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ani, glitter

Playing the Band Wasn't Cool -- Or Was It?

I grew up in the David Douglas School district in East County, which was outside the Portland city limits (not a Portland Public School). Therefore we didn't have Rose Festival Princesses from our school. But we did have band! In fact, in my family we really had band -- my dad was the high school band director.

That wasn't such a cool thing back in the '70's. As a freshman in 1971, carrying my oboe case around at school wasn't cool. Being an actual relative of the most efficient buster-of-the-smokers wasn't cool. Having to sit with the band during football games while everyone else was walking around being seen wasn't cool. Wearing the David Douglas red plaid knee-length skirt to school wasn't cool. Almost worst of all was putting white shoe polish on white tennis shoes. (Anyone who remembers the '70's will remember the clothing colors weren't red, the skirts were hardly knee length -- and nothing was polished!)

While my peer group grunged, I was spit polished by a former Marine.

Of course in my family there was never a question of whether to be in band or not -- the question was only which instrument would be played. I was the oldest of four kids, and the only one my dad was able to coerce into playing an instrument he might need. The rest of my siblings played what our parents played, trumpets for the guys and a clarinet for the girl. (Selected due to sound, because they'd heard them played a lot and liked the sound. Live music, after all, really is the best. Especially when played by people who love you and take good care of you.)

The oboe wasn't cool. Lipstick was out, but I felt it was harsh -- so I wore it anyway! The look of a person playing the oboe was not exactly what I had calculated my high school 'look' to be. I hopee no one cool would come to the our concerts and see me shoving my lips out like a chimpanzee!

The cool people might not attend band concerts, but they do attend large public events, like parades. Thankfully in my sophomore year my dad announced players of double-reeded instruments (like my oboe) would be playing other instruments, as double-reeds are dangerous during marching (with the risk of soft-palette piercings). What I wasn't prepared for was the weight of the miniature glockenspiels he provided to three of us! They were supposed to fit in the crooks of our fifteen-year-old left arms -- and then be played by our right hand. But they weighed about twenty-five pounds! (Aside from having nothing in common musically with our normal instruments.) But there were advantages! I got to wear lots of make up and fix my face in any expression I wanted.

All spring the band practiced marching for the Grand Floral Parade, using the side streets near the high school. We lined up in ranks of seven and tried to please Dad. He was a good drill sergeant -- as I knew from personal experience! We'd guide right and march straight, and we learned to play and march at the same time.

As we practised in the neighborhood people would come out of their houses and wave. No one complained. I guess Dad had warned them of the route, or something. I was too young and too unaware to know if we were good or not -- nor did I care. I only hoped that when we got back to school that no one I knew would be standing outside to see us marching. In the 1970's the cool thing was being anti-military, not imitating it!

The day of the parade finally arrived. I was both nervous and resentful. I didn't tell my parents, but I resented their making me do something that would make me look stupid. Dad came out in his cream colored uniform -- so different from our 'Go Scotts' red and gray -- and inspected my shoes. The polish had somehow ended up on the rubber sole of the shoe, so I had to go back and wipe it off. I did so with an irritated sigh. Then Dad and I drove to the high school and I ran off to hide in the ranks of students. We got on to the school bus and drove down to the Coliseum, with me checking my lipstick on the drive.

At the Coliseum we made our way to the halls into the main arena. We had gauged our arrival time to fit our place in the parade. We were ready to march into the arena where we'd stop briefly to perform for the judges. In the entrance hall Dad lined us up before taking his place beside us on the right. We were officially on our own! We now had a seventeen-year-old high school drum major to guide us...

We began the piece for the judges, marching in place in the huge doorway in to the arena. The drumming reverberated around me and a deep thrill ran through me. How many fifteen-year-olds get to play for thousands of people? Suddenly I was filled with pride -- for my school and our band. And I was filled with pride for my Dad as he marched beside us, his back straight and his eyes shining with pride for all of us.

We marched into the arena, stopped in the center and played for the audience. We were now offically part of the 1972 Grand Floral Parade. We'd play for this audience and then march through the streets of Portland, representing our school in front of the entire city. We'd be on TV! We'd end up at Lincoln High School [the disband area], eating hotdogs (my Dad's favorite).

By the next year we had a rank of bells -- and we weren't bad for people who played something else all year. In fact, we were good enough to inspire my Dad to orchestrate a piece that made us the winning Band. Dad arranged "The Blue Bells of Scotland" to include our bells in a two-part harmony of the melody. When we began to play the people on the street were quiet, listening while the notes soared. When we finished the people on the street burst into applause -- and I tried hard to keep from crying.

When we got back to the band room at school, someone had put a sign up above the door saying "Home of the Best Band in Oregon, 1973." No, we didn't have a Princess, but we were the best band in the Rose Festival!

The next year was my last year to perform -- and I failed in my attempt not to cry in public when I realized it, just as I marched into the Coliseum to play "Tunes of Glory" for the last time.

~Linda Morrell

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