Okay, I never actually went to band camp, but I was in marching band for my junior and senior years of high school, so I am an official band geek.
The reason it wasn’t all three years of high school is that I was a keyboardist, so I didn’t even think that they’d need my skills. I mean, I could have strapped on my accordion and carried my amp around in a little wagon, but that would have been heavy and difficult.
I somehow got talked into joining, though, and I don’t remember whether it was because I was in the school’s jazz combo/class first and because there was only one instrumental music teacher, or whether friends talked me into it. But starting my junior year, I joined the band as a drummer.
And yes, my second year of high school was my junior year because, at the time, we were still on a program that had K-6 as one school, then 3 years of middle school and 3 years of high school.
And yes, I did become a drummer because it was something that pretty much any musician could instantly adapt to, since we could read music and had a sense of rhythm. However, lest that imply that drummers are stupid, it comes with a caveat.
The non-drummer in the band general stuck to the non-complicated percussion — bass drum or tom-toms. All you had to do was make sure the drumheads were tightened, then hit them with mallets.
The trained drummers got the instruments like the snare drums, multi-toms, or glockenspiel. The first one, while not tuned, makes use of, well, a “snare,” which is a series of springy wires strung next to each other and held taut.
A snare drum has two heads, one on the top and one on the bottom, and the snares make contact with the bottom head. When the player strikes the top head it makes both it and the bottom head vibrate. This in turn makes the snare vibrate, but since it’s made of metal in a semi-spiral pattern, when it vibrates it buzzes a bit.
This is a big part of what gives a drum roll, which is mostly snare, its distinctive and drawn-out sound, as well as makes this drum itself stand out.
The last two are tunable percussion, with multi-toms, also known as tenor drums, comprising three or four connected drums of different depths and/or diameters, hence of different pitches. They also lack a bottom drum head and snare.
These drums are capable of playing tunes, or at least bass-lines, and a drummer can play notes in succession or several drums at once. (Really skilled players will have two mallets in each hand on quad-toms or an extra in their dominant hand on tri-toms in order to be able to cover all the notes.)
Finally, there’s the glockenspiel, which is essentially the metal version of a xylophone. In case you’re wondering why they didn’t just call it a xylophone as well, that’s because the name “xylophone” literally means “wood sound” because the instrument is made of wood.
Change the composition, change the name. A glockenspiel is basically a keyboard layout over a few octaves, and the marching band version is basically worn as a flat tray strapped over the shoulders, kind of like a cigarette girl set-up, if I may get very vintage in a reference.
Now, it seems like a no-brainer that I would have been perfect for glock, except that either our school already had a player a year ahead of me who wasn’t giving it up or we didn’t have the instrument at all.
Anyway… I think probably because I was by far the tallest member of the drumline, I wound up playing the bass drum, which is the big one worn sideways, and which generally has the school logo or mascot on it.
This also gave me the honor of starting off our opening march before every football game, which was an awesome sense of power. We’d begin with a very slow entrance from the end zone to the tune of some Toreador themed trumpet melody (“Toreadors” was our team name), and then it would end.
After a dramatic pause, I would pound out four beats and we would snap into our opening number and march out across the entire field to play the rest of the opening tune and the the school fight song — which meant that I was solely responsible for setting the tempo of our opening.
Yes, if either of the drum majors had pissed me off that day, I’d give it to them double-time. It was the one moment of the show they had no control over.
Thinking back on this, it’s just another reminder of something that I’m really not constantly aware of, but it’s pretty much true. For my entire life, I actually have been performing, whether it’s been on a stage or before any kind of official audience, or whether it’s just in so-called “real life.”
Until we reached a time where kids in elementary or middle school were able to comfortably come out to their friends and parents without fearing retribution up to and including death — and that’s still a damn small and privileged percentage — the queer person’s defense was performance.
In daily life, we had to play the role of a “normal” straight person, pretending to be interested in the same things, blending in. in effect, we became extras and atmosphere in the stories about the straight “cool kids” in school.
Although it was a big surprise, or perhaps not, how many of them turned out to be queer after all.
This is probably why so many of us gravitated to theatre, dance, music, or other performing arts in the first place. Everything we were doing was already a role. Might as well make a profession out of it, right?
