About a week and a half after I accepted the offer to come up here, I had to send an e-mail that was hard to swallow. There were a lot of things I was willing to give up for the opportunity to live and work in Alaska, but there is a part of my life so important that it has been influencing my decision making since 1997. The e-mail was sent to the executive team of the Central States Judges Association (CSJA).
Depending on how well you know me, you either know exactly what I am talking about, kinda know what I am talking about, or about to learn more than you ever wanted to know about me. Ever since 1997, I have worked as a high school marching band competition adjudicator exclusively for the CSJA and have been a proud member since 2002. For a given show, it would be my job to evaluate a marching band’s performance against a set criteria and give a score, which combined with other judges who for the most part are looking at different things than I, contribute to an overall score. These competitions are practically nation-wide (not Alaska, but will get to that) and over the years I have judged in 11 different states (not Kansas, which is a whole different story). I had looked for competitions in Alaska, but haven’t found them – but when I go to High School football games I don’t even see a half time show, so not surprising there isn’t a circuit (that and there are only about 30 high schools state wide, which doesn’t help).
I got my start doing this shortly after I stopped touring with Drum Corps — which is a more advanced summer version of your high school marching band competitions. When I toured with drum corps, I did so for seven (and a half … ish) years, two years as an instructor in Michigan (and half year in Wisconsin … ish), before marching – three years with the Colts (from DU-BU-QUE, Iowa) and two years with the Cadets (who at the time were the Cadets of Bergen County (NJ) now from Pennsylvania). Prior to that, sorta, I marched in my high school band back in The Du. Why do I point out this resume?
Well, the e-mail I sent was to tell the CSJA that I would need to take this year off. From what I could expect during my first marching band season while in Alaska, I won’t have vacation until February, I didn’t know how I could sneak down to the lower 48 yet, and I needed to be focused on finding a house. This meant that for the first time since 1984, I would not be involved in the marching band circuit.
It’s really hard to describe to you how difficult this was to come to this conclusion, because its hard to describe to people outside of the activity what the activity means to those of us in it. When you marched, you became part of something that was truly greater than the some of its parts. You learned more about yourself than you could ever learn on your own. It’s effect left me energized every time I see a show. My heart beats faster, my body can’t stop moving, and I don’t sleep well that night. I can be a passionate guy, and nothing makes me drip with positive passion like marching band shows (good or bad – they always get me going). Judging was just the gold speckled super milky chocolate icing on the mint chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream cake. I would sit up in the best seat in the house, have the kids perform to please me, and all I had to do was give them ways to do it better next time. We got paid, but I never made money doing it, I would even take jobs at reduced rates just so I can work.
The timing of this all was tough too, because last year was easily my best year. I judged some great bands, judged some great shows, and judged with some great people. Not only that but I was good. Let me restate that … because if you know anything about me, you know I am my worst critic … but I can tell you, last year … I Was Good! I was feeling it like nothing else and living for each show and each band. In fact, when I interviewed with BP, my season just finished and I almost walked away to say no just so I didn’t miss a single chance to judge again.
It’s the people too that I miss. CSJA is a judges guild, intended to be the way schools can get high quality judges for their shows, and we don’t have to worry about finding the gigs to work. It’s a business, and people make business decisions that cause break-ups and politics, so I can’t mistake it for a family. But we are quite fraternal. Some of the people I have judged with are some of great friends – friendships that extend well beyond any other business relationship I have been in and well beyond judging. These are people I am unafraid to hug, unafraid to check on, unafraid to be there for if I am ever needed. We went through a bit of a rough year this year, and I am a little happy I missed the politics, but I miss the people dearly. I can go on forever about those folks – some of you are reading right now — like I am sure Dick Turner is reading this while sitting on a toliet somewhere, and I want to remind Jerry Robertson about that day in Catoosa when we got the show in, and Knapp would probably want to ask if I had a margarita anytime lately like he remembers (but I don’t) me having in Greenfield. Come tomorrow like many days during this season, I am going to look up on Facebook all those folks out there judging and I will have to miss them — knowing they will be doing what I love to do.
I tell myself every Saturday this last couple months that this is just temporary. I am going to damn well try to make it temporary. But if any of you out there get to do a show between now and the end of the year, I ask three things from you:
1) Don’t Suck
2) Make them cry
3) Take a walk down to the 50 yard line, take in a deep breath, raise your hands to the air and call forth:
BRING ON THE PAGEANTRY!