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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:
This one time...

By DJ Corchin
Posted September 16, 2011

If God exists, I think this is what it sounded like when he decided to create today's modern teenager. "Ok, here's the plan. When a kid gets between 13-18 years old, I don't care, you choose, let's make them start to smell different, design their face using pointillism, make them hairier, and then, now go with me on this, just to see what happens, let's send some of them to band camp." BTW, unfortunately, God is also a percussionist.

From The 13th Chair Trombone Player June 26th, Day 1
Dear Diary,
I'm in heaven. I don't mean like angels and clouds heaven, more like all I can eat KitKats and Taco Bell heaven. I am prepared as I could be. The mini-fridge my mom brought in was definitely worth it for the next 5 days. It's stocked with so much Dew I barely had room for the jello. I've got my Newsies hat, 8 t-shirt and vest combos, and I just hooked up my silent brass mute to my iPad so I can play my cornet with fart sounds. And today...I saw her.

I never thought I'd meet another person who loves World of Warcraft AND the history of bridge architecture. She's a flute player but I can forgive her for that. LOL. Her name was Brynn. Oh beautiful, beautiful Brynn. She had the hair of Goldilocks, the eyes of Amy Adams, and the body of Starbuck from the new version of Gallactica. Perfect. As she and I departed to separate dorms before auditions, I whispered in her ear confessions of my feelings, letting her know I loved her with all my heart. It was love at first sight some might say, but I say I've always loved her, in my dreams and dreams of my dreams. As she was leaving she said something to me but I couldn't hear it due some random drum line practicing in the middle of the hallway. I can only imagine what sweet response she had for me. Awesome.

June 27, Day 2
Dear Diary,
I had a meeting with the camp director today who told me I needed to stay away from Brynn. I guess she told the director that she told me to stay away but I kept calling her room asking if she knew the number for a good private teacher in her area. But it doesn't matter, I met my true love. Even truer than the last truism. It's music. I'm going to commit myself to music this week and hone my craft with the skill of the masters before me. Awesome.

June 28, Day 3
Dear Diary,
Holy cow Beth is soooooooo hotttt! I didn't know horn players came that hot! I think she looked at me during the slow section at letter B but I can't be sure. I'm going to write her a note and see if she'll meet me by the stone stairs. Awesome.

June 29, Day 4
Had an amazing day in rehearsal today. I met the composer of The Lord Of The Rings Symphony. It's not the music to the movies, but for wind ensemble. Can't believe some dork asked him if he also did the music to the movies. Idiot. LMFAO. The composer has perfect pitch. I wish I had perfect pitch...and telekinesis. Oh BTW, Beth dumped me. It's cool. Awesome.

June 30, Day 5
I am so sad today is the last day. I have had so much fun this week and made friendships I will keep forever. I've already added 674 friends on Facebook, 120 of which accepted. My Tumblr is being followed by 42 people now also. Pretty cool. Anyways, I'm glad I got to come here this week. Mom made me and said Dad would have wanted me to go. The past month has been the hardest of my life with him gone. It's hard to believe Dad won't be there this season pushing out the pit. But I think Mom was right. Dad really got me. Sometimes at school I feel like I'm part of a small group that no one understands. Here, people get me. And that's awesome.

When it comes to Band Camp, I have split personalities (well I'm sure it's debatable if I have them JUST when it comes to Band Camp). On one hand, I think they're the most hilarious thing to be invented in the universe. Yes, even aliens have a joke or two about it (The Vulcan ones aren't that funny). But on the other hand, it's the most serious thing I've encountered in my life.

So let's get band-nerd-technical for a moment. There are two types of band camps. The overnight version and the at-your-own-school version. Both are equally important, fun, and awkward. I don't believe you're doing band camp justice if you only discuss one, as some kids only experience the other and might feel left out. And the last thing I'd want to do is have a band nerd feel like the odd one out :)

Overnight band camp. Legendary jokes have been created at these venues. Jokes are jokes for a reason. I'm not going to try to deny my nerdish cultural heritage by ignoring the antics of my ancestors. I can't say (publicly) I'm proud of the mischief they produced, but I will say that because of them, band camp has a certain "character" that is always fun to talk about. The thing I love the most about band camp, today and when I was a camper, (there it is, my first "back in my day" statement, I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit. OK think younger thoughts...Justin Bieber, Glee, Twitter, Twitter, Twitter....What? Twitter's old now? Are you frick'n kidding me?! ) is the cultural petri dish it is. I've met kids from all over the world, from all walks of life. Kids from a big city, small rural community, Earth, New York, kids that are rich, poor, straight, gay, mac, pc.

