerly white glove on, the low temperature, drizzle, and gusts brutalized her extremities, and it wasn’t like these gloves were meant for insulation.  They were meant for playing this damn instrument, a rental from the band hall with a sticking valve and perpetually flat tone, that she played outside of practice, oh, maybe once or twice a week if she felt like it.  If she thought she stood a chance, she’d practice harder, almost every day, but things had tapered off once she’d realized she wasn’t as good as the other kids in her section.  She’d tried to get her motivation back several times, but it just wasn’t there anymore, like she’d somehow given up.


Another direction issued from the tower compelled her to run back to her previous dot, phone in one hand and rain-slicked brass instrument in another, her ears stinging and the hood of her jacket flopping back, dodge a random cymbal player, and stand at attention, all while shoving her phone back into its pocket on the inside of her jacket.  They’re just marching for now, sixteen steps back with their respective instruments held aloft, yet Kendra found herself doubting her step size, her ability to march in time to the metronome.


This was for the homecoming game; everyone was in the show, regardless of how good they were.  Kendra was thrilled to be out on the field marching actual drill and learning music for a show she would perform, yet she could not shake the nagging notion, the mantra that sometimes kept her awake at night:


You’ll never be good enough for this.

The Rise of the Band Geeks: Preface: The Unofficial Marching Band Glossary

An image taken before the start of the Michigan football game against WMU. Photo taken by an MMB alumnus very dear to the author.

Ah, I see you’ve stumbled upon my humble abode.  Welcome to the column of all things marching band, or, should I say, the column of all things marching band according to Alias.  Here, you shall find short fiction and poetry centered around the theme of marching band, though for today I begin by introducing some common band terminology:


Band Director (n.) —  The Fearless Leader.

Band Geek (n.) — A member of the marching band; a super cool person who may be sitting next to you in your creative writing class.

Brass (n.) — A category of instruments constituting the alto horns, euphoniums, sousaphones/tubas, trombones, and trumpets.  Trumpets think they’re the heart of the band, but we all know it’s the drumline* (see below).

Drill (n.) — The set of movements constituting the actual marching part of marching band; something you should already have memorized.

Dot (n.) — The specific spot on the field you’re supposed to reach, or “make,” within a set number of counts (ie, 16 counts means you take 16 steps to get from one dot to another ); someone is said to be “on their dot” when they make said spot.  It happens once in a while.

Drumline (n.) — God’s gift to marching band.

Drum Major (n.) — A rad person, usually an upperclassman, who leads and represents the marching band.  Ironically, the DM is almost never a percussionist.

Flags (n.) — The section of people who dance using flags and enhance the visual effects of performances.  They make it look easy, but it’s highly technical and difficult.

Field (n.) — What’s the football team doing on the band field?

Fight Song (n.) — A song, typically a march, played at sporting events to celebrate victories and generate hype.  The Victors (see below) is objectively the best of these.

Marching Band (n.) — A sport that involves playing fully memorized music whilst marching around the field in perfect time while in uniform (see below); definitely not a cult.

Michigan Marching Band (MMB) (n.) — The greatest marching band in all of human history.

Michigan Stadium/The Big House (n.) — The place where over 100,000 fans gather on Saturdays to see the marching band.

Practice (v.) — What you should be doing instead of reading this glossary.

Rank  (n.) — Subdivisions into twelve or so performers, each with its own leader or two; in drumline, each individual instrument is considered a rank.

Reserves (n.) — The people who did not make the performance for this week’s show; in drumline, the people who don’t play in halftime at all for the whole season.

Section (n.) — A group of people who all play the same instrument; the group of people who constitute the holy order known colloquially as the drumline.  Each section has a section leader.

Shako (n.) — The epic hats band kids wear.

Show (n.) — The sweet medley of songs performed at halftime during home games.

Social Life (n.) — Never heard of it.

Temptation & War Chant (T & W) (n.) — Two glorious songs always played consecutively because, as we all know, you can’t have one without the other.

The Victors (n.) — The divinely inspired fight song wrought by Louis Elbel in 1898; the best college fight song ever written; God’s theme song.  Comes in several flavors, including “As Written” and “Parking Lot Victors.”

Twirlers (n.) — A small section of cool people who twirl batons that can be attached to LED lights or even set on fire.

Uniform (n.) — The awesome getup the band wears on game days.

Woodwinds (n.) — The piccolos (pics), clarinets (sticks), and saxophones are all considered woodwinds, and often play the melody or sixteenth notes.  These instruments will be damaged by the evil entity commonly known as rain.


*This information was derived from a reliable MMB trumpet alumnus the author holds in high regard.**

**The author respects the trumpet section and loves the trumpet part of “The Victors” (see above).