The Michigan Marching Band
And march they do
by Charmie Gholson
The shadows are long. The leaves are falling. My four-year-old is smacking the daylights out of every ball I throw to him. He straightens from his stance and asks, "What's that?" I, too, stop and listen. At first, I assume it's just the never ending construction near our house, but this has a brighter rhythm and . . . horns? Gradually, I realized we're hearing the Michigan Marching Band conduct its practice at Elbel Field, over a mile away.
To be perfectly honest, I hate football. Everything about football. And yet like a siren's song, the faint music is captivating, seductive. Urging me closer. "Come on," I tell my son. I grab my keys and we jump in the car and drive down Liberty.
Ernie wants to know where we're going. I explain what a marching band is, what it does. He's seen lots of live outdoor music and loved it. That's why we're going. Ernie will love it.
We park (illegally) near the intersection of Hill and Fifth and cross the street. I can feel the blaring horns and mighty drums in the air. It's exhilarating. I grab Ernie's hand to pull him along. The bleachers are on the other side of the practice field, which is really a paved parking lot. We skirt along the right side of the field while someone (probably the director) screams at the band like a lunatic through a loudspeaker from atop a huge tower. The massive body of the group lunges and turns in on itself, writhing like an enormous molting, screaming creature. Ernie's eyes are huge.
Suddenly the entire marching band spins and heads straight towards us. I can't believe those people can move so quickly while carrying their instruments, fiercely playing, and high-stepping faster than I can jog. We hurry. They keep coming. We go faster. They bear down on us, a charging cavalry with thundering drums and flashing metal. When they are quite close
and the end of the field is still a mile away, I turn, pick up Ernie, and freeze.
We hold each other tight and wait for a sure collision. But the only crash comes from gigantic cymbals. The band stops on a dime, just yards away, with a roar loud enough to frighten Goliath.
The players disperse. The director is yelling instructions. Apparently practice is over, and we had arrived in midstream of their exit from the field. I set Ernie down on the pavement. We're both wearing huge grins. "Well," I think to myself. "I wanted to get closer."
During football season the band practices at the Hill Street field from 4:45 to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Photograph by Seth Lower
[Originally published in October, 2002.]