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Grandstand Brass Band

I've had my head on the TV tray which currently serves as my desk for the past twenty minutes, struggling to pull the Ohio State Marching Band's game day into a discernable word collage, all meaningful and colorful and deep and crap like that, and it should shock absolutely none of you that I simply cannot, and also that I kind of dozed off for about 18 of said minutes.  The day happened so fast, and was so surreal, and so *^%# %(#&% with a /%@&* hot, that there is no earthly way to do it justice in usual Blonde Champagne liveblog fashion.

And as I suspected, game day was in no way just game day.  It was the entire previous week, which began with no band, continued with a brand spanking new one named on Wednesday night, and finished with oh wait there goes Jason The Ridiculously Young Drum Major, only he's in That Uniform with a complete, precisely stepping full and proper marching band behind him.  Huh. 

When I began mapping out my time in Columbus, I was Very Serious about posting daily, if not several times a day, in order to keep up with the new information, freshly slain.  This was before I found out about early season two-a-days-- six hours of rehearsal, musical and marching, then musical AND marching.  So I'd attend these, then cram in essay grading and fellowship fulfillment, and suddenly it was 3 AM and I was fumbling to point the mouse correctly and realizing that I hadn't seen or heard my housemate in the last five hours or so.

I can't tell the story of that game without letting you know what took place beforehand, and here's the weird kicky Irony Thingie:  Right now, at this pace, I can't properly post as-it-happens without missing something else.  This is, however, why God gave us paper and illegible handwriting and also notetaking apps which far exceed my understanding and touch-screen jamming ability. 

It is a glorious problem to have. Sometimes I have to type the soothing words "WRITE IT LATER YOU IDIOT" at the end of notes because, left unchecked, I'd spiel off into 2500 words about nearly falling over a trombonist asleep under a row of chairs in the Band Center as somebody somewhere else did something equally rocket-metaphoric, probably a baritone player lovingly polishing his horn with a compound of Dawn, warm water, and 20 cc's of his own protoplasm. 

I'll backtrack once the shock of these early days slows into single daily practices.  In fact I'll back this brass up right into Spring Game in March, Drum Major tryouts in May, Summer Sessions, and last week's tryouts.  There are observations and discussions I felt I needed to hold back until the season had arrived, which was of course an unmitigated fail of a decision, given that yesterday, if you count it as beginning at midnight, I found myself dumpster diving for my car keys at 4 AM, discovering a cheerful decorative orange sticker on the window of my car courtesy of Ohio State which contained the words "vehicle" and "tow," misplacing a self-cooked dinner for nineteen people, and standing bareheaded in the pouring rain watching the Band rehearse Saturday's halftime show, also bareheaded and also in the pouring rain, only they were marching, and Jason was squinting straight up into it trying to keep the baton in the air.

So yes, there is more of this and to this.  And inevitably, much like a reality show featuring Casey Anthony and OJ Simpson sharing a one-bedroom apartment, it will come.


Saturday, September 3

Ohio State vs. Akron

Ohio State University Marching Band Alumni Game

Of all the ways I imagined this day would begin, "with the voice of the 54th Ohio State Marching Band Drum Major" was not one of them.

"Good morning, Alex.""She is the worst one-woman D-Row EVER."

"Bright-eyed and bushy tailed?"

"Yes, Alex." 

"So are you on your way here?"

"Yes, Alex." (Technically true; I was in the process of celebrating 90 consecutive minutes of sleep by standing in my rented room, soaking wet and in a towel.)

"So I'm at the practice field."

"I'll be there soon."

"I'm out here gettin' my twirl on."

"I'm very glad to hear that."

(Kickoff is at noon.)

"It's still dark."

"Yeah, it's... early."

"And I forgot to eat breakfast."

"Alex, can I bring you something to eat?"

"Oh... you don't have to do that!"

Other, lesser people manage to work the whole "Would you mind terribly swinging by Tim Horton's as you proceed in my general direction" deal into the first sixty seconds or so of a pre-dawn conversation; Alex Neffenger turns it into a Socratic questioning exercise until I stumble into this really great idea, all by myself, of providing his breakfast.  That is why he is Alex Who Talks Real Pretty and the rest of us just stand there and listen, dripping.

Still the Asscrack of AM:  We're shoved up on 80 degrees already and dawn is just breaking over Ohio Stadium.  The Band is in the parking lot, rehearsing and preparing for inspection.  The rookies have been here since 5 AM because the uniform is a quasi-military nightmare of straps, buttons, and crossbelts which take time and a brigade of valets to don properly.  I was a slacker latecomer, here at 6:14 AM with my camera and little sack of Twirl Fuel for Alex.

