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I have an affinity for magnificent endings. The final words of a novel, the last bite of a salted caramel chocolate bar, or the teetering crescendos of a timpani at the end of a grand symphony by Beethoven are just a few examples. When life presents you with beautifully packaged situations, like Christmas presents on display during the holidays, you can almost taste the finality and accomplishment that is waiting for you at the end of it all. Thus, as I nervously approached the fifteen-foot metal podium to conduct the finale of my last senior year marching band show, I wondered if the conclusion of my marching band experience would live up to what I had hoped for.
I rubbed my sweaty hands anxiously in anticipation for the second half of the show, in which I was to conduct the finale. I am aware of the brilliant dazzling lights as well as the crowd’s cheers competing with the band blasting the jazzy runs of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen. And as I do before every performance, I mentally review the few checkpoints that prepare me for this last hurrah. In fact, it is these very checkpoints that translate to the bigger lessons that I have gathered from my experience in marching band.
The first is to stay confident. My job as a drum major is to conduct the band and control the tempo. There is no room to be sheepish. Previous unfortunate situations have forced me to realize that a drum major without a backbone leads to the music falling apart, as the different sections of the band don’t establish the important connection necessary in a marching band. “Confidence is key” is something that has been ingrained in me as a leader, and a phrase I repeat to myself whenever I need to strengthen my resolve, in any situation.
Then, I remind myself to pay close attention to how the sections of the band phrase the music, and to accept their tempo if they all play well together. If I try to fight what my team has already set for me, I will only create unnecessary friction. In this sense, compromise is everything. Even off the field, compromise and understanding the sentiments of others can be eye-opening and humbling.
I move to the next fundamental concept on my checklist: remembering your passion. Even though it’s a drum major’s responsibility to provide the tempo, it is also his or her duty to indicate emotion in the music, and inspire the band. It’s imperative to remember the millions of rehearsals where you felt stronger than the sun, or like collapsing in a heap of sweat and tears, because to me that constitutes passion. Through the years, I have learned to translate my adoration for this activity into everything I do. While intelligence and technical skills may allow one to go quite far in life, nothing can replace fueling passion into hard work to achieve aspirations. The first half of the show has now concluded, and I can hear the encouraging cheers from the crowd as I look across the field and see all the faces of the band members, each flush with eagerness. As the smooth synthetic grass from the stadium cushions my every step, I finally remind myself of perhaps the most crucial yet surprisingly forgettable thing about performing: to enjoy every second of it.
The podium greets me like an old friend. I grip the sides of the ladder, and try to commit this bittersweet feeling to memory. As my arms extend I can barely contain my excitement – I feel ready after going through my checklist. The sadness that comes with endings has dissipated, replaced with a sharp alacrity for what is in store for me on the horizon. I wave my arms to introduce the first ringing note of Karn Evil 9 and let the music sink in.