One thing that surprises me the most though, is how many times band camp is the first time some kids have been outside their own home town. The courage that some of these students need to have to come to a new place, meet strange (I use that term loosely) people, and attempt to make music with them is astounding. Musically, sometimes they find out how good they really are. Sometimes they find out how much work they really have to do. (If you've ever been first chair in your own school, only to find out that you're oh...say 13th when you get together with more of your kind, I'm sure you realize that can be a shock to one's ego. Especially trumpet players. They tend to be sensitive about stupid stuff. And sometimes stupid about sensitive stuff.) I believe that many kids have an "ah ha" moment at these types of overnight camps, when they realize that they need to move into another level of maturity. It can be as simple as they are no longer the big fish in a small pond, but more like a small fish in a huge ocean...a large disgusting adolescent ocean, full of embarrassment, hormones, and fear that they suddenly may not know everything. (That's right you can count on band camp to knock'm down a peg.) But more often than not, they rise to the occasion and begin to look at their lives differently. I've had parents come back to a band camp for a second year to drop off their child only to say, "She came back a different person last year." I truly believe at this type of band camp, many kids realize they aren't alone in their corner of the world.

Most of these overnight camps are not just about music, but about leadership, teamwork, and life education. I've seen lives literally saved and friendships made that span over boundaries not normally crossed close to home. I strongly recommend sending students to these types of camps at least once. It can be the safest environment out there for them to experience a sense of independence, while building a larger sense of community. Deep huh? apologies, I'll get back to booger jokes and inappropriate noises soon.

Now we come to the other type of band camp. The kind that is with your own band, at your own school, run by your own director. Sometimes by themselves, sometimes by a staff of 20+. This is the week(s) where the band begins the journey of creating the most magnificent piece of performance art ever to grace the eyes of the human soul. Sometimes to the sounds of perfect melodies over striking ostinatos, sometimes to The Safety Dance. Either way, it will bring a tear to your eye.

"Band Camp Week" can be even more challenging than venturing away from home to bond with complete strangers. These people know your history, your mistakes, they know you pooped your pants in 7th....I mean 1st grade, and even worse, they don't go away when the week is over. This week can make or break a year. I believe that this time is truly when you see the strength of the individuals in the group. At an overnight camp, it's easy to be a "leader" for a week. It's even easier to lie about how you really act at home. (OK OK, I don't really volunteer at a nursing home once a week because I just want to "give back" to the community.) Every year I volunteer at an overnight camp I get asked, "Do you come here to escape who you really are, or do you come here to be who you really are?" The thing I like about this question is that the answer is different depending on if the person answering it likes who they really are. (Yeah, even deeper huh? Lose yourself in my moral ambiguity and love it.) But in this case, I'll use the question to demonstrate a point. The band camp week at your own school is something where you have to be who you really are, and that needs to be you at your best. Younger Freshman, you need to have courage to jump in and figure it out, to ask questions and find the right balance of challenging the status quo, while respecting other's experience levels. Upperclassmen, you have to show maturity beyond your years, and realize it's not about you, or just a perfect score, or even the music. Although all those things are important, it's about people. What are you doing to make people better. Can you put aside your own personal ego to boost someone else's?

The band is only as good as the amount it gives.

What does that mean? It means your choices that week matter, and it matters that those choices are good ones. I dare you to spend the entire week making someone else better. Double-quadruple dog dare.

Band Camp will continue to live in our hearts as our guilty little pleasure. I've even had someone make fun of me for going to band camp only to find out they went the previous year. (I may or may not have stuffed a filet-o-fish in their tuba bell on the bus ride to a contest.) But Band Camps are a great place to take a self-inventory, grow up a bit, and truly learn what it means to be part of a diverse world. You never know when that one week, will be the week life makes sense. Or it just might be the week you learn to chew with your mouth closed. Baby steps ;)

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 other children's books including Sam & The Jungle Band, You Got A Boogie, and the I Feel... series were 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. Mr. Corchin welcomes your comments via email. For more of his work please visit 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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