In a tailgate somewhere beyond, I overheard the following conversation at very high decibels:

"Should we go to bed?"

"We're too f-ed up to go to bed."

We don't deserve you, Josh Halter, and yet... you grace us with your supposedly subdued presence regardless.The Dawn:  Twas a big day for many friends of Blonde Champagne: This was Josh Halter The Supposedly Subdued One's first Alumni Game performance and the first time I've ever seen him perform; I'd never seen Stewart Kitchen go at it with a baton in person either.  The increasingly Reader-fascinating Greg Eyer was participating in Scriptapalooza (more on this in a moment), and, of course, this was my first opportunity to see Jason in full-on game day Drum Major Mode.  In retrospect I'm frankly surprised that the Earth didn't crack open and swallow us all, so undeserving are we of such riches.

11:42 AM:  Of all the ways I imagined what watching my first game day ramp entrance would be like, "hiding behind a dumpster" was not one of them.

There was a snafu with my media field pass, in the sense that it did not, apparently, exist.  I was forced to scalp my way into the stadium with half an hour to go before kickoff, and, no offense, Akron Zips, but tickets were available for somewhat under face value.  I got in pretty much on the trade value of the leftovers of Alex's breakfast combo.

I didn't have time to make it to my little patch of metal in the stadium, which had originally functioned as my consolation prize ("Well, at least I'll see ramp from the stands, with the people"), so I stayed by the ramp itself.  Ushers were shooing the faithful away at a rapid rate, so I dropped down beside the concrete barriers and flew casual.  I activated my mighty superpowers of not being particularly attractive or otherwise memorable and went blessedly unnoticed.

I saw the Band speed in from a dead stop to the precision stepping which marks them as them, the roar from the crowd whisking them onto the field.  The whistle sounded.  And with the rest of the Band no longer filing past him, I saw Jason from the waist up, stock still, alone amongst the concrete, and in the very second this registered, he too was gone. 

I don't have pictures of any of this.  That's okay.  I do not need them.

At some point: A football game took place.

Halftime:  This year marks the 75th anniversary of Script Ohio, and the Band's Assistant Director Jon Waters, who is naught but pure beastly marvelousness disguised as a mere mortal with a conductor's baton, had decided to celebrate.  He had decided to celebrate by creating the largest Script Ohio event the world has ever seen.  It would be the Titanic of Scriptdom, only with, you know, less death and wreckage.

Usually, the highlight of an Alumni Game is the "quad script," with four formations spooling out simultaneously. The Varsity Band is split in half and marches in the endzones as the Alumni Band, also halved, spells across the hash marks of the football field.  While the loops of the facing Alumni "h" both brush the sides of the Ohio State logo at the 50, the Varsity Band doesn't take up nearly as much central Ohio real estate.  This year, however, OSUMB was kept at full strength to form a full-sized single Script in the Stadium's South endzone while the Alumni Band crammed into the other three, which were also full-sized.

I saw the drill charts. They were months in the making and only slightly less complex than the schematics of your average Imperial Star Destroyer.  At some points various members of various bands were passing in opposite directions within less than five yards of one another.  There were 772 people out there spelling. 

Look for Greg in the Script facing East (facing away from the camera) and Stew Kitchen in the North endzone, opposite from the Varsity Band:

Moral of the story:  If the need ever again arises for multinational forces numbering in the tens of thousands to simultaneously land on the beaches of France while underground resistance teams and enormous air patrols provide cover, Jon Waters needs to be at the top of your contacts list.

Sometime In the Middle of the Fourth Quarter:  Here at Satan's Armpit Day here at Ohio Stadium, there were temperature reports of 130 degrees on the turf, and the Band was permitted to remove their heavy wool jackets.  I was seated draped over a bleacher seat behind them in Section Everest, Seat BFE, and couldn't really see much of what happening, but so many fans were hitting the exits that by the time the game was over, I was able to slither my way down a few rows to see the Band fall out. 

Normally this is a highly regimented and formal procedure, but this week there was no post-game program, so in order to avoid simply allowing everyone to wander off into the desert, Jason dismissed them from the stands with an "O-H-I-O" for the road. 

Post Game:  Trailing a trumpet player to a distant parking garage, I dumped out what remained of my warm water and hoisted my backpack to the opposite shoulder.  The security check tag placed there in the morning was crumpled and faded and damp.  We had this in common.

Weaving down the sidewalk in the opposite direction, two fans spotted the marcher, now with her blue coat back, hat still properly centered.  They raised their hands in the air.

"WHOOOOO!"  they screamed.  "BAAAAAAANNNND!"

She lifted her instrument in acknowledgement, and I stayed quietly behind her, listening to her mirror-shined shoes strike the warm ground.

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