Saturday, May 5, 2012

It’s a Bird; It’s a Plane; It’s a Tuning Slide!

High school marching band is the source of many wonderful memories for me.  Some of the best parts of my four years of high school come from band rehearsals, competitions and camps.  I loved marching band, but then, it’s hard not to love something when you’re the best at it. Of all our competitions during those four years, there was one in which we did not take 1st place, State my freshman year, when we took 2nd place by .03 of a point. 

imageFrom all those great memories, one that remains an easy favorite is from the Burlington High Chocolate Festival my junior year.  It was our first year at this particular competition.  Our old assistant band director, Mr. Mannisto, had left Cudahy High School to become the main band director at Burlington High.  He invited our band to compete at his new school’s invitational.

The first piece ended with a nice double forte.  We held our instruments high, blasting out our last note.  In unison with the drum major’s arms, we snapped our instruments down to attention, holding perfectly rigid, heads held high, in perfect formation on the field.  One of my section mates, Will, snapped his horn down a little too hard.  Something flew over my head, the glint of light reflecting off the shiny brass catching my eye.  It was his tuning slide!  Plop, it landed in the grass some feet in front of me, just behind another of our section members.

“Don’t move,” I could hear one of the first trombone’s mutter through gritted teeth from behind me.  But the guy in front of me either didn’t hear or didn’t listen.  While we were all standing straight at attention, waiting for the drum major to start our next song, the guy in front of me bent down and picked up the tuning slide.  He stood up, staying nearly at attention, holding the tuning slide over his shoulder as if expecting someone to take it from him. 

When the drum major called, “Band! Horns up!” to begin the next number and no one had relieved the poor guy of the tuning slide he never should have picked up, he dropped it and brought his horn up to play.  His first move was diagonally backwards,  exactly in the direction of the discarded tuning slide.  With the precise movement of a skilled marcher, he took a firm step backwards and marched right onto that tuning slide.

For him, that was the end of the tuning slide incident; the show went on as normal.  But for our two first trombones, it was only the beginning.  Without a tuning slide,2012_03_02_22_01_020013 it was not only impossible for Will to play, it was difficult for him to even hold up the horn.  Trombone tuning slides also contain a weight that balances out the heavy bell from the front of the horn.  But Will was big and strong even then, and he held the horn up and moved his slide as if he were actually playing.  Our section leader was left to carry the entire first part by himself, covering for the silent Will.  He pulled it off nicely.

At the end of the show, as we stood together at the side of the field, listening to our band director tell us what we did well and what we did wrong, our assistant band director approached the trombone section.  “Did anyone lose a tuning slide?”

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