When I was nine I joined a marching band. Because I was a strong lad they put me on the tenor drum – a sort of base drum but smaller and you bang it from above. I dressed in the uniform with all the braid, sash, tall hat and white gloves. We dedicated two nights a week to band practice and during summer weekends marched through the streets and performed set pieces on sports fields all around the country. We took it all very seriously. I learned a lot about how individuals come together to work as a team and here’s the six most important lessons my time in the ‘Carefree Jazz’ Marching Band taught me.
I kept my uniform in pristine condition, including whitening my plimsolls until the gleamed and polishing every bit of the chrome on my drum until it glistened. Then there was the practice. We practiced until we could do it without thinking. We became a unit. I remember one of my proudest moments when staff sergeant Nixon from the airbase down the road shouted at me, ‘Wilmot, that’s the finest marching I’ve ever seen’. I liked the praise. Positive reinforcement sticks.
Turning up on time and giving 100% to the job in hand: the fundamentals to success in anything that you put your mind and heart to.
One of the core judging criteria during competitions was how well we all marched and played together. I learned how to march in formation, whist keeping the beat and twiddling my drumsticks in the air.
During competitions, points were actually deducted if you simply copied the beat of the base drum. I learned the art of syncopation, and counterpoint, following the beat of the base drum, but adding my distinct individual contribution that made the whole sound richer. I developed some pretty fantastic drumstick twiddling action that got me noticed by the judges too!
We lost – a lot, but we were determined that we one day we would win the team category section and I stuck to my personal ambition of winning the individual tenor drum We learned from our mistakes, tightened up on the marching, and developed ever more original styling for our musical renditions. It took two years of hard work and ploughing on through the disappointments, but we eventually won the nationals and got through to the world championships.
6) Conflict resolution
The base drummer was taller and wider than me and didn’t like me at all. When I look back I think its because she thought I wanted her job. She sniped at me, and bitched about me behind my back. She even made me cry once (hey I was only nine remember), and this made me feel rubbish and doubt myself. So how did I handle this? Well, one hot summer Saturday afternoon we had just finished our signature marching of the field tune ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ when our base drummer fainted, and I caught her. I could have let her drop, and when she came round, she knew this. We still rubbed each other up the wrong way after from time to time, but we got on a whole lot better after that.