It’s football season, so my mind is quickly turning to my glory days on the gridiron.
Not that I was Lexington High School’s first female to strap on the pads and hit the tackling dummies. I did, however, spend every fall Friday night on the field.
At half-time. I was in the band.
Before I continue, here are some heartfelt disclaimers. First, I love the band. I think band members are some of the most talented, hard-working people on the field on Friday nights. I admire the talents of folks who can play an instrument on key while marching sideways in a straight line. I think the whole excitement of the football experience is enhanced by a good band, great cheerleaders and a competitive team.
That being said, I have to tell you I was the worst band member in the history of Lexington High School, maybe even all of West Tennessee.
I played clarinet, although the word “played” is a misnomer. I was terrible. I have an OK voice, but, other than that, I have no musical ability at all. I took piano lessons from age 8 to 12 and never mastered the scales. I took guitar lessons for six months when I was 13 because I had a crush on Steve Miller, the teacher, but I had no talent for that, either.
But, when freshman year rolled around, I was desperate to be in the band.
Why? Two very important reasons: I didn’t want to take P.E., and I wanted a free ride to the away games.
I wanted to play the drums but didn’t want to carry them. I considered the flute, but it seemed too fragile. My best friend, Michelle, was going for clarinet, so I decided that sounded good.
And it did sound good, except when it had my lips blowing on the reed.
We had a patient and very talented band director named Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison let me stay in band for four years, and I couldn’t play a lick. I learned to play the school’s alma mater, finally, but that was about the extent of it.
We didn’t have a big band, so I guess I was a warm body. Besides, I looked as good as anyone did in those bulky wool uniforms, was a real good marcher - especially since I wasn’t distracted by actually having to play my instrument - and I was pretty good at keeping the wild majorettes out of trouble until after halftime.
So Mr. Harrison just kept threatening me, giving me “Cs” on my report card and wringing his hands every two months when it was time to play solo for him to see which “chair” I would occupy in the clarinet hierarchy (Michelle: First. Me: Last).
I guess I should have felt bad. Most of the folks in the Lexington High School Marching Tigers took it very seriously. But I really wasn’t hurting anyone. It wasn’t like I ruined our half-time performances with squeaks and sour notes. I just pretended to play - lip-syncing, clarinet style. Part of the time, I didn’t even have a reed on the mouthpiece.
There were a couple of times I caused more ruckus than Mr. Harrison could stand. There was the day I stuffed a bag of candy corn inside my clarinet, forgot it and then blew with all my might at the pep rally because I couldn’t get any sound as I tried to play the alma mater. The force of my frantic blowing dislodged the candy corn, which scattered all over the gym floor.
And there was the incident where I broke rank during practice to chase the tuba player - who I had a crush on - 20 yards until he tripped and fell, end-over-end, bouncing with his tuba. There was also an episode at the Paris Fish Fry, but nobody got expelled, so I would rather just forget that one.
Mr. Harrison retired after my senior year, and there are still folks who think I had something to do with that.
To all the band members out there, I humbly apologize for my misspent youth. One good thing, though. My band days experience have made me a great fan of the halftime activities. I still may not know much about pass interference and Wing-T offense, but I know the work and energy it takes to put together a half-time show. March on!
(Reprinted with permission from the Knoxville News Sentinel.)
Sherri Gardner Howell