November 1, 2013 - 9:14pm
BY ERIC FERGUSON
I spent last Saturday with a high school marching band I instructed this past summer. It was almost exactly eight weeks since I had last seen them and I didn’t do a lot of hands-on teaching; I mostly watched and listened, comparing the group in front of me with the one I had left before returning to Ann Arbor. Many individuals had improved considerably, and what I noticed was that nearly every member conducted themselves not as 14-18 year old high school students, but as performers.
Being a performer is something I’m well acquainted with. I spent four years in my high school’s marching band and two in a marching group of an even higher caliber — a drum and bugle corps called The Blue Stars. In the context of these marching arts, the performer’s conduct is a statement of a calm but powerful presence and a willingness to disappear for a while and become whoever the show demands they become. Each member aims to fit him or herself into the same performer’s mold, consisting of a defined visual and/or musical technique and a certain character to become. While variation exists in each person’s ability to execute these techniques and their physical appearances, the difference between watching a member be themselves and be a performer during rehearsals and performances is as stark as if they had donned a mask or grown several inches taller.
To say that watching seventy high school students go into and out of this state after not teaching them or seeing their show for eight weeks is incredible isn’t a strong enough statement. It’s outstanding, striking — staggering, even. To me, it is its own form of entertainment, one that’s impossible to appreciate fully unless you’ve been a performer yourself. The experience is defined by empathy — by knowing exactly what they are doing, how difficult it is and understanding what the performance should be like no outsider can. It allows you to be engaged at a profound level, but it makes it extraordinarily difficult to comprehend how anyone could watch the same performance and be anything less than engrossed.
It’s no way to engage a wider audience, but my experience as an performer-turned-educator-turned-spectator last Saturday shows how the things we used to do can provide us with an extremely unique form of entertainment. Even though it has been two years, two months, two weeks and three days since I entertained as a member of a marching group, I expect watching the band perform once more for the state championship tomorrow in Detroit to be even more enjoyable.