Picture the spectacle of flashing instruments and the frenzy of kicks and whirls of dance line members — or, for clarification, the girls down the street and across the train tracks (dividing the New Village streets of Southern and Loner Avenue), I was thinking, as I often do nowadays, about the first Mid-South Marching Band Festival so long ago.
Cool, autumn air whispered through the pines that lined the neighborhoods; fig trees were bereft of their fruit that had been turned into grandmother’s unmistakable fig preserves. On a cold winter night, fig preserves smeared on a warm biscuit is something to be experienced, not described.
At that time, the bands were paraded down Broad Street, from the courthouse to the Emma Sansom monument. Every step was closely scrutinized, actually measured. No sloppy marching here!
They came from EVERYWHERE — some from as far away as Tennessee — to march against the best, to be perfect.
“They even counted against us if the majorettes’ fingernail polish was chipped,” reported Janet Green. That slip-up was indelible in the minds of majorettes from then on, and was a special, unwritten law when members of the newly formed Mid-South Committee made the rules in the 1960s.
Mid-South was tough, and so were the participants. Their uniforms were perfect. They knew their music, inside and out. They were ready!
The atmosphere was charged with a white-hot intensity. Once the band was announced, there was no turning back. It was now or never.
Crowds were hushed; a note sounded; high and random. A “tang” from an unknown instrument; somewhere, someone played out of tune, out of order, clanging across the field. The band waited; the crowd waited. The next sound would be victory or defeat.
The drum major waited only a split second — all he had was the confidence in his band — and in that split second, the world stood still.
The band was getting nervous; all their confidence was placed in the drum major. He had to risk it all and possibly lose it all. There was always next year — but no, it was about tonight. He must keep his head and stay focused.
“If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you ... If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same ... .
“BAND! READY!” He placed his heart and fate in the hands he trusted; he blew the whistle. The band crashed into a patriotic program, never missing as much as one beat, one note. The crowd, not understanding, went wild, and the triumphant sound reached across the years to strike a chord in eager hearts everywhere.
Try! Reach the sky! At least, if nothing else, you will touch a star.
The story is an allegory, to take from whatever you wish — to believe or not to believe. I know high school students as well as anyone, especially our own. Someday I’ll tell you all about them, ‘round town!
Glenda Byars is a correspondent for The Gadsden Times. Send submissions to email@example.com.