I love music – listening to it, singing it, performing it, even a little bit of writing it. However, I realize not everyone shares my views. For instance, when I was younger and would attempt to pump up the jam or express my happiness through head-banging, dad would get a low-frequency, sonic-induced bellyache. It’s not that he dislikes music; it’s just that he prefers a different flavor of soul. Together, he and I make a mean pair on the bass part of a song and if you happen to be standing in front of us in church and we’re singing out of hymnals, you best duck or hope your hairspray holds cuz you’re gonna get an experience. But I digress….
Around the same time, I learned that this difference of taste extends beyond just human sensibilities and into the animal kingdom.
I was in the high school marching band from 8th grade through 12th. This particular story takes place during my junior year, I think. And this was probably in late August, early September and though the weather was technically cooling off, if you’ve spent any amount of time in
you know it doesn’t really start to “cool down” until mid-October. So this was probably a hot day in late August, the humidity was heinous, and that year we had started using a nearby community baseball field for rehearsals. North Carolina
The way the rehearsals would typically go is that after marching fundamentals each section would split off to various areas to warm up and go over their respective parts for the music – this is known as “sectionals”. Then we’d all gather together in the performance arch, play through some music, then get to the marching drill (that’s where we make all the pretty shapes and do the cool marching moves).
Now, another thing to know about
, specifically the Raleigh/Durham area, is there are a lot of trees. Where there aren’t deliberately cleared spaces for homes, fields, buildings, roads, there are trees. Lots of trees. Saying all that to say, the baseball field we used for rehearsal was surrounded by trees. It’s like you step off the field and into the North Carolina . Forbidden Forest
For the drum sectional we found a small clearing amongst some tall pines and oaks. We lined up – tenors, snares and basses – and began to warm up. We started with “8 on a hand” which is exactly what it sounds like: play eight beats with your right hand, then your left hand, 16 beats with your right hand, then eight again on your left, then right, and concluding with 16 on your left. We’d start at a medium tempo and work our way up to a controlled frenzy to loosen up the hand and wrist muscles.
Early in the season it’s not uncommon for someone in the line, at some point, to fall out of tempo; either dragging or rushing just a tad and we’d all do it and that was the point of rehearsal – to learn to play at tempo, in rhythm and in unison with each other. However, at this point in the season we were definitely beyond that in warm-ups. So it was a bit of a surprise when we started hearing random beats, way out of tempo, as we got further along with our exercise.
“Who’s doing that?” Richard asked after completing our first go-through.
Everyone looked at each other, exchanging bewildered glances. Each of us knew we were all solid and on the beat, yet, the audible evidence was undeniable: someone’s drum had played a beat out of synch. So we started back up and we noticed it happening again. Normally, as we play, we stand at attention, but a couple of us broke attention to look and try and figure out what who the culprit was.
“Ow!” Kevin yelled. We finished the exercise and asked him what was wrong. “Someone’s throwing stuff!” We looked around, expecting to find a rogue horn-player lurking in the trees but none was seen. Then Eric hit his drum. All eyes were on him and he threw up his hands.
“I didn’t do that!”
Then Richard beat his drum – except he didn’t move his hands.
“These woods are haunted!” he said. And then we saw it: an acorn fell and hit my drum.
“We’re playing the acorns off the trees?” I asked.
“No – it’s squirrels….” Richard observed.
Sure enough, a squad of the furry little critters were running around the branches, about 30 feet up.
“Well, now that we have that settled….” And we started again, at a faster tempo. It was then we discovered a positive correlation between the tempo of our playing and the intensity of acornfire from above.
“Those lousy little…!” Richard chucked one of his mallets upwards in retaliation hitting only branches and twigs. Somewhere I could swear I heard a high-pitched, yet deep and ominous laugh.
“Come on guys; don’t give in to the rodents!” Dave yelled.
We fired it up again and the squirrels fired it down. We kept at it for another few minutes, but the welts and wallops were more than we could bear. Finally, we gave in and moved to a different spot. Mother Nature won that day, but we won the war.
…that last bit really doesn’t mean anything, it just sounds good.