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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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From The 13th Chair Trombone Player:
Grand(e) Nationals

By DJ Corchin
Posted November 20, 2010

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player Also see: Seen and Heard at BOA 2010

It's that time of year. The Bands of America Grand National Championship in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. Where marching bands from all over the country gather to flex their musical muscles in front of each other in the proverbial spandex, wool, lycra and brass. And it was the best time ever!

I had the honor this year to represent as they were recognized for their sponsorship and contribution to help make it all happen. I had never represented a website before so I wasn't sure how to schmooze in that fashion. I mean don't get me wrong, I can kiss hands and shake babies with the best of them (or is it the other way arou...oops). But since I knew more than a few people there I was able to comfortably discuss the site in a meaningful way. More importantly, I wanted to make sure I could explain exactly what was sponsoring.

Driving in from Chicago was easy. Here's how to get there: Get on to the highway by the Starbucks at the corner of your block. Be sure to merge onto 65 as you pass Starbucks. Go about 14 Starbucks south until you pass Starbucks. Take the exit ramp by the gas station/Starbucks until you get to a Starbucks. Turn left when you're between the two Starbucks. Enter the lobby of your hotel on the North side where the Starbucks is. Head to your room and make a cup of instant Starbucks left for you on the counter. Boom, you're there.

When I got there, I did what I usually do, sit in the middle of the crowd and open my large, cavernous ears. The first thing I literally heard, in my gargantuan reverberation chambers was, "Do you watch for the good, or for someone to mess up?" I looked over and saw a dad sitting with his young children here to support their older sibling.

One of the kids answered, "Both."

"Why?" the dad asked.

"Because it's funny when they mess up."

"Have you ever done marching band?" the dad asked in a teacher sort of way.

"No," the 6-year-oldish boy said.

"Then you can't make fun of someone who messes up."


"Because you don't know how hard it is."

These were seriously the first words I heard when I sat down at a marching band competition. Not a discussion about band or music or shows, but a life lesson. I couldn't think of a better illustration of why we do what we do. I felt like I was in an old episode of Growing Pains. (For younger peeps reading this, just laugh. I don't have time to explain Growing Pains.) Then I went up into the press boxes to visit some old friends. Looks like I had the magic pass because I made it all the way up to the announcer's booth and hung out with Chuck Henson, the voice of BOA. (BTW, the magic pass also gets you one free topping at Sarpino's Pizzeria.) Chuck trained me as an announcer, but I have to tell you that's not really what I learned from him. He's been part of this stuff for years and has seen more than his share of things. But almost everything out of his mouth (when it wasn't through a mic) was about the awesomeness that the bands bring. He wasn't talking about great playing or marching. He was talking about conversations he has with students, their faces when they're performing, the pride they feel when he pronounces their name right. (Sorry, Helga BifnItji.) He was talking about people. And this was just the announcer!

Next, I sat out in the lobby area to write down some ideas and observe some more. As I plopped myself in front of the giant jumbotron, 20 tvs-in-one screen thingy, I saw a group of kids staring wide-eyed at the band performing. They had the biggest smiles on their face as they oohed and ahhed. "Awesome! That's crazy! We should try that. What if we did this? That band is great," were all things they were saying out loud to each other. Even the things they didn't like came out positive. "Oooh, that was weird, but maybe if they try it this way..." was about as negative as it got. This was a group of teenagers cheering and discussing other teenagers they never met, in an incredibly warm and constructive manner. This is obvious to people who actually work with teenagers, but for the older, stingy, "kids these days" types...teenagers are the smartest, most empathetic people in the world! Deal with it. OMG.

Semi-Finals ended. Time for the announcements of who made Finals. It's here that I witnessed two moments that truly represent what this competition is really all about. I don't normally name specific schools because I like to discuss broader ideas and concepts. But hey, it's my column...I do what I want.

Two schools from the Chicagoland area, Marian Catholic H.S. and Lake Park H.S. are frequent competitors and even somewhat rivals. Marian heard their names announced for Finals and Lake Park did not. I was standing on the field next to both drum majors. You could see the disappointment on the faces of the Lake Park drum majors. But the first thing they did was go right up to Marian and smiled. They hugged and said congratulations. But here's the truth, you could tell they honestly were happy for them. Marian looked disappointed that their long time competitors weren't performing with them that evening. The smiles from both sides were about as genuine as they could be. No one was paying attention so it wasn't for show. I couldn't really be sure as to what they were all feeling but at that moment, I was so proud of two of my hometown schools for displaying exactly what the world needs. We compete to win, but we play to grow.

The second moment was much quicker, but hit me like a four-wheeler carrying timpani to the pit driven by a parent who owns a meat store. I was walking up the stairs to exit and get ready for finals. There was a group of parents in front of me, and a drum major in front of them. One of the parents asked the drum major if his band made finals. He said with his polite, gentle, southern accent, "No sir, unfortunately not. But fortunately we get to watch all of the great bands that did."

OK, I get it. I'm a terrible, terrible person. I never felt like I needed to be better at life than I did right then. What a gracious statement. Seriously, I went and volunteered at a soup kitchen while walking rescued, abused puppies and then personally saved a whale when I got home. You could easily chalk that up to one great kid, but I think it was a perfect illustration of the kinds of young adults that music education produces. Too preachy? Yeah, well maybe, but Grand Nats does funny things to us all doesn't it.

If you've never been to Grand Nationals, I'm officially recommending the experience. And it is an experience. Whether you go to compete, as exhibition, or just to watch, it's worth the trip. Bring the magic pass if you can, say hello to Chuck, and pick me up a grande bold roast on your way back ;)

Also see: Seen and Heard at BOA 2010

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." His new children's book, You Got A Boogie (, was recently published to rave reviews. 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 another book and releasing a new album in 2010. Mr. Corchin welcomes your comments via email. Mr. Corchin is an independent contributor so his views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of

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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