/09 Adolescence

Greg Miller

Band Camp

My father was a music teacher for 40 years. When I was born and throughout the 70’s and 80’s he was a high school band director. I grew up around the sound of instruments tuning, the smell of musty cases, the bright colors of band uniforms and rainy parades. When my dad was working after school, I remember running around the band room and jumping off the risers. He was a french horn player, my mother a flutist and piccolo player, my grandmother played cello, and my brother was already a talented trombonist. In spite of my family’s musical ability, I was never very musical. I remember as a child asking if everyone had to play a musical instrument.

Like football or lacrosse, marching band is one of those activities we can embrace with great passion in high school because it seems the thing to do or a place to belong, but few continue as adults. If a music student is destined for a concert music career, they are required to play in the marching band. Because of the intricate drills that are learned, the traveling on buses to away games, contests and parades, (our band traveled to Disney World) it was an extraordinary co-ed social experience.

Forced to choose an instrument in high school, I played the largest bass drum, which was essentially the concert bass drum strapped to my back. Videos of our performances comically show me hunched over trying to hold up the drum. I remember I cost the drum corp a top trophy at a contest because my thumbs were up while playing. The director taped my thumbs to my mallets for the rest of the season. Obviously, my time in the marching band was short (just one year), and quickly gave way to many hours in the art room. Yet, the look of the band stayed with me: the odd groups of sweaty teenagers, boys and girls in t-shirts and shorts assembled in military-like formations all while holding instruments (like the french horn) designed 400 years ago.

I returned to photograph my high school’s marching band 20 years after leaving it behind. I was looking for the adolescent fog that I experienced when I was there. When most of my friends were still vacationing or at the pool, I was standing in a field learning drills and getting crushes. I remember it was a period of intense training and intense social interaction, which most of us were not prepared for, all under a blazing mid-August sun.