They also serve who only stand and wait

marching band alternates

I don’t write a lot here about my three girls, at their request. All three of them have been involved in their school’s marching band. Marching band in Indiana in 2015 is not what it was when I was a member in high school. In addition to band practice during school each day, it now involves Monday-Friday rehearsals totaling 12.5 hours, a 3-week 8-5 daily summer camp, and Saturday practice/competitions from 6 a.m. until often the wee hours of Sunday morning. Suffice it to say, this is not an activity one embarks on lightly.

Although it’s my youngest child who is now involved, I don’t think I’ll ever lose the goosebumps that come from seeing the band take the field for a competition, or even for a football game halftime performance.

marching band alternates

But if you look a little closer, off to the side, away from the action, you’ll notice about a dozen other band members. They are the alternates. They are the ones that break my heart.

The band purposely designs a show for a few less members than it expects to have. Many freshman members double for a single spot. Each learns the drill, and they alternate during practices. When there is a performance or competition, the directors tell the kids that morning which of the two will get to actually perform. The others stand on the sidelines.

I understand the reasoning behind this. It’s not unusual for a few kids (usually freshmen) to drop out of band early in the season. Alternates help reduce the problems this causes. Alternates also help ease freshmen in, and hopefully help ensure that performers on the field are the best the band has to offer.

But still. Imagine putting in all those hours, beginning in July, and then reaching state finals in November, only to learn you aren’t chosen to participate. Sure, you’re still on the field. But you’re not given the chance to give it your all with the rest of the “family.”

I respect the band for its excellence performances. And I also respect those kids on the sideline, because their task may be even harder.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

~ “On His Blindness,” by 17 century English poet John Milton

6 thoughts on “They also serve who only stand and wait

  1. The shows now are so very different from when I marched in the Tell City band. We also put in lots of extra hours in addition to the band time during school. We marched in all kinds of weather but I loved being in the band! However, we did not have extras waiting to get a chance to march. That’s heartbreaking but I hope they hang in and become permanent members. Your band must be wonderful and I wish them luck at their competitions.

  2. No wonder the Homestead Band is one of the best in the state! My Mother used to say, “Anything worth having is worth working for”. No doubt this is one of those things, and the freshmen who stick it out on the sidelines will next year be sophomores who get to participate regularly. Bravo for both Caroline, Isabel, and Sophie for their efforts in performing in the best band in Northern IN and sometimes the whole state!

  3. That would be sad to put all that time (and money!) in and then not be able to participate. But as someone else said, those who stick it out are in a good position for the next year, and I guess it is not unlike athletic teams who have players who sit on the bench all season. My son was on a basketball team in a school where the coach tried to give everyone opportunities to play, but in the school he went to after we moved to another state, he hardly got to play at all. He was one of the top players in the former school, and he knew he wasn’t as good as some of the players in his new school, but also felt he wouldn’t get a chance to improve without more playing time. It was sad. But the last line of the poem is a good perspective – it takes someone in all those roles to make a team.

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