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Home > Spotlight > Post-Contest Retreat

Post-contest retreat: The day scorching heat and overhydration clashed

Former band member Alyssa Grimley reflects on a marching band moment that tested her endurance.

By Alyssa Grimley

SEPTEMBER 29, 2011 — After a long day of endless preparation and impassioned performance in the sweltering Texas heat, the Bands of America Regional Championship had come to a close. Sweaty and exhausted, we band kids clambered onto crowded buses to stow away our instruments. After a short breather, it was time to move again. We zipped up our blue jackets and baggy black pants and jammed our bucket-shaped hats onto our heads as dedicated parents topped the hats with tall black feather plumes. We were preparing for the portion of the contest that I personally did not look forward to: the retreat.

Alyssa Grimley The retreat, a showcase of every band that participated in the contest, calls for every band to gather on the marching field in a block formation, filling the green space entirely with solid masses of humanity, identifiable and distinguishable by uniform only. Completely obscuring the field with scores of marchers may be an impressive sight from the audience's point of view, but as an immobile, exhausted member of said formation, I found it quite tedious.

In order to fit every participating band onto the field, each band has to first form itself into a single file line. The directors then lead this winding line into a concrete tunnel that empties out onto the Astroturf field that we all marched on. Other bands line up beside us, so that on our left and right are strangers and in front of and behind us are our section mates. And then we wait. And wait. And wait until it is time for us to file onto the field.

It is during this waiting period that we were encouraged to make small talk with the marchers at our left and right. It's only polite, our director would say, and it projects a positive image for our school. However, at this particular retreat, I was quite incapable of making small talk, for I was about to explode.

My discomfort was due in part to the scorching heat. In order to keep the number of deliriously dehydrated marchers to a minimum, the directors would push water on us like nobody's business. Unfortunately, the directors always seemed to forget the consequences of drinking exorbitant amounts of water. Without fail, we would need to use the restroom, and without fail, the directors would be exasperated with our inability to hold it in. During this contest, I was unable to find time to run to a restroom, and now, during the waiting period of the retreat, I was paying for it. I had to pee. Bad.

Unfortunately, the directors always seemed to forget the consequences of drinking exorbitant amounts of water. While everyone around me chatted good-naturedly, I eyed the inside of the claustrophobic concrete tunnel and the impenetrable walls of people surrounding me. To my left was a band clad in green and black, to my right, marchers dressed entirely in white. There was no escaping through these unmoving lines of color.

Desperately I whispered my predicament to my friend in front of me, who replied irritably, "Why did you tell me that? Now I have to go." Well, I thought with morbid satisfaction, at least now I wasn't alone in my plight.

The minutes dragged on and on. My discomfort turned to crazed agony as I went from standing to hopping from foot to foot. I tried to interact with the white-clad marchers to my right, but all I could manage was a strained smile and a "Hi! My name's Alyssa and I have to pee!" The rival marchers were visibly weirded out and shied away from me as best they could in the cramped tunnel.

At last we were called to the field, and stood immobile in block formation for what must have been eons. Now robbed of the ability to rock back and forth in misery, I clenched my fists as I stood statue-still amongst my fellow band mates. Finally, the booming voice of the announcer brought the contest to a close and the musicians broke formation to mingle about on the field. Recognizing our dismissal, my friend and I bolted for the nearest restroom without further ado. By some miracle, we made it to the restroom and all was right with the world. We were especially thankful that we averted the embarrassing alternative, as we were all too aware of the other band kids in our situation that hadn't been so lucky.

About the Author: Alyssa Grimley is a professional writing major at the University of Oklahoma. While attending Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, she played the alto saxophone in both marching and concert seasons.

Text and photo courtesy of Alyssa Grimley.

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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