The best part was that while you were performing, you could get away with anything. Think of closeted but later outed celebrities of the past who could play the most flamboyant (20th century code for “queer”) of characters on TV or in film, but then butch it up on talk shows and say that it was all an act.
Then look at the modern flipside of that, where Jim Parsons, a very openly gay member of Gen-X, starred in a very popular TV sitcom that ran for over a decade in which his very fussy, prissy character was portrayed as straight, but in real life the actor never had to shut up about who he was, and seemed to be even more loved because of it.
This metaphor really holds for people in the performing arts in school because sort of the same phenomenon happens. Your peers — fellow performers — kind of get an idea of who you are, and vice versa, and no one makes a big deal about it. You’re all on the same team, whether it’s the marching band, the cast of a show or drama department members, or a dance company.
This is just like Hollywood in the closeted days. People in the industry knew who was fucking whom and whether they were straight, gay, or bisexual. All they cared about was that the news didn’t leak out.
Peers in the industry knew how to keep secrets.
The real challenge was keeping the news from the media — i.e., students not in the performing arts groups — and studio execs — parents, school administrators, and non-sympathetic teachers or counselors.
I can really only imagine what it would have been like if our marching band had gone to actual sleepover band camp, because when we did have parties, we got wild as hell. To everyone else, we may have had the reputation of being virginal nerds, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Two of my high school girlfriends were in band, and so was my first-ever same-sex hookup, as well as a potential second if I hadn’t totally pussied out by not flat-out asking him, “Wanna fuck?”
Years later, I know that his answer would have been “Yes.”
As for the first one, it all happened because of a fluke of band seating in the stands. The drummers were in the front, on the bottom tier, and the brass sat behind us, with the trombones in the middle and trumpets on the flank.
Since I played bass drum, I was also in the middle of the middle, directly in front of the first trombonist. Let’s call him Glenn (not his real name), and we hit it off at our first game in the fall of my junior year.
In retrospect, everything about him sets off my adult gaydar. At that time, though, when I was only 16, I had no gaydar. All I know is that we hit it off immediately, I feel comfortable around him, and while I’m hearing that Tune of Denial playing on one channel in my brain, the other is just mooning over how cute he is.
What? He’s as tall as I am, blond, and really handsome.
About three months later, the day after my 17th birthday, he invites me over to his place to study for a history test, since we’re both in the class. Thinking nothing of it, I go. It’s a Monday, two days after a wild Saturday band party he wasn’t at that devolved into a game of Truth or Dare that, among other things, included the girlfriend of one of the tom drummers in the band being dared to French kiss every guy at the party — and he didn’t seem to have any objections.
Okay, honestly, neither did she, but I didn’t have the emotional or mental capacity at the time to even notice shit like that. All I know is that I was the one who felt violated when she came around and gave me my turn.
And Glenn turned this into basically asking me who she’d kissed, and then how she’d kissed, and then asked for a demo.
The kissing was nice, he was hot, we were horny, although it still wound up awkward and I came and went. We were going go hook up the following weekend for a longer session because his parents were still going to be out of town, but I backed out at the last minute and I think he took that badly.
Suddenly, he ignored me, tried to turn mutual friends against me, and if only we’d lived in a world where we could have just told everyone, “Okay, we tried to hook up, it didn’t work out. Next?” we both would have avoided a lot of trauma.
Yeah, even though folks in the band kind of knew what was going on with whom, we also didn’t really talk about it. And, to be honest, this single experience in high school — being seduced and then dumped and shunned — had a major psychological impact on me that lasted long after I’d gone to college.
In fact, it was only going to college, getting away from what was essentially the small(-minded) town in a big city that I’d grown up in, and meeting new people and having new relationships that I grew out of it and got over it.
I was never in a marching band again, but I also never really stopped performing, so that my college years saw me playing in show combos and bands, and acting in plays, and student videos and films, and more.
But, at the same time, it was a lot easier to come out slowly in college to the point that most of my friends knew that I didn’t consider myself totally straight by sophomore year, and by the second semester of my final year, it seemed like everyone suddenly started to come screaming out of the closet, and it was glorious.