Oh To See One Of Those Old Fashion High School Marching Bands Again

I’m going to piss off a lot of good folks with this piece, because I’m going to call today’s version of high school marching bands wimpy and boring — what I call dancing bear, bongo drum bands.

You see when I was a young man in high school back in the late 1950s I played trombone in one of the best bands in the east. It was seven files across across and ten rows long — seventy in all not counting the flag bearers and majorettes. That was pretty big for its day.

We played real marching band music, the sort of soul stirring music composed by the likes of the legendary John Philip Sousa — Washington Post, Liberty Bell, Stars and Strips Forever, Semper Fidelis, etc. The kind that gave folks goose bumps when we marched past.

And when we were not play music we were marching to the beat of a heck of a lot of real snare drums, not one guy taping on a block of wood as if leading a bunch of zombies. Two things put an end to this military style high school band.

The first was the revolution unleashed by Florida A & M University with its jazzed up marching style. It not only did formations on a football field, it also incorporated sophisticated dance steps and different types of percussion instruments. At first, it was a fun thing to watch. But over the years, once every high school band became a poor version of this original, it lost its luster for me.

The second factor to kill off the military style high school marching band was the terrible mistake of the Vietnam War. As anti war sentiment grew there was pressure to rid society of anything that could be thought to symbolize militarism.

It is hard not to sympathize with this sentiment. But, still, I wish someone would come along with the guts to set aside the idea that a real old fashion military style high school marching band can’t be had without it glorifying war. It should be possible to stir emotions and patriotism without promoting warmongering. It just should be!

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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