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Monday
Oct172011

Your All Night Noise

Many are called.  Few are crossbelted.

The ranks of the Summer Sessions band build to stunning numbers in the final week.  Available marching real estate on the practice field which was hard-won even in June is now measured fake grass blade by fake grass blade as fifth-year veterans and rising freshman cram sideline to sideline.  When the individual rows come together as the world's most fearsome moving wall of brass and beating drums, the band is nearly twice the size of what the OSUMB will be after tryouts. 

I never really understood sound as a physical force, as waves every bit as real as each slamming slosh of the ocean, until I experienced a space shuttle liftoff four miles from the launchpad.  There was a rumbling and the rising light of the solid rocket boosters, and then the smashing of the front of my chest from both sides-- the sound vibration from without and my thrashing pulse from within. 

But on the downtrodden field across a parking lot from Ohio Stadium, I understood it again.  The drums and the ringing brass played catch with the brick fronts of the tall buildings, each note cast against the concrete flung back again.

On a hillside above the field, the newly wedded wife of Alex Who Talks Real Pretty is sitting on a blanket, creating a square pile of thank-you notes as her husband grimly makes adjustments of centimeters to the batons of D Row candidates, centimeters which will get them in or keep them out. 

A five-year member of the Band herself, Emily looked up from the corners-together stack of white notecards to tell me how to audibly separate the percussion wheat from the soon to be cut chaff.  "The drums," she said, "should be one beat.  It shouldn't sound like popcorn."  She paused to allow the rhythm prove her point, a few drumstick strikes slightly before and after blurring the percussion line.

But in a time and place defined by sound, what's not heard during a sculpted Saturday performance by the OSUMB in November is scattered through the tense, overcrowded air of an August Summer Session.  Complex marching drills are thrown down like lightning strikes from disembodied voices on high ladders; a cacophony of shouted reminders from the candidates are frantic arcs in the damp evening air.  And when a ramp is rehearsed or a series of maneuvers completed, the block stands at attention, instruments down, but from where I am standing on the sidelines, there is still sound-- the labored breathing, the feeding of the lungs which were just moments ago exhaling this thing called music.

When the marching is ended, the instruments are cradled in laps or leaned up against, the burden now the prop.  Each Session ends with a motivational speaker, and on this night, it's the 2011 Drum Major. 

Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major is having fits with the mic.  "Well," he says, indicating the baton in his other hand,  "I'm better with this." 

He is facing Ohio Stadium.  Much of what will become the Band he will lead into it in about week is scattered before him. 

"I love this band," Jason says.  He pauses, forges onward.  "...Sorry.  I love this band..."

"We love you!"  a ragged male voice slices back at him.

At the back of the crowd, well out of his sight, I am listening.  His mentor, Greg Eyer, and a member of Jason's rookie class, Claudia, are on either side of me.  Greg is sprawled full-out on the ground, the crushed rubber pellets coating his arms and legs.  He, too, is listening, and he is crying.  "He hasn't even peaked yet," he says to neither of us.

"He will.  He has all season," Claudia answers, in this soothing fashion she conceal-carries on her like the lining of a purse.  If Claudia had been present on the Titanic, it would have been the mellowest shipwreck ever.

Greg shook his head.  "I'm stepping away when he's done." 

"When the masterpiece is complete," I said, hands clasped around my knees, "put down the brush."

Greg waved a hand to indicate the other predecessors of Jason who have also refined and redefined the position.  There will be others, others created in part by Jason.  All three of us know this, and we know it in different ways-- that the silence of the winter months will settle in, the turnover will come, and the man who will take his place will stand here with a microphone in the August night.

For now, though, the heat of the day sheds from the buildings and the instruments absorb the sweat of the musicians and the midwestern moisture in the air.  Jason stops talking, there is cheering, and then the unplayed brass and drums are carried from the field with a quiet somehow more articulate than all the fight songs and flung notes put together.

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