David and Art - Friday Night Lights

Sep 21, 2020

High school artists are also found beneath the famous Friday Night Lights

For better or worse, the pandemic version of the 2020 high school football season has begun.  Its kick-off sends an electric charge through a lot of people who’ve eagerly looked forward to Friday nights this fall.  The coaches and players, however, are just part of the excitement.  Friday nights also mean marching bands, one of the most visible art programs in the public schools.

Like the football teams that perform before and after halftime, all high school marching bands begin working on their craft in the heat of the summer, weeks before you get to watch them.  When I was in high school at Irving High, we started practicing on the first of August and began every day at dawn so we could

get in as much work as possible before it got too hot. Even then, we could count on one or two kids passing out at practice each year while standing at attention.

I asked a friend of mine what he remembers most about those days. “The hardest thing about summer band,” Jason said immediately, “was being there so early.  I found myself wishing for school to start, because then band didn’t start until 7:30.”

In marching bands, the music and the marching are two distinct and separate challenges that must be learned to perfection and then molded together. You have to know where you are on the field at all times and whether the line you just marched over was the 30-, 35-, or 40-yard line. Because my high school marched military style (big blocks of players always moving back and forth), one wrong move could trigger a chain reaction that would bring the whole show crashing down in a confused scrum.  In fact, my high school band director Glen Oliver was the first person I ever heard use the phrase “train wreck” to describe something other than a literal train wreck.

Whether it’s the music of George M. Cohan, a show we played my freshman year, or something original, musicianship is only part of what goes on in this most complex of art programs. Because the upperclassmen are very involved with teaching the freshman, many students get their first experience with authority through the marching band.  “It was the first real leadership position for those of us who were drum majors and section leaders,” remembers another friend, Jeff, who played for four years in the Ennis High School band.  

The point of this is to encourage you to change things up a bit when you’re at a game. This year when you’re socially distanced in the stands, wait to go to the concession stand until the third quarter. If you hang around and watch the halftime shows, you’ll see two bands full of students who are working as hard on their art as any sports team works on its game and who appreciate a crowd maybe even more.