In high school, I thought I was good at everything. I was a straight A, honors, AP student, I was on the dance team, I was in all the musicals, I had run for student council, I was in 3 choirs, and I excelled in the school’s photography program. To further prove my “excellence”, I even doubled up my classes so that I would graduate at the end of my junior year. If I wanted to do it, I would do it.

I spent my afternoons in the drama department down the hall from the band room. Many of my friends were in the marching band, which I knew nothing about… until the blonde, shirtless captain of the percussion section asked me to Homecoming. Suddenly, and miraculously, I loved the marching band and I was conveniently going to audition to be in the percussion section as soon as the next season began.

There was only one problem: I had never played a percussion instrument in my life.

There was only one problem: I had never played a percussion instrument in my life.

People explained to me that percussion was the hardest section, that it took the longest to learn, that I really had no chance of making it. They just didn’t know that I could do anything.

My effort to learn was valiant. I recruited my percussionist friends to teach me in their spare time, with the exception of my drum-captain high school sweetheart. I’m really bad at being really bad at things. I couldn’t let him hear me suck at the instrument I was just beginning to learn. He was good at reminding me that if I didn’t make the drumline, I could always dance and spin flags in the color guard. The colorguard accepted anyone who wanted to join.

I practiced every day, at school and at home. In the few weeks I had to prepare, I actually did learn a lot. I sat in the back of the audition workshops and drummed on a practice pad while the real percussionists played their drills on real drums. I graduated myself to playing the drums quietly in the drum closet where they were kept, or at lunch when no one was in the band room. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I learned the drills, I could hold a traditional grip, and I could play my “paradiddles”. In truth, I was halfway decent. My goal was a spot on the line of 5 big marching drums called “the baseline”. These spots in the marching band are typically the entry spots for freshman, because they are one of the easiest. I was a junior who would graduate at the end of the season. But, after seeing my progress, even my drum-captain boyfriend agreed there was a possibility that I might make the drum line.

The catch was that, though I could play a modest bass drum, every auditioner was required to play the world’s loudest snare drum in front of the percussion section teachers. I waited a torturous 20 minutes for my audition slot, listening to the crisp boom of the snare echo around the entire music wing of the school. Everyone heard how everyone played.

When it was my turn, I was handed a piece of music I had never seen before, to be played on an instrument I wasn’t hoping to play in the band. They expected me to play it right then and my audition was terrible: rushed, wrong, and sloppy. I knew that everyone who was rooting for me in the hallway heard every flub.

I shoved my embarrassment deep down inside and thanked the teachers and bolted from the audition. My percussion mentors in the hallway reassured me that the teachers had seen my progress leading up to the audition and that I still had a chance to make the baseline.

A few days later, the final band roster was posted and my name wasn’t on it.

The first thing I did was run to the dark, empty auditorium, sit down in the middle of the chairs and cry. I hadn’t made it. I wasn’t good enough. And frankly, that just really sucked.

But, in retrospect, what I did next makes me really proud. I wiped my eyes, marched into the band director’s office, and agreed to be on the color guard. My dance background suited me well. I found my place. I grew to love the guard and the work it required. I was the first rookie to be placed on the especially difficult “rifle line”. I loved the girls, I loved the band, and that part of high school makes up some of my fondest memories. We went on the become the State Champions that year, the only year I was able to be in the band before I graduated. I can’t help but wonder what kind of season I would have had wearing a bass drum instead of a leotard, but I wouldn’t trade the glitter and the friends I made for another chance at that audition.

 

Cate Formica is a mom, wife, and returning student at Aims. She returned to help better the future of her family. She enjoys writing, painting, and photography, all hobbies she has explored at Aims.