Essay:After All These Years, I’m Still a Band Kid at Heart

Writer Caroline Bell talks about her time in marching band and how it still plays into her life.

The number one piece of advice I was given going into college was to not let who I was and what I did in high school become my entire personality. College would give me a fresh start with new people. I could become whoever I wanted to be.

Needless to say, I failed to take that advice.

I was a band kid in high school — a detail my college friends are well aware of. I’m guilty of slipping off-topic, band-related stories into conversations. I make my family rewatch my old marching band performances every fall. Whenever my high school friends and I get together, we reminisce about mishaps during practices and stories our band director used to tell.

To be fair, my entire high school experience revolved around band — marching band, specifically. During the fall, we practiced almost every day of the week, including during school. Fridays meant football games, and Saturdays were reserved for either competitions or full-day practices.

It was invigorating yet exhausting. We marched in the dead of summer, heat rising from the blacktop as we repeated the same sets over and over. We tossed hand warmers back and forth during the winter, our bare fingers too stiff to play our instruments. I quickly learned the words “one more time” actually meant we’d be there another half hour.

But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

I enjoyed the challenge that came with playing complicated music and marching intricate drills. I learned to cherish the late-night practices, long bus rides and even the drama within the trumpet section, which I was a member of. But above all, I loved being part of a group that felt like a second family — weird uncles and overbearing mothers included.

Marching band taught me some valuable lessons which shaped me into who I am today. I was taught that every mistake affected the entire band. If I didn’t know the music, the judges would only hear my blunders. If I moved at the wrong time, the judges would only see my misstep.

Our band director constantly preached “personal responsibility in daily effort” — or P.R.I.D.E. — and encouraged us to actively work to better ourselves, both on and off the field. As long as I was confident in the work I put in throughout the season, I would be confident in my performance at competitions.

As the years went on, I began to feel more self-assured. 

On the field, I learned to speak up when I had suggestions to offer. I found that I was capable of being a leader even if I wasn’t in an official leadership position.

Off the field, I learned to surround myself with genuinely good people. 

To this day, my very best friends are the people I met through band. I’m immediately shocked whenever I hear someone say they don’t talk to people they went to high school with anymore, because that’s my support system — those are the people I know like the back of my hand.

Every marching season ended with Bands of America Grand National Championships, a national marching band competition that brings around 110 bands together to determine the best of the best. Because Loyola lacks a marching band — although we do have a pep band — I get my marching band fix at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium every November.

This past Nov. 11, I watched from the stands as my high school marching band performed the same song that closed out my freshman year show in 2016. I had goosebumps as I sang along to the same trumpet part I played seven years ago. I’ll admit, I sobbed. I couldn’t help myself.

I imagined my friends and I on that same field, playing that same song at 14 years old. I remembered how soft the turf felt under my shoes, how the echo of the stadium rang in my ears. At that moment, I ached to be part of the group — to be marching on that field just one more time.

I thought about how far I’ve come. My life has changed immensely in the nearly four years since high school. I’ve lived through a pandemic, lost loved ones and had to reckon with the realities of adulthood. But marching band has always been there, whether I’m watching my younger brothers march at competitions or singing songs from old performances on FaceTime with my friends.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never stop talking about marching band, but I’ve got good reason not to. Marching band gave me my best friends. It helped me bond with my brothers. It taught me how to move through life with confidence. And for that, I’m forever grateful.

Feature image courtesy of Caroline Bell

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