Parents take on the business of marching band
It’s halftime under the Friday night lights. Teenagers stream towards the concession stand, while the audience turns with anticipation toward the empty field—the show’s about to begin. Musicians in crisp uniforms prepare to enter their stage. As the announcer’s voice echoes back to rising cheers from the crowd, little does anyone notice the well-rehearsed movements that make the show possible.
Hidden behind practices, halftime shows, and competitions is an army of parent volunteers that tackle the business side of marching band. “There are three groups of volunteer activities that we get involved in: an overwhelming set of ‘need-it-all-the-time’ activities, a good set of major events that need a lot of people at once, and the last minute chaotic sort of ‘we-need-someone-to-pick-this-up’ type stuff,” explains Bob Kalka, an East View Band Dad.
Boosters, fundraisers, chaperones, pit crews, concession stand workers, and a host of other parents taking care of the kids’ needs only begins to describe the roles parents play. “We try to take care of as many things as we can so that the band directors and the kids can focus on the music and the show,” says Arvella Oliver, a Georgetown Band Mom.
Work for the marching band goes on year-round. In July, before the Georgetown and East View marching bands report for band camp, volunteers construct props representing their band’s yearly theme.Hard-working, everyday dads turn scrap lumber and other materials into works of art. Last season, GHS’ pit crew built a fifteen-foot-wide half globe of the earth for One Small Step—a show capturing the wonderment of the Apollo space missions.
Parents like Arvella, an expert seamstress, pull out their tape measures. For a moment, each student becomes a sheet of measurements destined for one of the existing band uniforms tucked in storage. “I joke that it’s a full-time job in August and September to fit all the kids in their uniforms,” Arvella says.
During football season, waves of volunteers rally behind the band—at home games and away. Each game needs about thirty band parents—sixty on nights when they work concessions—to make the show happen. Moms prepare pre-game meals and stand ready with bags stocked to handle anything from first aid to uniform malfunctions. During the game, chaperones keep an eye on the band, apply plumes to each student’s shako, and make sure everyone has everything necessary.
As the final minutes of the second quarter tick down, the pit crew waits on the sideline to position the props and drum majors’ podiums. Their focus and energy mixes with the band’s excitement. “We get to be in the middle of the kids’ crazy anticipation while they’re marching on the field. It’s fun because they’re so focused. We get to experience what they’re experiencing,” says Bob.
After the show, the pit crew loads up the trucks. Dan Vita, an East View Band Dad, says that during October and November especially, volunteering can truly be like a full-time job on the weekends. “You’ve got a game Friday night ’til midnight and then—seven in the morning—you’re driving the truck to get to the [band] competition, which is an hour away, and you’re there for 12 hours. That’s part of being the pit crew,” he explains. Walk through the band halls on any given afternoon during the week, too, and it’s a good bet band parents are there, busy with the unsung tasks—organizing uniforms or making calls to schedule volunteers for the upcoming football game.
The work doesn’t stop when football season ends. During spring semester, volunteers move equipment and chaperone kids at band-related events, concerts, and competitions. For the boosters, springtime is fundraising time. And just as school begins to wind down, incoming and returning band parents meet to elect new booster club officers and start planning for next year.
With late nights, long hours, and a continuous stream of tasks—why would anyone sign up? The answer is simple. “You get to see what your kid’s doing. Usually, when you get to the high school level, you have to stand back at a distance. That’s one of the things that attracted me to being a band parent,” explains Dan. “I used to get involved with my son’s activities when he was younger, but in high school, he drives himself to those things. Here, you know their friends, you know what they’re doing, and you stay involved.”
The bubbly kids that blew through the house and couldn’t wait to tell Mommy and Daddy about their day now barely have a free moment to talk. Being a Band Mom or a Band Dad is about connecting with their children now and sharing in their lives in a meaningful way. Bob puts it well: “Love is spelled T-I-M-E.”