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TERRY WOSTER: Marching (and stumbling) in the band

  If a football field has only eight or 10 rows of seats in its bleachers, the top-most level doesn't give the spectator a much more aerial view of the field than the bottom row.

That's important to my story, because when I was in high school, Chamberlain had bleachers around the football field, but only eight or maybe 10 rows. Top or bottom, the spectator was in no danger of picking up a case of altitude sickness or passing out from lack of oxygen. The upper rows of bleachers had the advantage of allowing the spectator to see over the heads of the kids walking between the bleachers and the fence ringing the playing field. The upper rows didn't give the spectator a bird's-eye view of things.

During the time of my story, I led the CHS marching band during halftime performances. I was the drum major. My job was to wait until the players had run off the field for their scolding or bandaging or whatever football guys did between halves of the game. Then I was to form up the band, wait a few seconds longer for Mike Kehrwald and Jerry Melcher and a couple of other musically inclined football players to drop their helmets and pick up their horns, and march my squadron of musicians out onto the field, where I'd lead them in wheeling, spinning -- OK, often confusing, bumping and stumbling -- formations that were supposed to match the tunes we were playing.

The band director put considerable time and thought into creating Model-T Fords and jet airplanes and doggies in the window and other images for the band members to form by cleverly marching to predetermined positions on the field while playing whatever song accompanied the formation. "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window'' sticks in my mind, so I assume we had a dog of some kind among our formations.

I know one show featured a Model-T, or maybe an Oldsmobile 88? That would have gone nicely with "In My Merry Oldsmobile,'' an oldie (even in my high-school days) of a song that featured the memorable lyrics, "Down the road of life we'll fly, automo-bubbling you and I.'' (No, you're right. They sure don't write them like that these days.)

Well, I was a dedicated, if totally mortified, drum major, and I tried as best I could to carry out the marching orders of Mr. Roberts, the wizard of the CHS halftime entertainment. From my vantage point -- sometimes at the head of the columns, sometimes in the middle of the field surrounded by trumpets and saxophones and trombones and such -- I had no idea what forms the forms we were forming were taking. I couldn't see anything except the shoulder-tasseled uniforms of the band members, and now and then the muddy, perspiration-soaked football uniforms of Mike and Jerry.

(Here's something that never occurred to me as I was waving the baton and blowing the whistle. Those football guys dropped their helmets, all right. But they didn't have time to shuck their cleats. They were trying to wheel and deal through the halftime show in football cleats and shoulder pads. We should have given them unsung hero awards or something, just for showing up.)

None of the kids in the band had a clue how our formations looked, either. They were busy weaving among the other musicians to reach their assigned spot (or somewhere near their assigned spot) on the 40-yard line. Sometimes, I suppose, that was simple. Other times, when the wind was blowing the sheets of music from the clips on their horns or the rain was streaking their eyeglasses, following the music and heading toward the right spot must have been a challenge.

And we did all that for an audience that was no more than eight or 10 rows above the field. There's no way the spectators, those who hadn't left for the concession stand, could see the shapes we were trying to make. We might as well have been playing the theme song to that Steve McQueen movie "The Blob,'' for all the doggies and Oldsmobiles and jet airplanes anyone saw.

We tried, though. Oh, mercy, we tried.