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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 > The Outside Looking In, Looking Out

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player:
The Outside Looking In, Looking Out

By DJ Corchin
Posted May 6, 2011

We returned last weekend from our triumphant conquering of the biggest marching band competition on the planet to the sounds of school announcement praises, a visit from the principal AND superintendent, a headline in the school newspaper, and a trophy so big it can double as a coat rack. (Which it does, 'cause you know, winning isn't everything...LIES!)

Now it's Friday and time for the weekly football game where peers and football fans alike will get to experience the awesomeness that is our show entitled, "The Prophecy Of Life." This is the first time the home crowd will be able to see our show in its final form, polished and perfect. The first half of the game was close and well-played. The stands were pumped. The band was lined on the west end zone fired up, standing proudly at attention. It was a brisk, fall night and the cold made me have to pee. But we are the Fighting Badgers, and Badgers stick it out no matter what the cost.

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player The buzzer went off and so did our nerves. We knew it was go-time. The announcer began, "Please welcome, the 2010 champions of the universe, directed by Chap McDermot, our Fighting Badger Marching Band!"

The clapping was ok, not what we expected but still respectable. Our drum major led us on the field as our show started to huge theatrics. As we gracefully moved our way closer to the middle of the field, I glanced over to see the faces of the people adoring us in all our spandex and wool glory. I was stunned, STUNNED, to see everyone carrying on conversations and not even looking at us. The announcer just told them who we are. How are they supposed to hear Jill's flute solo? They're too busy shoving hot dogs, nachos, and pizza (not necessarily in that order, but always including all three) into their unappreciative pie holes. And then it happened. I couldn't believe it. In the middle of our portrayal of "Love," the most adored human emotion, the section where our director cried during rehearsal after sharing the story of his brother and his wife of 20 years, the announcer comes on and says, "Please note, additional restrooms are located on the north side of the stadium."

Our show finished, we marched off to our school cadence (THAT got people to pay attention). I then went and used the restrooms located on the north side of the stadium.

There's nothing more heartbreaking than working incredibly hard for a huge accomplishment, be adored by strangers, only to have the people who should care the most, ignore you.

Here's the big secret: BAND IS NOT MAINSTREAM.

I know, I know. Blasphemy right? Really I wish it was. I think it is sometimes. I yell it at the top of my lungs it is (which is weird to my friends). But it's not. You don't see reality shows about band. (Oy, Jersey Shore Marching Tigers anyone?) You don't hear recordings of Incantation & Dance on the Top 40 station. Although, a remix of Jupiter would be cool. You definitely don't have socialites in band famous for doing absolutely nothing (or do you?). Band is "sneaky popular." It's one of those things when you ask the radio jock who plays the Top 40 about band off the air they say, "Oh I was in band in high school. I played percussion. Wish I still played. It was an awesome time." Then they'll tell you about a time when they made out at the back of the bus with the wickedly hot oboe player who later denied it ever happened 'cause lets face it, who would admit to that?

Band is popular. Don't get me wrong, it's just not Justin Bieber or NY Yankees popular.


In order to continue with this column, we need to build trust for a moment. I'm going to reference my days as a disc jockey and will use the term "DJ." You should trust that I never called myself "DJ the DJ" and I will trust you're cool enough to not mention that joke ever, because it wasn't funny the first time I heard it, and it's not funny the 13,645th time I heard it. There were 7 "Davids" on my little league baseball team one year, and I hate blending in ok? Now you know. Let's move on.

In 2000, I was DJing (pause...ok good) a really large wedding with a mentor of mine who taught me everything I know about rock'n the decks. Before the party while we were setting up he played a song called, "It's a Love Thing" by The Whispers. Him being 15 years my senior, I learned a ton about the music in the 70's and early 80's. I really enjoyed the tune. Fast forward to the middle of the party. The DJ (who HAPPENED to be named DJ) was on fire. My buddy was on the dance floor along with the entire crowd during an awesome "funk set." The floor was packed corner to corner, and everyone was having a great time. Since I loved the Whispers' tune so much I decided to play it. And like the Red Sea, the dance floor cleared completely. My colleague was left in the middle, just staring at me.

He walked over and said, "What was the name of this song again?" Knowing he knew the answer and was about to put me in my place I replied anyways, "It's a Love Thing." He says, "Great, don't ever play it again." Needless to say, the party still turned out fun. I played a little, "Baby Got Back" and we got right back on track (I find playing "Baby Got Back" fixes most situations).

In the truck on the way home, I asked him why he thought that song didn't work when it was such a lively crowd. He said, "No one knows that tune. It was a 'B side' hit. It's a great song, but no one knows it. People don't know what they love, they love what they know."

Right there he changed my life forever. "People don't know what they love, they love what they know." It explains so many things in the world. And that couldn't be truer for people on the outside looking in at the activity of Band.

How many times do people say, "After trying it, I have such a greater respect for it"? For anything? Being a trombone player myself, when I see an amazing concerto I can really appreciate it because I know what it's like to try and play the instrument. It's an obvious conclusion if you ask me. People relate to things they've done before. To put it more in context, if you've been in band, you love it. If you haven't, you probably don't understand it, therefore probably don't care too much about it. When a marching group goes out on the field and blares out some sick Earth, Wind & Fire tune or a recent pop song, the crowd pays attention. Why? Because they may not know how to do 8 to 5 but they sure know Lady Gaga when they hear it.

On the flip side, when a group of marching band kids checks out their first Drum Corps show and hears the initial blast of sound, they wet their pants they're so excited. (Which for you history buffs, is why it is an outdoor event. Easier cleanup.) When it comes to people not "getting it," we have choice: Get really frustrated and call them names like Normy, Music Muggle, and Stupid Face, or work to educate them. However, like most problems it's not just everyone else's fault. People who don't show appreciation for the work bands do, we immediately write off as "they just don't get it" without taking a look at what's important to them and the context in which they're hearing the performance. This isn't only true between "band people" and "Normies," but also within the music community. There is such a thing as over-writing or overperforming. The main point of performing in my dumb opinion is that audiences need to understand at minimum what you're trying to do. I remember being at a competition and saw the marching band equivalent of a bad Picasso painting. I mean you might as well have had a live cow hanging above the stadium by licorice ropes, while a group of instruments are driven into the AstroTurf by loggers in plaid and denim and a flute choir plays Simple Gifts from underneath the stands 'cause it would have had the same affect. I'm sure it took 6 months to write the show and in the end, every bando and their parents in the audience looked more confused than a freshman at prom (trust me, been there).

Here's my new rule I just made up as I was writing the last paragraph. "Only be a little smarter than your audience."

As musicians and performers, it's important that we look out at our audience as well. If we want to move them, we have to find what motivates them. I'm not saying to sell out and every show is a montage of Diddy, Justin, and Colbie Caillat (Old people look them up) but if we appreciate what they want to see, we might just make a friend. Who knows, maybe they'll join band. Probably not, but one can dream ;)

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. His next book, Sam & The Jungle Band is slated for release in June 2011. 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 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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