Thursday, December 30, 2010


Every year, due to the vagaries of scheduling, my hometown college basketball team plays an early conference game during the final week of the year. 

The timing makes things interesting: College towns over college breaks are ghost towns -albeit ghost towns in which the ghosts are kicking back and enjoying life.  Faculty, staff, and townsfolk know there's nothing sweeter than an empty college town.  You enjoy all the upsides of academia (culture, progressive politics) with none of its downsides (surplus of barfing 18-year-olds).  The streets are quiet, tables are available at restaurants, and the town's general level of compliance with traffic regulations vaults five or six notches.

During that time -precious, precious time- just about the only way to catch a glimpse of a student is to cheer on one of the lanky specimens on the basketball court.  Mostly, this is good: less barf, more silence.  But it does present a problem for the athletics department: How do you field a pep band when all your musicians have gone home for break?

There's a clip of the answer above.  The alumni pep band, comprised of folks 23-85 who used to be student members, plays one or two games a year.  The alums drive in from all over the state, dusting off their instruments to stare, cross-eyed, at their tiny music stands.  The band generally starts out kind of rank, but by the end of the evening, win or lose, the pep band has improved.  Tuning is better, ensemble tightens, and the tubas dredge from the depths of their memories the fine skill of turning back and forth without knocking one another over.

I love the alumni pep band.  Every time I see it in action, live or on You Tube, I cry.  I find it difficult to articulate why it moves me, except to notice that each of these people, the insurance salesman from South Bend, the retired accountant, the housewife, the middle school band teacher, the unemployed barfly- has within them a secret pocket of music.  It's as if each person is clutching a bowl of water, carrying it through the long months and at last, at the tail of the year, pouring it out.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

This is fantastic. I had no idea that this exists. What fun.