Friday, September 16, 2016

Let's hear it for the bands

      This subject might surprise you. It is sports-related, but it's not sports. It is about bands -- school marching (and playing) bands.
      I love high school and college bands. I always have.
      Football games and, to a lesser extent, basketball games would be a lot more dull without them. These bands are such entertainment, and such spirit boosters.
      I appreciate hard work, the enthusiasm and the spirit of the kids in the band. Seems to me they are having a ton of fun. 
      I thought of writing about this a week ago when late Friday afternoon -- on my usual route that day through the Paschal High School parking lots -- I saw the school band practicing on the new artificial-turf football field.
      It has been a regular feature of those Paschal walks, the band practicing. A year ago, when it was part of the annual UIL regional/state competition -- yes, it is a competitive endeavor in Texas high schools -- those Panthers were out there, and the band directors were drill sergeant-like. I stopped and watched several times.
      Bless their hearts. That took some doing, especially early in the school year when it was still awfully humid-to-hot, even at 4:30 p.m. or so.
      What's nice these days is that with the addition of dance teams and flag bearers -- we didn't have those in the 1950s and '60s; only a few majorettes then -- it gets a lot of young people involved.
      They don't get much publicity, not like our over-scrutinized, over-publicized football and basketball players and teams -- but we are thankful for them. And if band members go on to earn college scholarships or aid, great.
      My love for high school bands, obviously dates to Woodlawn in Shreveport in the early 1960s.
      Those hear those kids -- many of them my friends -- play the fight song, and the alma mater, and The Stripper and the marches they practiced during the week was always a thrill. (More on this below.)
      But even before that, I was aware of the bands at the first college football game I saw -- Louisiana Tech vs. Northwestern State, at the State Fair in 1957.
      The clincher, though, was my first trip to LSU -- fall 1960. I remember "The Golden Band From Tigerland" even more than the football game.
      Because when we arrived on campus, early in the morning, after the overnight train ride from Shreveport (Kansas City Southern railroad, starting at midnight and arriving at maybe 6 a.m.), the band was already practicing. 
      It was fascinating; I was impressed. It was probably five hours until kickoff, and they were out there for about two hours.
      Their numbers -- Tiger Rag, Touchdown for LSU, Fight for LSU, and the alma mater -- stuck in my mind.
      When I listened to LSU games on radio in those days, I relished just hearing the band.
      I can imagine that the LSU bands of the past couple of decades, so sharp-sounding and sharp-looking, practice just as hard.
      OK, so I'm partial, but I've never seen the LSU band -- or the Golden Girls dance team (majorettes?) or the flag bearers -- make a mistake. 
      The football team should be so disciplined (you can laugh here).    
      My love affair with bands continue at Louisiana Tech, where in the mid-1960s, the program got a boost from school president Dr. F. Jay Taylor and the band director, Jimmie Howard Reynolds.
      One of my freshman roommates was a drummer with the band, and because it practiced close to Memorial Gym -- where the sports information office was relocated in my last three years at Tech -- I often heard them while I was working. 
      Wendy was my favorite tune as the band marched down the street toward old Tech Stadium. 
      Tech's band now is known as "The Band of Pride" and for 25 years it has had as its director, The Man in the White Hat ... Jim Robken.
      And just as LSU's songs are dear to me, so are the Tech alma mater and the two fight songs (an old-time one, and one created in the late 1960s, and quickly copied by a dozen North Louisiana high schools).
      But, honestly, give me any of the bands and theme songs -- "The Pride of the Southland" and Rocky Top at Tennessee, "The Showband of the Southwest" (with the huge bass drum) and Texas Fight, "The Pride" and Boomer Sooner at Oklahoma, even the Fightin' Texas Aggie band and the Aggie War Hymn.
      Yeah, the Aggies rock, and the band's marching precision is awesome, if you like those drab uniforms.
      Then there's the "Million-Dollar Band" -- to match what the football players are paid -- and Roll Tide. (Just kidding, OK.)
      I went to the TCU-Arkansas game a week ago, and those bands were fun, too. I've seen them perform, and ... I want to stay positive here. The football teams are better.
      But I really like them all -- Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Southern Cal, Michigan, Ohio State, etc. -- the traditions and the fight songs  All good.
       Better than good: I covered the Grambling-Southern football game about five times, even before it was known as the Bayou Classic. Talk about great halftime shows. Same for the Green Oaks-Booker T. Washington high school rivalry in Shreveport -- the "Soul Bowl" -- and I also covered it several times. 
Not much better than this on college football gameday:  The LSU
band on Victory Hill (photo from New Orleans Times-Picayune)
       I prefer the traditional pregame and halftime shows. Then there's the wild, zany band at Stanford and "The Mob" at Rice. Nothing traditional, certainly not the "uniforms," of those bands, but there are people who enjoy their antics.
       At just about every school, there is now the football team's "walk" through crowds to the stadium, and the band's pregame shows. 
        And all LSU fans can tell you that there is nothing better than the band's march across campus, the stop at the top of Victory Hill right next to Tiger Stadium, the "four corners" salute and then the run down the hill.
        We have marched and then run behind the band. But that was a few years ago.
      At Woodlawn High in the early 1960s, the band practiced during second period within range of the beautiful main building. So during English class, we could hear it play.
      My friend John English -- we were together in school from Sunset Acres through Louisiana Tech -- was a three-year band member at Woodlawn, and band captain our senior year.
       He tells me that the march he remembers practicing so often was called Grandioso, and he remembers the long hours, especially in late summer before school. While the football team had two-a-day practice -- in the heat -- the band also was preparing on another field.
        It was getting ready for games, pep rallies -- and regional and state competitions.
       "The band was a big deal in my life, and to an extent it still is," said John, now an attorney in Houston. "It enhanced my life. ... If you're a member of a group like that, it enhances your experience."
       At a recent class reunion, a group of former band members independently wound up in the school band room and talked about the old days.
       "When we came to Woodlawn, you knew that [band] was at a different level [than in junior high]. You knew that you had to be better than you had been, you had to improve if you wanted to be in the marching band. You had to up your game."
       My opinion: Our band was as good as our football teams, and that was pretty darned good.
      High school bands are a big deal in Texas -- just as they were, for example, in Georgia when I saw several games there a couple of decades ago. 
      The most impressive high school band I've ever seen is Allen High School north of Plano (north of Dallas). It is one of the largest high schools in the country, probably -- some 6,000 students.
      And while the football team dresses out 125 players and is practically unbeatable every year, the band numbered 850. All on the same field -- goal line to goal line -- and the two times I've seen them, they put on a perfect show.       
      Paschal might not be perfect, and not nearly that large. But its our neighborhood school and -- I saw this on the web site this morning -- it is full of tradition. This school began as Fort Worth High School in 1885, and the band began that same year.
      That's right: 1885.
      It became R.L. Paschal High (named for its longtime principal in 1935), and it moved from near downtown (what is now Trimble Tech High in the medical district) to its present location, about a mile from TCU, in 1955.
      While I watched the Paschal kids practice a week ago, I saw a half-dozen school buses lined up in front of the school and I visited with a band parent waiting in a parking lot.
       "It is amazing how much time these kids put into this," he told me.
       Practice ended, and the band began loading onto the buses for a football game in Mansfield, and a ride in very busy rush-hour Fort Worth traffic.       
       When I saw the band director a few moments later, I asked about practice limits. He told me that UIL rules limit band practice to eight hours a week -- not counting the games. But before school started -- just as at Woodlawn in the '60s -- there was "band camp," two-a-day practices, three hours each time. 
         Lots of time invested, just as with all school bands. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.     


