Sunday, July 8, 2007

Once a band geek...

By the end of high school, I'd had enough of the whole marching band scene. But at one point I was interested enough to follow the Drum and Bugle Corps -- these are near-professional über-bands that do nothing but practice a 15 minute show 15 hours a day for 2-3 months every summer. Besides, at the time Bloomington had its own new ("corporate-sponsored") corps, Star of Indiana, and hosted a summer competition. Drum corps tapes were passed from walkman to walkman (remember those? -- they were new then) on band trips.

At some point, it all seemed a bit cult-ish. Or maybe it was just part of going off to college (one that didn't have a marching band, I might add). So, for twenty years I really hadn't thought much about drum lines, 8-to-5 steps, or how polyester is not breezy in August, but porous in November.

But now it's high school reunion time, which means you get some sort of Biological Condition that makes you remember these things. Problem now is that we have Google and You Tube, so in a matter of minutes I was watching old shows from the 80's and forwarding links to friends. Shortly after that, I was searching for the nearest show to NYC.

And so, last night we ended up in Allentown, Penn. at the DCI Eastern Classic, watching and listening to people who weren't even born the last time I'd seen a show. For those of you who haven't experienced 100+ drummers and buglers blasting away into your face, here's an excerpt of the Phantom Regiment's show:

After twenty years of abstinence, it was intoxicating. Even if we were sitting on the minus-ten yard line. That's right, we had a dead-on view of the goalposts; every high-school band student from 200 miles around must've bought tickets early.

For any fellow band geek out there, here's a brief review:

  • The Madison Scouts still seem to be all-male. And they were the only corps to take advantage of their chorale warm-up by warming up the crowd. Tricky, but good.
  • Santa Clara Vanguard, for me, remains high-performance but somehow not completely satisfying.
  • Carolina Crown (which I don't think existed "back then") was sweet and wonderful musically. They were the only ones that had the crowd leaping to their feet on the last note -- no cerebral delay due to high-brow music.
  • Phantom Regiment still rocks. Wow.
  • The Cadets (aka "Garfield"). Hmm. Being twenty years older, I now recognize the genotype: they are the FIJIs or Goldman Sachs of drum corps. Arrogant, but undeniably a fine machine. But this year it's their show that's annoying -- they've got some narration being amplified all throughout their show. It's full of clichés, self-satisfaction ("Excellent!" it shouts at one point) and has way too many over-aspirated Ps that Pop and Pound till all you want to say is "Puck off!". The anti-Cadets faction (which is probably most other corps) is putting out "Shut up and Play" tee shirts. That's pretty succinct and right on.

Sadly, the Cadets appear to have won, with Phantom Regiment finishing second. Just as well that we didn't stay for the scores, but then that was never the point for me anyway.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Somewhere in the last couple of weeks I passed my fourth anniversary of re-starting piano lessons. It's been fantastic (well, maybe not for the neighbors), and I now approach the piano in a way I couldn't have imagined even existing. (That's not to say I play better than I can imagine.)

By now I've heard the same aphorisms many times. (My teacher is very patient.) And they're not only worth hearing again from time to time, but worth writing down lest I forget. If they seem like Zen Koans to you, then you've got a good idea of what this trip has been like.

Thou shalt Not Reach.

I don't go the notes. The notes come to me.

The faster I play, the slower I move.

Speed is only a state of mind.

The preparation is in the opposite direction of the intent: to go right, first go left.

The shortest distance between two points is a curve.

Any muscle that's not helping is hurting.

If you spend 15 minutes in the gym, you've spent 15 minutes practicing the piano.

One doesn't play the piano with the fingers. They may touch the keys, but the playing comes from all of you.

People confuse mechanics and technique. Mechanics is how to play the written notes; technique is the ability to achieve your intent.

Music is comprised of Breath, Tone and Pulse. If any of those are missing, it's dead.

There is Structural Analysis, Harmonic Analysis and then there is Emotional Analysis.

The great pianists aren't making it look easy; it IS easy. (For them, of course.)

"Genius" is mostly wrongly applied to music. Playing the piano is learning a craft, and that can be taught.

It's as if our bodies are built perfectly for playing: every joint, muscle and tendon is used in beautiful playing.

Understanding is not the same thing as accomplishing.

OK, so the last one is mine. At best, I think I now have an understanding. The accomplishing may take the better part of a decade, but I'm looking forward to it.