California Roll Off

3 minute read

On Saturday I attended a high school marching band event here in Petaluma. I figured it would be a nice little stroll (march?) down memory lane. And it was, but with a few differences. Primarily:

  1. It wasn’t called a “competition,” it was called a “review,” regardless of the fact that the bands were being judged and placed. Perhaps it’s a kindergentlerPCCalifornianeuphemism sort of thing.
  2. It didn’t take place on a marching field. It was a parade marching competition.

No field? Can you do that for a marching event? How bizarre. How surreal.

The bands formed up into their ranks and rows, dress-center-dressed, then marched a mere two blocks while playing some highly traditional Sousa-esque piece of music. Each performance lasted perhaps three minutes. Hardly seems worth their drive, really. And a number of the eighteen bands in attendance had considerable drives to make. Ventura High was there, and unless my California geography is truly pathetic (which it may very well be), Ventura is down the coast five or six hours or so. There doesn’t seem to be much return for that investment of time.

At first I was inclined to think that this event was a one-off, an opportunity for the bands to show off, the kids to mingle and the directors to network. It turns out, however, that this is a true competitive parade marching circuit. The band parents around me were discussing how well or poorly suchandtheotherband did at Santa Cruz last weekend or how this year Antioch was playing the same piece as Fairfield and wasn’t that simply dreadful? Curiouser and curiouser.

We did not have such events in Michigan. If you were marching down the street with your band, it’s because there was a parade of some sort warranting such behavior. One simply did not drive for hours, don the uniform and hit the pavement for a competition. There were more important things to do, like marching on a field for goodness sake. The road is there to take you to the field, that’s all.

Not that I’m averse to the idea of any activity which might lead to better on-field marching. Heaven knows that extra time spent practicing staying in step and perfecting the ol’ heel-to-toe is time well-spent. Yet for some reason it never would have occurred to me to turn it into a competition of some form.

A parade marching competition is not nearly as similar to a field marching competition as you would like to think. I learned very early on in the event that there are places in the performance where one is expected to applaud and that those places are not always readily apparent, even to one who spent no small amount of time both in and in front of marching bands. It got to the point where I stopped applauding at all rather than risk the faux pas of a mis-clap.

There are some elements which the two forms share, though. Like the prevalence of color guard. Swing flags, regular flags, tall flags, rifle corps, saber corps, baton twirlers. And a group which appear to be distinctly Californian: the ID/shield corp. Almost every band had one of these leading the group, usually immediately following the usual “this is our school and name and town” banner. This group is composed of people (usually girls, of course) carrying and drilling with colorful shields{.broken_link} emblazoned with the initials/name of the school/mascot. They were very eye catching.

Despite my reaction to the general concept of a parade marching competition, it was a good morning sitting in the sun and watching the parade pass by. Though I did not stick around to hear the results, my suspicion is that the Fairfield Scarlet Brigade ended up taking home the gold. I had hoped that Concord (home of the Blue Devils drum and bugle corps) would make a better showing, but there really was no comparison between Fairfield and, well, anyone else who performed that day. I mean, they had bagpipes, and who can compete against that?

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