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Holten: You need to march in the band

Have you ever been in a marching band? I was way back in high school.

In fact, I used to march at “band day” in Williston each May because, at the time, it was the unofficial marching band mecca, with bands coming in from near and far, including Montana and Canada.

Of course, that was before the latest oil boom when cattlemen were still king and oil trucks hadn’t yet plugged up Williston’s Million Dollar Way. Today, they still have a band day in Williston, but after looking at recent photos, it appears many of the bands have been replaced by people riding in the back of pickup trucks, so few things stay the same, right?

Early on, when I was a toddler, my aunt and uncle lived a couple of blocks off Main Street near downtown Williston, which was the parade route. I can remember watching very proudly as our high school band marched by led by Sheila Harmon, the luscious baton twirler, who drew the attention of every tongue-wagging teenage boy from Crosby to Beulah.

Back then, our band instructor had successfully recruited just about every kid within a 20-mile radius off of every cattle ranch and wheat farm, to join the ranks and don those bright red, military-looking uniforms with the grey striped pants tucked into white spats worn over black shoes.

No one ever gets to wear spats over their shoes unless they are in a marching band or the military, and I joined up in the fifth grade just so that I could eventually wear one of those spiffy uniforms.

But because I was in fifth grade and still very short, the band instructor suggested that I play the drums. However, I wanted to play the trombone and play the trombone I did — somehow managing to reach the end note on the slide with the help of two yard sticks, a plunger and a bamboo fishing rod duct-taped together.

Today, my trombone’s whereabouts are unknown. It disappeared one evening at the University of North Dakota after a social exchange between my fraternity and a sorority. That exchange consisted of a talent show where my five-piece band won first prize and I can only assume it was a jealous competitor who made off with my horn.

Nevertheless, later that evening, we ended up at a truck stop restaurant where we ran into the athletic director of the college who was also having a late-night snack. After bragging to him about our accomplishments earlier that evening, he instructed us to be in his office on Monday morning. That was the beginning of the UND Hockey Pep Band.

Meanwhile I, by then being hornless, never did play in the band but I did carry a horn case into the arena filled with a few cold brews and I still consider myself to be a part of pep band history and why not?

Nevertheless, I realize now that I should have given the pep band my all, but back then that would have required me to purchase a new horn and you already know how poor college kids are.

Later, I lived for years in Southern California and rarely missed the big daddy of them all, the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, where a lot of people go to see the floats. But not me. I went there to see the bands and I can assure you that Pasadena is the real band mecca.

The point I am trying to make is that there are few things better than marching in the band, with your hometown fans and family watching proudly from curbside. Not to mention all of the good things that being in a band teaches you, like discipline, timing, rhythm, working in unison and perseverance.

And yes, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am using marching in the band as a bit of a metaphor for life.

But as the former center of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, once said, “Music rhythms are mathematical patterns. When you hear a song and your body starts moving with it, your body is doing mathematics.”

So join the band and do the math.

Holten is the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. He writes a weekly column for The Dickinson Press.