For the past three years, late July and early August were reserved by our family for that time-honored experience known as Band Camp.
OK, we’ll get the joke out of the way up front. “This one time, at band camp...”
That famous line from the 1999 movie “American Pie” permanently labeled band campers as awkward, socially inept nerds.
But the truth is far from the Hollywood version of band camp.
Over a five-day period the students will memorize music, learn intricate marching routines and how to do both things at the same time without running into each other or hitting a sour note.
I’ve often considered football to be a beautiful sort of choreography, a kind of organized chaos. But imagine 85 football players on the field at the same time, each one dependent on his or her teammate to do exactly the right thing at the right time. Chances are that wouldn’t happen more than one time in 50 tries.
By the time the marching band steps on the field, though, they will have that long set of choreographed moves down to perfection. For the average fan who stays in his seat during halftime, every move will look purposeful and sharply executed.
Band camp, though, is much more than learning steps and music. It is a real bonding experience. The students will be 45 miles from home. They’ll be bunking with each other and spending all their waking hours together. It’s hard not to forge a bond after a shared experience like that.
If you ever want to see how that manifests itself, though, come to a band competition on a Saturday in October. Watch the band members as they prepare for the competition. Watch as they compare notes on the other bands they compete against. Watch as they find out they’ve won first place in their classification. You’ll know as soon as you see those things that band camp taught them how to work together and share a vision for a common goal.
This will mark our daughter Pitt’s final band camp. A few years ago, she trudged off to that first camp at Wesleyan College with a great deal of worry and trepidation. She didn’t know if she’d be able to memorize the music and she had no idea of what to expect from the marching practice. Her primary goal was to survive the experience so she could go home with some sense of her dignity still left intact.
Last week, though, her perspective was radically different.
“Dad,” she said. “Do you realize band camp is only two weeks from now? I can’t wait. I’m so excited.”
Part of that change in attitude is due to maturity and experience. She’s learned that the purpose of band camp is to build a cohesive group of people, working together to achieve a common purpose. And she’s learned that the free time they have at band camp is easy to fill with dozens of other people all around to enjoy.
Band camp, if you aren’t aware, is also a big production for parents who volunteer to do everything from line a practice football field, prepare meals and keep uninvited guests out of the bedroom corridors. There’s time for the parents to get to know each other a little bit too, which makes band camp a really good place for even the adults to make some new friends.