Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Not Ready to Rejoin the Freedom Band

I'll be marching in the Pride Parade this weekend with the Minnesota Freedom Band. For many years the Freedom Band, and the national organization of lesbian/gay bands, was the major activity of my life. I had a personal goal of knowing every member of every lgbt band in the country, and at one point I was darned close to achieving it. I had a wonderful time with the bands I played with, and I absolutely loved getting to know my fellow musicians from around the country (and to some extent the world). I believed wholeheartedly (and I still do) that the bands were an extremely significant political organization, in part because their political nature was not obvious to many. I have not a second's regret for the energy I put into the band organizations, although in time the energy (of which I had vast stores) was pretty well tapped out and I needed to take a break. Plus I was tired of hauling a xylophone around.

And so for many years now I have played with the band only on the march, and for the occasional outdoor pep band activity. This doesn't amount to much, all told, and involves very little in the way of practice. Once in a blue moon I'll fill in for a concert, on a one-shot basis. Every now and again I consider: Is it time? Am I ready yet to rejoin the band and end my leave of absence?

Not on your life.

I realized this the other week when I attended the annual outdoor Pride concert, a sort of music festival with all the members of the local "Queer Music Consortium" (choruses, band, orchestra...). One of the band's conductors, whom I've known for 20 years and think very well of, greeted me by encouraging me to rejoin the band in the fall -- she was looking at some pieces with rich percussion parts she thought I'd enjoy and she hoped I'd be able to help out. Isn't that sweet? And yet I found myself, instinctively, responding defensively, about how hard it is for me these days to get to practice on Mondays and how I wasn't really sure I could do it. I had to stop myself and thank Jacki and walk away and wonder where this gut "stop bothering me" response came from -- for Jacki was not pressuring me, she was sincerely pointing out that I might enjoy the upcoming concert lineup.

The band has a new primary conductor this year, with whom I was impressed. When I told this to some of my band friends I got a strange response -- apparently many folks in the band are not happy with how the conductor organizes rehearsals, and there is some tension about this. For so many years it was my job to try to address these tensions, to keep band members happy, to keep conductors happy. Any thoughts I may have had about taking up Jacki's request vanished with the realization that I'd be throwing myself back into the fray. These issues I speak of are absolutely par for the course with any artistic organization, I should point out, and in many organizations (and other bands) things are much more stressful, but even lightly touching on these issues that night reminded me of what drained me in the first place.

Oh but it gets worse. Somebody told me, in a sort of haughty fashion, how he just wasn't sure he'd be playing on the march because of the music choice. I thought he was being something of a prima donna, but then I got my music in the mail and it's an absurd choice for our particular band in our circumstances. For so many years it wasn't my role to have an opinion, it was my role to ensure a process and to try to take into account the varying (and irreconciliable) opinions of the band members. But now that I'm free to have an opinion of my own I am embarrassed about what we will sound like on the march.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about: One of the pieces begins with a 3/4 section for which the band must stop marching, take a break, start the music up while standing still for about a dozen measures, and then step off at the tempo change. This for a parade where we are not supposed to stop. This for a band that has literally 30 minutes of marching practice total. This for a new drum major who doesn't seem to have a clear way of conveying a stop signal to the percussion section. The fact that it's a drum corps arrangement for a band with one snare, one tri-tom, and one bass drum is also problematic, but not as problematic as the fact that the percussion section has been put in the rear where the brass can't hear us and we can't hear a thing even though we have to make up our parts because we have different instrumentation than the music calls for. And actually, it's the fact that we bring up the rear that prevents us from seeing the drum major, which is why we never quite got his stop signal at practice.

You'd think that I, of all people, would be able to take it all in stride, and to enjoy the fact that we're a marching band in a big parade. Very few people watching the parade will care one way or the other about our pieces having too many exposed sections for the instrumentation. It's a wondrous and amazing thing that we have such a band as this, after a quarter century -- that there could even be such a thing as a lesbian/gay marching band is something I hope never ever to take for granted. And so I will enjoy all this, or at least I'll show up with a smile and a good attitude on the day of the parade. But how did it come to me having to force this? How did it come to be that we are playing pieces on the march over which there is near-universal discontent?

But you see, it's not my band and it's not my worry. And that's my point here.

I will be very proud to wear the band uniform on Sunday, and to strap on my drum, and to be part of the parade in the way I know and love best. I wish we were playing something more suitable that would engage the audience, but my goal is not to say another word about this after finishing this entry. It will all be fine. It always is.

And it will be a little bit longer before I return to the ranks of the band.
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