Tag Archives: trombone

Band Camp Pussy

There’s no harm going way back,…right?

It was a feeling I tried to prevent from creeping in.  Band camp pussy.  While successful most of the time, that pesky voice would appear from seemingly nowhere, hover for a while, performing a muted overture.  I pretended it wasn’t there, ignoring its minor phrase.  The thought though didn’t miss a beat and patiently waited for an encore.

Before high school, I relished team sports where ever I could find them, rec leagues mostly, since the parochial school I attended had no sports.  I wasn’t a tough kid, yet I wasn’t a wuss.  For example, on the football team, I was a halfback on offense, except that I never ran the ball.  That was the job for the other halfback, the fastest guy on the team.  Whenever we ran sweeps, my job was to run in front of him and block.  Because he was so fast, I would dive, arms outstretched, splaying the defensive backs who would fall over me, allowing my teammate a clear path to the goal line.  To congratulate me, the coach would raise my arm after the games to show off my dirt and grass-stained ensemble.  So hey, I knew I wasn’t a wimp.  OK, so this was only a 6-man (haha, kid) midget football league.

Around that time, dear ole dad brought home a couple of instruments — a trombone and a baritone.  He had played both in the Marine band.  Brother D picked up the baritone and I opted for the shiny gold trombone and started lessons soon thereafter.  I loved the ability of sliding, this time into and off of notes.  For the next several years I blew plenty of horn.  By the time I reached high school, I had several years of horn blowing under my belt.  While my friends joined the football team, I played in the band.

I’m not tooting my horn, but in the school orchestra, to the consternation of some upperclassmen, out of seven trombones, as a freshman, I shared 1st trombone chair.  Concert performance pieces dictated our practice.  However, besides the occasional parade march, the physical side of playing was the orchestra’s double-duty of performing at football games.

Every summer, therefore, involved a couple of weeks of band camp.  We had to learn and practice marching formations in a medley of sequences, usually with an eight-count every five yards or 90-degree turn.  And we didn’t just walk.  We high-stepped it, with knees to waist level.  We had to look and sound snappy.

Knees to waist level was the deal.

The seasonal football games were a major school-spirit event.  The band provided minor, periphery entertainment.  Truthfully, I didn’t care for organized football.  I much preferred informal ‘pick-up’ games, found in the many parks around where we lived.  These unofficial games were raucous, energetic, and fun.  School football seemed more tense and brutal.  Sure the theme was strategy, excitement, and heroes, but in a way, we were glamorizing the brutishness.

Essentially I felt relegated to cheerleading as a band member.  The weekly hoopla wasn’t striking the right cord.

Fortunately, I eventually composed a good excuse for quitting the orchestra, and trombone.  Not only was the subliminal band camp pussy message evidently still in tune with a few neurons, but my front teeth were chipped and needed caps, so applying pressure to the horn’s mouthpiece was not to the required scale.  But the conductor opened a spot for me to play the cymbals that year.  I agreed, as marching staccato with the percussion section was invigorating, and crashing cymbals with gusto during The Star Spangled Banner in front of a home crowd yielded whole notes of internal jazz.  But the exhilaration was soon out of pitch.  I think I made it 3/4 through the season before I handed in my spats.  That nagging thought finally won.  Was I indeed a band camp pussy?

A simple but beautifully sounding Conn slide trombone.

I found the Conn slide trombone in its original case buried in storage about 15 years ago and had it refurbished with the delusion of picking it up again.  But blowing horn after such a long break stayed an illusion.  I was flatter than the tires on my carbon road bike.

As a side note, so this message is not left off key, the truth is, band camp was cool.  The physicality, choreography, rhythm, cadence, and the coordination while playing music and witnessing the whole emerge greater than the sum of the parts, produced ample measures of stimulation and gratification.  I’m guessing the pussy part snuck in as a postlude.