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Monday
Nov142011

Sailing the Singing Breeze

It is a life lived in fortissimo, and now it is time to hush.

In addition to saving the planet one coronet solo at a time, The Ohio State University Marching Band is a big, big recording talent.  Thus doth they close what's known as "concert week," a series of performances towards the end of the season when everybody gets to sit down for once, which still isn't as pleasant as it sounds-- the concert they played in Dayton took place on a stage which squished them into half the space in which they rehearse, which meant the sousaphone players were unable to put down their enormous freaking horns between songs, which meant they came off the risers at intermission hunched and wincing. 

I began to hug one member of KL Row, Emily, and she yelped, which is the usual reaction when I try to hug people, but this time the hugee was living in pain rather than fear, so I administered a congratulatory shoulder rub instead.  By the time she could stand upright a line of sousaphonists had formed behind her, and so I put my writing degree to work as an utterly unlicensed osteotherapist. I look forward to the malpractice lawsuits.

After two such events in the space of three days, the Best Damn Band in in the Land sits for about four hours and plays the same damn thing for an album.  And then there's another concert.  And then they get to visit the drinking fountain and maybe take a midterm.

This is the only time of the year when sheet music is permissible, for it is quite the comp final exam; this Band is playing each halftime show its learned throughout the year.  That means shifts from big band swing to classical to Broadway to rock with maybe a standing ovation in between.

It also means shushing their normal sound level down from Eleven so as to avoid threatening the structural foundation of the theaters in which they play.  During Summer Sessions, I saw one squad leader stomp past his row, announcing, "YOU MUST.  BLOW.  AIR.  THROUGH.  YOUR INSTRUMENT.  IN ORDER.  TO MAKE.  SOUND!!!!"; now, the focus is on tone, dynamics, and not stripping the paint off the auditorium walls.

The recording session began with the longest warm-up and tuning klatch I'd seen all year.  "Breathe and play," Assistant Director Waters told his charges.  "Exaggerate the soft."

Sometimes the soft was so exaggerated that between the takes, I could hear my pen scratching across my notebook paper, and so I more often than not put down my own instrument.  For a Band which begins each work day with an extended drum cadence and a rendition of "Buckeye Battle Cry" so blaring that some of the musicians wear custom earplugs, this was Work.   They're a 225-member pantheon of marching deities, and they are built for making music on the move.  But in the wake of watching them whip an auditorium brimming with kids to full Red Bull Alert Status by daring them to out-scream their trumpets, this Band was once again reminding me that their brilliance is sometimes the most glaringly obvious in moments of muted waiting.

When they raised their horns, I heard the valves rattle; each time the piece ended, the conductors allowed the sound to bleed into the walls and wood and velvety seats until the last echo faded.  This is not the way of football Saturdays, or even concert settings. 

But it is, occasionally and gloriously, the way of this Band.

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