Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Marching Blind

Yesterday evening I marched with the Minneapolis Police Band to head off the annual Minneapolis Aquatennial Torchlight parade. Somebody from another band -- a much bigger and better band -- asked us which unit we were in the parade, and we admitted we were first. "Tradition and history," I explained. This is a good thing because even though the parade has gotten much smaller over the years it's still a big one and doesn't begin until 8:30 pm, so it can be a late night indeed if you're towards the back of the ranks.

This year we have a new bass drum for me, with what would ordinarily be a decent metal harness, as metal harnesses go. I have problems in general with metal harnesses, in part because they are designed for the proportions of high school kids. Also, by the time you are fifty there is usually a significant discrepancy in the height of your shoulders -- a lifetime of right-dominance will do that. I continually feel as if the harness is slipping off my shoulders. Still, they distribute the weight of the drum better than the cloth harness I am most comfortable with (and which is no longer made, as far as I've been able to determine).

The problem with the new bass drum, however, is that I can't see over it. I hadn't noticed this until this bass drum arrived, but the current fashion in bass drum style is a drum that sits very high. I've been looking at other bands when I've had the chance, and sure enough this is where drums -- particularly pitched drums -- tend to sit these days. This is the a random photo from a random online catalog, the first I found:

That isn't quite my drum -- my drum is a little smaller and even a little higher. You can tell, I think, that you can't see over it on the march.

I think it is possible to learn to march in precision without seeing directly in front of you, but this is not something I can do -- particularly in a band that isn't marching very precisely anyway, so I can't use the diagonals. I'm not the best marcher in the world, but after a lifetime of marching I do (subconsciously) continually check my position and alignment when I march. Evidently all the clues I have been using involve seeing the person in front of me, because with this new drum I weave all over the place.

Every few measures I lean forward, to check where I am, and I'm always off. When the drum major blows the whistle to start a piece, I twist sideways to be sure I can see his tempo-set. Both of these maneuvers are extremely hard on the neck and back, when you have a drum hanging from your shoulders -- particularly leaning forward, which puts the entire weight of the drum on the sensitive places in my neck. This it seems is why the last parade left me so hurt. I tried not to lean forward so much this time, but I'm still a little hurt from the march.

We're trying to figure out a way to alter the harness arrangement so the drum hangs lower, and I'm trying to figure out a way to get my marching sight cues from somewhere other than the person directly in front of me (who had a habit of falling back from the rank, scaring the crap out of me that I was going to knock into her).

And here's my bitchy comment for the day: It ought to be a legal offense to blow a whistle randomly within hearing of a band on the march. Just why is left as an exercise for the reader.

On the whole, though, I felt very good about marching with the police band last night. It does feel like a civic duty, and that band always makes a huge fuss over me. It really isn't a common thing for a large percentage of band members -- including the other members of the percussion section -- to make a point of telling you at the end of a parade how great of a job you did. But this band does this every time, and keeps saying how they couldn't march without me.

I suppose that's not an unqualified good thing.
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