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Marching band, from ‘A’ to Zeppelin

Susan Bonicillo
By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005
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If you know me, then you probably know that the reason I do most anything is just for the anecdote I’ll get at the end of it. This rationale could explain my latest endeavor in joining the Pride of Arizona marching band.

Band camp was the event that brought me into the fold. Lasting for a week in mid-August, it involved practicing in a heat that feels like someone’s sitting on your chest and licking your face.

For someone who has never marched before to suddenly be thrust into an environment surrounded by these incredible musicians with the lung capacity of blue whales and the ability to hit a mark the size of a poker chip on a football field was both inspiring and intimidating.

To be honest, gentle readers, I started off as abysmal and currently am slowly but surely approaching adequate. I was hoping to reach the mediocre level, but by now it may be too lofty a goal.

For the seasoned veterans of the marching band to encounter a rookie in her senior year of college was quite unheard of. They did regard me as some sort of yeti, which is quite a peculiar thing because the desert is not a particularly welcoming environment for an abominable snowman.

To explain to nonband people why you’d commit yourself to this madness — and it is quite the commitment — is quite difficult. Immediately they respond with the stunningly original retort of “one time at band camp” line, and I cannot help but burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter at how amazingly clever that person was even after hearing this verbal gem for about the 597th time since I joined the band.

But seriously, band represents more than just an opportunity to run your ragged ass around making shapes on a football field.

The desert is not a particularly welcoming environment for an abominable snowman

It’s about holding in the nausea you feel when you first step on the field and see a crowd of rabid, drunken fans.

It’s about pulling on a pair of poly-cotton blend overalls that conceal any sign that you are in fact a woman and then putting on two more layers of clothing before braving the late summer Tucson sun.

It’s about realizing that whoever designed the uniform was probably a masochist with a penchant for sequins.

It’s about working together with about 250 people to put together a show in front of tens of thousands of people, which is probably one of the few times in life you’ll perform in front of such an audience.

At the nucleus of this musical spectacular is associate music professor Jay Carlyle Rees, he of the gleaming, ebony, Pantene Pro-V commercial-worthy hair and piercing, vampire eyes.

Some would say Rees is “scary” or a “hard-ass” or “the embodiment of pure evil,” though he may berate us from a tower soaring 20 feet in the air while we stand there like sweaty peasants below him trying not to look him in the eye lest we spontaneously combust.

He’s more like the farmer from the movie “Babe;” a bit stern but when he gives a compliment you know why you’ve busted your ass in the first place just to hear him say, “That’ll do pig. That’ll do” (so to speak).

Saturday we come to the last home football game of the year, which represents one of the last times the student body will see the 2005 Pride of Arizona.

The show this year is Led Zeppelin and though I may be biased it promises to be a great show. If you haven’t heard “Stairway to Heaven” played on a tuba, then you haven’t truly lived.

Marching band is a subculture at this university. When returners tell me that band is life, there is no denying that it does take up a huge chunk of your life that gets misunderstood by the nonmarching public.

In recent years the most famous depiction in cinema has been the Alyson Hannigan character of the “American Pie” movies who had creative uses for a flute. I generally try to stay away from these caricatures, but there is probably some truth to the repressed and slightly depraved nature of the marcher.

When you think about it, marching band is a lot like copulation. It’s all that built-up tension and excitement, heavy breathing and fumbling around with instruments all for an activity that’s over in a few minutes. But at least with the halftime show we can ensure that both males and females can come out with smiles on their faces and slightly satisfied.

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