3O Don’t Shoot–I’m in the Band!
August 10, 2007
At some point during my miserable first semester of ROTC, I observed a raggle-taggle bunch of musicians marching in uniforms and playing their instruments badly. When I inquired about the motley musical fraternity, I learned that they were the musical contingent of ROTC.
I knew that real United States Army has musical groups that play martial music, such as the US Army Band.
The history section of the Army Band web site states:
The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” was formed on January 25, 1922 by order of General John J. Pershing: “You will organize and equip The Army Band.” General Pershing believed that bands played a vital role in troop morale and efficiency and was convinced that America needed a premier band to surpass those of Europe.
As a person who has never been in combat, my understanding of these points is superficial. I imagine that my morale and efficiency as a soldier would be improved if 1) no one was shooting at me. If I couldn’t achieve that goal, I suspect my morale and efficiency would be improved if 2) I were well trained, 3) I were competent at doing my military tasks, and 4) I was successful in shooting our enemies before they shot me.
(I suspect I have fallen afoul of the mysterious grammatical tense known as the subjunctive here, and may need to be taken out and shot for that reason alone. Perhaps David can save my life in this regard.)
I suspected that the members of the military musical groups were people who play instruments well and would prefer not to be shot at. It seemed a logical extension to me that people who could play an instrument a little bit and were unable and unwilling to participate in regular ROTC drills would join the ROTC band. Call such junior daft dodgers drill dodgers.
In 1963, the University of California at Berkeley football team was awful. (Perhaps most of the Verona, Wisconsin High School football team had enrolled at Cal as a group to continue their losing tradition.) However, the Cal Berkeley marching band was considered quite good, although the 1963 UCLA marching band won the Sudler Award that year for the best University marching band in the United States, so evidently the Cal band players weren’t the very best in the country.
Auditioning for the ROTC band put me in a campus musical practice room with the director of the Cal Band, who also led the ROTC band. This seemed like overkill to me, but apparently he wasn’t getting as many applicants as he needed, so he also trolled the ROTC drill dodgers for band recruits.
He handed me a march and asked me to play a little. As I had played several marches in high school marching band, I was able to make a stab at it, though my feeble piccolo squeaks sounded more like a stumble than a march.
I explained that I was a little rusty in my piccolo playing, but indicated I was overcome with nostalgia for my piccolo and promised I would practice with fervor to get back into step. As the conversation proceeded, I realized that willingness to join the Cal marching band—perhaps they had a critical shortage of piccolo players that year—was his main criteria for letting a drill dodger into the ROTC band.
A little bit of lying easily leads to more, so I avowed a passionate intention to apply for the Cal marching band at the start of my sophomore year. With a sigh, he approved me for the ROTC band.
One of the advantages to the piccolo compared to the sousaphone is how easy it is to carry. One of the disadvantages of the piccolo compared to sousaphones, trumpets, and clarinets, is there is no place to clip one’s music to one’s instrument for people too lazy to memorize it. In desperation, I attached the band music to my arm with a rubber band where I furtively and desperately glanced at it from time to time to help me follow the march tune of the moment.
It is really difficult to convey in words exactly how bad the 1963 University of California ROTC marching band was.
However, by the end of the term, my rash promise to join the real Cal marching band was no longer an issue, for I had completely flunked out of that great university.