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The beat goes on

Band night, 1984. Quite a motley crew!

My niece posted a video on Facebook of her recent half-time show with the Temple University marching band that has me grinning from ear to ear.

The band sounds great, looks sharp and must be practicing day and night — they dress their lines perfectly. It was a show to behold and I can’t wait to see her perform in person real soon.

Yup: My name is Terri and I’m a band geek.

I’m proud to have that wonderful touchstone to rely on. I started playing the clarinet at King Street Elementary School and was hooked immediately (it’s true that my mother might tell this differently, given how much she had to push me to practice).

In Port Chester, NY, where I grew up, the goal for those of us with musical interest and ability was to join the marching band, the so-called Pride of Port Chester. We marched to our own beat, in the British military style, during a time when most high school bands were flashy, drum-corps-style outfits.

We were fortunate to have terrific music teachers to nurture our skills. I looked up to our high school musicians for years, watching them each Band Night in June when all the village’s school bands would perform at the high school stadium.

Adding to the mystique was a neighborhood girl and sometime babysitter of mine who was one of the majorettes. She used to practice in the road, twirling not just the baton but … fire! I was mesmerized.

By the time I got to high school, no one was twirling fire anymore, but the experience was no less exciting to me. I loved it, even if, as a friend mentioned recently, we certainly could have passed as the original cast of “Glee.”

Band became a wonderful launchpad for life. I learned more than how to trill and slur, slow march and dress a line. I learned about dedication and commitment, how to be part of a group, that things worth doing require practice, and how to win and lose with grace.

(I also learned how accomplish to a mean spit-shine, that no amount of white shoe polish will ever REALLY get a pith helmet looking brand-new, how to layer clothing for maximum warmth and movability, and that sneakers soaked by the dewy grass at 7 am never truly dry in your locker.)

Despite all the joy music gave me, after high school, the clarinet was set aside. Pace University didn’t have a band and I was too busy studying, working and figuring out my way in life to look for other opportunities to play.

Band night, 2009. The permed hair is gone, but the musical passion remains!

That changed three years ago, with an invitation to join a Band Night anniversary celebration. Musicians who had played with the band throughout the years — from the 1930s up to present day — were asked to take part. For me, unemployed at the time, it was an incredible gift, a reminder of my abilities and a desperately needed confidence-booster.

For the first time in 20+ years, I soaked a reed and got to work. Funny, how much came flooding back to me, how much I still knew by heart.

After weeks of assaulting my neighbors’ ears, I finally learned all the marches. The night of our performance, I dragged Basil and a very reluctant teenage Catherine to see and hear me. The drum cadence erased all the years and the crowd’s warm reception was amazing. What a great time it was!

Last year, I built on the experience by joining the brand-new Rye Town Community Band, a group whose members run the gamut in age and experience. On one side of me sits an older man who played the clarinet and sax in the service; on the other side is one of the terrifically talented kids who keeps my playing honest. We’re guided by fabulous (and amazingly patient) Port Chester music folks.

Early this summer, we performed twice. I loved watching the smiles, the toe taps and hand claps we elicited from the crowds. How wonderful to pay all my joy forward.

Band practice starts in a couple of weeks and I can hardly wait. While I wouldn’t want to stand through another frigid competition or early-morning practice, I will never shake the thrill that a few notes of music can elicit.

About Terri S. Vanech

Wife, mother, communications specialist, Jazzercise instructor and recently reunited adoptee. I'm living out loud -- and trying to make it all work -- in midlife. Having a sense of humor sure helps.


4 thoughts on “The beat goes on

  1. Thanks Terri, nice blog.
    Port Chester HS band alumni here…1979…thanks to the awesome music instructors ….fellow srudent musicians …wonderfully supportive community and band boosters. I truly enjoyed my musical foundation …training and experience that I continued my musical path in college and beyond….national and international performances with many greats in the industry which have been memorable, thanks to all the greats of my elem.-hs training…the pride of Port Chester will always be the music Dept. Thanks to Ken Kraut, Robert Viti and my friends in the elem. school for allowing others to have the musical foundation so they too can dream…. entertain and teach others about the worlds greatest language ….MUSIC….peace…love…health and happiness to all.

    Posted by dw keating | October 6, 2011, 10:22 pm
  2. Your godson is impressed..His exact quote “What doesn’t she do?” Band has been a wonderful experience for all my children. So sad that with budget cuts it is being completed dismantled. First they ended the program at the elementary level. This year that ended the program at the middle school. Soon the high school band will consist of all first timers. It is a complete disgrace!

    Posted by Jacquie | September 22, 2011, 10:28 pm

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