10/7/2007 17:54

Marching Bands

A high school marching band stirs the soul. That's what marching bands are designed to do, and there have been several centuries during which that ability has been honed. Military marching bands stir souls and by doing so are reported to have increased the fervor of citizens for killing. College marching bands take on an analogous challenge to increase the fervor of football fans. (That is significantly more benign task than the task of the military band, but conducted with an unfortunate similarity of vocabulary.)

But it is only high school marching bands that I want to consider.

I missed the West High School Homecoming Parade this year. They normally march around a couple of blocks up the street from the school -- pretty big blocks, so the parade route totals something over a mile. Truthfully, the parade is a pretty mild little affair, a few decorated vehicles, two or three police cars and fire trucks, a bit of candy thrown to the younger bystanders, a chance for the teenaged students to show themselves off (those that want to), and of course the marching band.

When I do see the Homecoming Parade I am always just a bit emotional about the fact the we adults are prepared to shut down the public streets and assign police officers and firefighters to the service of a few high school students. It's great that we do so. But it is only when the band begins to play that my soul gets stirred.

My dogs and cats have uniformly held a different opinion of the Homecoming Parade. It is, they insist, too LOUD, too BRIGHT, too CROWDED, and -- most of all -- too UNUSUAL. From this I conclude that high school marching bands are a peculiarly human phenomenon.

I missed West's parade, but I did get down to De Pere for the dedication of the new bridge.

When a major new public facility is built, and an entire city is disrupted for a year or two, we always delay the use of the new facility until a least one full day of gawking and speeches can be held.

I'm sure that is a strictly human phenomenon. Why, after waiting so long, do we delay still longer? It is to stir the soul, I guess, or at least to name the importance and impress that on the memory. For a cat, the nearest equivalent is bringing the mouse to show the master. The cat says, "Look at me! I caught a mouse." In human reality, "Look at us! We built a bridge."

The cat, however, would not arrange for a marching band. De Pere did.

Two, in fact; one from the east side high school ("De Pere") and one from the west side ("West De Pere"). One might suppose that the bands were there to symbolize the reuniting of the city, divided by the Fox River, except that the old bridge was first closed for this event. Or one might suppose that the bands were being called on to provide some pleasant entertainment for the crowd, if only the crowd was paying attention to the music. I think the bands were there strictly to stir the soul.

For myself, the West De Pere Phantoms accomplished their function admirably. The instruments flash, the uniform helmets glitter, the drums roll, the students march.

Still, it isn't only the flash and roll that affects me. Now that I am grown up I can be quite resistant to emotional manipulations, even musical ones. But these musicians are not intentional manipulators. They are teenagers; not wholly without guile but quite innocent of any social or political agenda. That is something which, in the context of stirring drums, quite breaks any barriers I might raise.