  1. Thanks for the memories. The march I remember from Woodlawn was Storm King. It had a beautiful low part for clarinets--kind of relaxing and easy to play.

  2. From Al Miller: So true. There is NOTHING quite like a Friday night under the lights and those bands strike up the fight song. Will raise the hair on your neck for true. They put in an awful lot of work, too, as you stated. They make football in high school and college one of the greatest experiences for kids that can be.

  3. From Mike Richey: The band story really resonated with me. I ended up at Neville because of the band. Nothing to do with me, but my sister was an incredibly gifted musician. All-state choir three years, all-state band (saxophone) three years, classical pianist, and on and on. She won so many vocal and piano talent shows in Monroe they asked her not to compete but just be a special guest performer.
    Anyway, when we moved from Jena in '61, the parents would only look for housing in the Neville district because the band director (Herbert Gathwright, La. Tech grad) had such a great reputation. The band and Beverly were invited to march in Kennedy's inauguration. What a special memory that was for her. I loved hearing her and the band play the Vikings, Neville's fight song. Good stuff. Almost as good as LSU and Hold That Tiger in the pregame, but not quite.
    Thanks for stirring those memories for me.

  4. From Jane Lytle Gill: The halftime shows were always great at Woodlawn's games.

  5. From Beverly Ann Tozier Harlan Excellent! I've always loved the halftime shows! It is a shame we don't get to see them on televised games like we once did. I grew up going to LSU games and loved their halftime shows. Wisconsin played K-State one year in the Independence Bowl. Their games have five quarters as the band puts on a show after the game. It was freezing, but my K-State friends and us stayed for that fifth quarter.

  6. From Random Thoughts: For the "girls" -- we enjoyed sharing the field by performing at halftime during those glory days.