On my thirteenth birthday, my parents got me Purdue vs. Notre Dame football tickets on the 50 yard line. As the All-American Marching Band (AAMB) took the field for their pre-game performance, I looked out over the block P and promised myself that one day I would be on that field.
Six years later, I walked out onto a muddy grass field as a freshman at Purdue clutching my trumpet for my first day of auditions. Out of the 300+ students auditioning for the band, I was the only one who had never marched before. I couldn’t even walk in step and play at the same time. My trumpet pointed towards the ground more than it did the sidelines. I was by far the worst person on that field. I was so bad the senior student leaders pulled me aside after rehearsal each to work with me privately.
By Wednesday I was convinced that I would be cut on Friday and seriously considered quitting and going to see a movie with my high school friend instead. I admitted this to the student leader who would become one of my closest friends throughout college and mentor throughout my marching career, and he promised I wasn’t as bad as I thought (believe me, I was terrible). I decided I’d worked too hard to get to this point, and I might as well finish out the week of auditions. Finally Friday rolled around I sat with the other rookies praying to hear my name called for a rank assignment. My name was called. I made it.
My four years in Purdue’s All-American Marching Band were some of the most rewarding, frustrating, and educational moments of my life so far. We rehearsed Monday-Friday from 3:30-5:30 pm from August through November and into December if we made a Bowl game. By my junior year, I earned a student leader position and was given my first real dose of leadership experience.
Thanks to a stress fracture while marching drum corps over the summer, I spent my senior season on the sidelines acting as a tech for my section. I became the student leader who pulled the freshman aside who needed extra work during camp and throughout the season. I held extra practice sessions to help the growing number of rookies who wanted to be part of the AAMB, but like me were not offered the opportunity to march in high school.
Other than leadership you learn a lot of other skills while marching. Here are a few:
1. How to fit (and march with) an entire Jimmy John’s sandwich up the arm of your sleeve or strapped to your leg. (The only food we got in the stadium was a hot dog, which I despise.) I’m not sure when I’ll need this skill again, but there might be a day.
2. You learn how to work with people with different backgrounds and personalities, preparing you for the workplace.
3. You learn time management. Taking a full load of classes plus two hours of rehearsal every day and Saturdays spent at football games takes a good amount of planning. As a freshman, I quickly learned that I would be exhausted after rehearsal (I was still really bad and had to work really hard) and it was best to get as much homework done before rehearsal as I could.
My college experience was a little different from my non-band friends. I didn’t get up at 5am to go Breakfast Club (drinking in costumes) on game days. I was on the drill field in uniform somewhere around 7 am. I didn’t join a sorority because there wasn’t time to do both, and I already had my Purdue family. I was part of a tradition that dates back to 1886. One year before Purdue had a football team. I got to be part of the first Big Ten team to lead the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. And no matter where I have moved around the country, there have always been AAMB friends nearby easing the transition into a new city.
If somehow this post appears on a screen in front of a high school senior who is on the fence about taking that step onto the drill field for auditions, do it. It will be the greatest decision you will make during your college career (other than choosing Purdue). Boiler up!