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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player

Humorous and inspiring author DJ Corchin offers his unique observations about life in the world of marching bands.

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Home > From The 13th Chair Trombone Player > An Alternate Universe

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player:
An Alternate Universe

By DJ Corchin
Posted March 19, 2010

My first day of high school marching band. I got my trombone out, laced up my sick pair of Nike cross-trainers, took a deep breath as if my whole life was in front of me, and sat my scrawny freshman butt down on the practice field bleachers. They were slightly wet from the previous night's rain, which didn't work so well with my denim shorts. (Hey, don't judge. It was the style and I rocked it hardcore.) As I gazed out at the group moving to the opening set, I spent my time deciding if I missed being part of it, or was relieved that I didn't have to worry about pit stains for the rest of the day. For I ... was an alternate.

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player At my school you were deemed "alternate" for one of two reasons. Either you missed summer band camp or you marched like Frankenstein after two Red Bulls. In my case, I had spent the summer at overnight camp learning how to be unpopular and awkward. Mission accomplished. Being alternate meant we marched only in parades but learned the field spot of another member just "in case." Needless to say, "in case" rarely happened.

Sitting next to me was another freshman, Nicole, who had an unbelievable amount of braces in her mouth. It seriously looked like a Terminator movie in there. She played the flute. We became good friends and bonded over trying to come up with new ways of looking engaged in what was happening at practices. As much as we were not involved in the actual act of rehearsing, I would consider Nicole and I lucky.

Being involved in marching band over the years as a performer, announcer and teacher, I've seen alternates used in a variety of ways, many of them awkward. I find it interesting when I see 5-20 students lined up on the side or goal line in full uniform standing at attention during the entire show. Sometimes they're even playing through their parts along with the group. Perhaps that is useful in rehearsal, but during a competition? That's just weird. My first thought is, "Why?" Did they post pictures of their director wedging out a serious snot monster with his baton? Or maybe they got caught arm wrestling the lunch ladies for money during sectionals? I really wanted to know what those students could get out of standing there. A sense of belonging or participation? Maybe, but I'm not sold on that.

During field performances I was dressed as a pit crew team member, along with Nicole and a few others. We were able to move equipment, help parents, and set up the pit. It gave us a sense of belonging and accomplishment. No one was watching me from the stands wondering if I wasn't marching because I was bad at it or because I missed rehearsal for Hebrew school. We never felt "alternate" in this highly public situation.

I strongly believe it can be a huge advantage to have an 'alternate' experience. I'm not saying being an alternate is bad. However, the way it is implemented can make all the difference in the experience being positive or negative. I strongly believe it can be a huge advantage to have an "alternate" experience. In fact, Nicole ended up being drum major and I made a living for three years performing in what was arguably the most professional marching group in the world.

If you're an alternate right now, use that experience to be as constructive as possible. I remember using my unusually large ears to listen in on director and staff conversations and feeling like I understood why they made certain decisions. Help your peers as much as possible so you build positive relationships with them. You never know, you might be their drum major someday.

Directors have many reasons for using alternates the way they do. Sometimes they just don't know what else to do with the extra bodies. However, I have to think there is a better way to contribute to the group than to get all dressed up in uniform only to stand there, looking spectacular, while your peers rock it out. And you do ... you look spectacular ;)

About the Author: DJ Corchin is author of the celebrated humorously inspiring book, Band Nerds Poetry From The 13th Chair Trombone Player. He was a featured performer in the first national Broadway tour of the Tony and Emmy award winning show, BLAST! where he was best known as the "unicycling trombonist." A pop recording artist out of Chicago and former high school band director, he continues to be involved in marching bands and music education through speaking events, competitions and organizations such as Music for All. He will be publishing two more books and releasing a new album in 2010. Mr. Corchin is an independent contributor. His views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Mr. Corchin welcomes your comments via email.

Text by DJ Corchin. Trombone illustration by Dan Dougherty.

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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