Saturday, August 03, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: 'Gray Shirts' keep the band rolling

This crowd is about to be whipped into a frenzy.
You just know that a mosh pit is about to break out, right there in front of Olive.

Check this out, we get a piano, an organ, hand bells and a marimba, which we call a “maranda” in our house for reasons to be explained.

The back reads: "Interior of Tabernacle where Bible teachers, missionaries and musicians are enjoyed. Gull Lake Bible Conference. Box 248, Kalamazoo, Michigan”

Some awkward wording there, to be sure. Not sure how we are going to be enjoying our missionaries.

But my attention was drawn to the marimba. I know about those. You see, I’m a proud marching band chaperone. And I move the marandas. I called them that once by mistake, and it kind of stuck.

 Band chaperones do a million different things to transport and prepare 300 kids for their performances and competitions. We’re like roadies, but with shorter hair and fewer tattoos. We get sweet lanyards with our names on them, too.

Given my limited skill set in these areas, I’m limited to moving stuff. And I hand out apples and granola bars. It’s more complicated than you think.

Marching bands these days have all the instruments that you expect, and a bunch of others, like base guitars and electric keyboards. They all need speakers, long cords and a power source. And, parents to push them.

I confessed to one fellow chaperone, we’re called “Gray Shirts” because of our uniform, that I had no idea what I was doing.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I move the stuff, then stay out of the kids’ way. They know what they’re doing.”

Before a home football game, we roll everything into the end zone. The traditional instruments – the ones that are played while marching – perform the anthem and fight song at the start of the game. Then they eat apples and granola bars and wait for a touchdown, which prompts them to erupt into the fight song.

It’s important to keep the kids occupied. This usually means I hand them my iPhone and they show me funny cat videos on YouTube.

Then, at halftime, we pounce. We roll the speakers into place, toss around the cords, plug stuff in and get out of the way. This has to be performed quickly, since the clock is ticking.

Then the magic happens. The kids get a little frustrated when people in the stands don’t pay attention. Hey, football fans! Watch the magic!

Then we roll everything back all the way to the band room.

Competitions are more complicated. The band travels with a semi holding all the instruments and other accessories. There are several smaller trailers, too. We have a lot of stuff.

Bands practice in a distant parking lot while others perform in the football stadium. People with supreme organizational skills figure all this out. I move stuff.

Everything is unloaded from the semis, arranged in the parking lot and set up for the kids. We then push, drag and march everything from the distant parking lot to a back entrance to the stadium. As soon as the other band clears the field, we rush into action, because seconds count.

Once everything is in place, the Gray Shirts scramble to the sidelines and watch the kids kick butt. Then we haul everything back to the trucks. Veteran Gray Shirts collect uniform hats and their plumes, which have special storage units. I push big speakers.

Then, we load everything back in the semi. There’s a special order to this, and the inside has racks and shelves to hold everything. You don’t want tubas bouncing around on top of the marandas.

Here’s one thing I learned: On late fall nights, there is a lot of dew. This makes the ramp up the semi wet. And if you are pushing a speaker or a maranda up the ramp and you slip and fall and you get run over by a speaker or maranda, it hurts. I have battle scars.

Back to our rocking postcard band.  Clearly there’s a flash problem, and I mean the camera and not Olive.

I see Gladys, the woman in red playing the piano, Olive on the hand bells, Chester in the bow tie pounding away on the maranda and Earl cranking out the best organ riff since “Light My Fire.”

But check out the two guys in the middle, sitting down. Dudes, security is supposed to be in the front of the stage! And they don’t even have cool lanyards.

See little Bobby in the front? He’s awed by Chester and the maranda, but in a moment he’s going to rush the stage, climb up and stage dive.

And if our elderly security team has to climb over the maranda or push aside Olive and her handbells, well, it’s going to get ugly.

This band clearly needs a bunch of Gray Shirts.

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