Monday, August 10, 2020
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BOA Grand Nationals: Williamstown, Ky.

INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—”Once in a while, right in the middle of an ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale,” says one anonymous quote floating around the Internet. Here at the semi-finals of the Bands of America Grand National Championships, the Williamstown Band of Spirit from the high school in Williamstown, Ky., gives us a splendid animated tale including music from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Sure, they offer a copious supply of platitudes in the narration, such as, “Happiness is not something you wish for; happiness is something you design,” and “If love is blind, why is there so much plastic surgery?” Yes, their size prevents them from providing us with the mundane elements other bands may include. They make light of their shortage of personnel with a banner:

However, this small but potent group of performers has taken the Kentucky Music Educators Association’s marching band Class A state title for five of the last six years, and their field show’s title, “Live Well, Love Much, Laugh Often,” a piece of 19th-century advice from the great American orator Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a little overused but not bad advice at all.

Their show is about finding the path to true happiness—ostensibly in marriage but really in all of life:

A sparkling flute duet accompanies one guy in a tuxedo, serenading—or rather, chasing after—a girl, trying to give her flowers. A trumpet solo blasts her denial, but when he hears from the narrator that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” they finally manage to get married.

Actually, that only happens after a person in a bunny rabbit suit showed him that the path to happiness goes through our sharing of humor with those we love. At least it ends well. A well-stated passage in the tubas puts the icing on the wedding cake near the end of the show, and everybody lives happily ever after.

On the use of bunny rabbits

Consider, briefly, state champions in football and state champions in marching band. On the one hand, participation in football for a state championship team doesn’t offer too many opportunities for light-hearted, informal learning. I’m using the word “learning” loosely here, but I have noticed that football coaches are often extremely serious about their craft, which ultimately is about scoring points. The Band of Spirit, however, has a student dress up in a bunny suit for their performance on what is probably the premiere stage for marching bands in the country. They have something to teach us about state championships, and the lesson is this: Some parts of a real life aren’t so deadly serious.

In Charles Gounod’s opera Faust (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel CarrĂ©, loosely based on Goethe’s Faust, Part 1), the main character declares in the final act: “All in the world’s but folly; man is born to be jolly.” School with only physical fitness activities in the extracurricular realm would be like life without laughter, without love. This laughter and the ensuing love are necessary components in our lives, we learn. Now the hard question: How do we make that happen?

Although the competition here, at one level—a very insignificant level—comes down to scoring points, the appearance of Bugs, et al., gives us evidence on the field that students are expressing their creativity. You can be sure that teachers are serious about rehearsals, drill practice, and so on, but the point is never the points with Williamstown. Rather, the path to real joy, as the band plays the “Ode to Joy,” the path to learning and practicing, teamwork and togetherness, is, in part, through our recognition of folly in everything, even in something as serious as marriage and a lifelong commitment.

No one is denying the importance of good physical fitness, good study habits, good grades, and so on. Nor can we deny the seriousness of marriage vows, but as Williamstown gets us to laugh at a bunny—too uncommon and totally ingenious—we realize that even those very serious and important parts of our lives would be less successful without laughter in the picture. Namaste Williamstown.

Williamstown High School, with its motto “A Tradition of Excellence … Tomorrow’s Legacy,” brings a marching band to Lucas Oil Stadium directed by Robert E. Gregg and led on the field by drum majors Alex Trumbo, Sara Clayton, and Ashlie Simpson.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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