Only a few people in the world still wear their middle school band shirt at twenty-four years old. I am one of those people. In my closet hangs a red polo shirt with a white scripted “Jeremiah” above the pocket and Salado Band spelled out in large block letters on the back. I wear it because a) it still fits, and b) it says something about me. I like to think I’m asserting my uniqueness, making myself a little more interesting. It’s a conversation piece, that I wear. But more likely my bright red shirt tells everyone, not, I am a unique and interesting person, but rather “I was, and probably still am, a huge nerd.” More accurately, a huge band nerd.
As long as I wear this shirt, I will never be cool. But I don’t care, I’m proud of my band nerd past. Kind of. I practiced my instrument every day during Middle School. I was the kid carrying the beat up trombone case to and from his mom’s car every single day. Trombone’s are relatively large instruments, and the cases are even larger. Bigger still are the large bore trombones with the F trigger. Nevertheless, I lugged that thing home and back every single day. My hard work earned me both a new nickname (“nerd”), usually repeated quitely as I walked past Adam before class, and first chair in the band. My 8th grade year, I made first chair regional band, and I played “Jupiter” with some of the best 7th and 8th grade trombonists in San Antonio. This was the pinnacle of my musical career. It’s been pretty much a steady decline since then.I still practiced in high school, but not quite so regularly, especially after I discovered that I didn’t really have all that much, well, talent. I mean, I’m not tone deaf or anything, but I realized I don’t really have whatever it takes to be a professional musician. I made regional band a couple of times, but never made it to city or state or whatever comes after that. I fluctuated between first and second chair, attended practice, but I gave up my ambition of being a professional musician.
Still, I took lessons from a very large man and very talented trombonist named Ron. Very few people have intimidated me like Ron. He could play flight of the bumblebee on the trombone (which is very difficult, by the way) and his biceps were bigger than my head. Six feet tall and with hair pulled back in a rat tail, muscular arms the size of my trombone case, and a very scary grin, he would terrify me and some of the other trombonists brave enough to take a half hour lesson from him. When he didn’t show up for rehearsals I felt a relief like you feel when you wake from the dream where you forgot to study for the test and then accidentally ran over your neighbors cat because you’ve been distracted by the cops pulling you over to arrest you for your involvement in an illegal drug cartel. It was that kind of relief.
All of this happened during concert season, which I never really enjoyed that much. Our band never had much success when it came to playing music well. Or marching. But marching band season was fun, even if you sucked. Well, not so much the actual marching. A few weeks before school started we would lug our instruments into the 98 degree heat and march around the soccer field learning how to roll our feet when we marched, and trying to decipher confusing charts so we could get someone to go to a point exactly seven and a half steps below the hash mark on the 37 yard line and form a wavy line with someone six and half steps below the hash mark on the 33 yard line. Then you had to reach that spot on with your left foot on the 2nd beat of third measure of Hoe Down while turning quickly towards the sideline. And make sure to hold your trombone up! I was not particularly good at this. But on Fridays, during the football game, I never had as much fun playing my trombone as I did when playing “Oye Como Va” as loud as I possibly could.
Rice University has a marching band called the MOB (Marching Owl Band). The MOB didn’t actually march, but instead would run from formation to formation, playing songs, while an announcer would make fun of the opposing team. These jokes have been toned down some, but the MOB has really pissed off a lot of opposing teams in the past. At one point in the 1970s, they found themselves trapped in the stadium by a group of very angry Aggies because they had made fun of their dog. Playing off of the MOB theme, the members wear pin striped suits and fedoras. Most play instruments, but a small group of the oddest individuals run around waving props, blowing on kazoos, and occasionally wearing those flesh colored naked suits. My freshman roommates was one of these.
I enjoyed the MOB for a period. The highlight was probably asking a stadium of 109 thousand university of Michigan fans to stand up for their state song, and then playing “O, Canada.” Eventually, I moved on, for lots of reasons. For one, I found that I didn’t really fit in. Imagine the goofiest people from the nerdiest college in Texas, and you have the MOB. They were fun, but just different than me. These people make lots of jokes that only math majors understand and enjoy wearing togas to football games. Not that there is anythign wrong with that, I’m just not that kind of person. Partly because I’m not smart enough to get all those math jokes, partly because I don’t work out enough to look good in a toga. So I left the MOB behind.
My trombone lives in a closet at my parents house, now. I keep thinking someday I might play again, but it’s pretty unlikely. So now I just have my middle school band shirt, to remind people, and myself, that I was once a band nerd.