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Marching Memories

      September is like a bucket spilling over with memories collected down through the years of my life. My bucket is filled with memories of heading back to school as a child, harvesting the crops on the farm, colorful leaves falling in the woodlot, planting autumn gardens and loading my children on bright yellow buses on crisp autumn mornings for their own first days of school.
     But there is one exceptionally sweet memory that returns about this time each year...a favorite memory going back to the years 1960 through 1964 when I was a member of the duPont Manual High School marching band in Louisville, Kentucky.
    At that time, Mr. Robert Griffith was the director of Manual's music program and Mr. Albert Asch was director of the marching band. I had come to know Mr. Griffith some years earlier when, as a seventh grader, he encouraged me to learn to play the French horn and mellophone. Initially I was not too interested in the idea. I wanted to play the trumpet or maybe the trombone. But, I recall Mr. Griffith telling me that trumpets were a “dime a dozen”, and that if I would learn to play the French horn, there would always be a place for me in the band. Eventually, he convinced me to give it a try and learn that beautiful instrument.
    In the autumn of 1960, I was invited by Mr. Asch to join the Manual marching band as they made their annual journey to the FFA camp in Hardinsburg. While at the 10-day camp, we learned the halftime program that would be performed each week at the home football games at  Manual Stadium. It was very exciting to journey to Breckinridge County and be a part of both the marching and concert bands for ten days. As a ninth grader and new band member, I was subjected to some hazing which I now look back on with a chuckle. I endured "short-sheeting", midnight shaving cream applications and being at the beck and call of the upperclassmen for chores such as making their beds. And I'm glad to say it was all in good fun...nothing serious, humiliating or dangerous. 
    My experience in the band would continue for four school years, and gradually I worked my way up to positions of leadership. But more importantly, I enjoyed the camaraderie and brotherhood of my fellow band members as we watched out for each other, not just at football games, but throughout the school year. No bully ever bothered any band member very long! Even better, my senior year I was dared by a fellow French horn player to ask a cute blonde clarinet player out on a date. That dare changed my life forever, and fifty-five years later, she and I still make beautiful music together!
     On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings during the months of September and October, the band held early morning rehearsals on the athletic field behind the school. On cold autumn days, we would carry our mouthpieces in our pockets so the cold metal wouldn't stick to our lips! On Fridays, we gathered at Manual Stadium at 7 a.m. for a live rehearsal of that evening's half-time performance. As the school year progressed, we became quite polished in our ability to perform the halftime show, even with some minor changes or additions to the program. A highlight each week was the "Marching Manual" formation as we spelled out "Manual" in block letters and marched down the field to the school fight song “Stand Up and Cheer!"
    In those days, our band claimed the distinction of being one of the finest bands in the state of Kentucky. Each year we competed in the spring state music contest and each year received a “Superior” rating, the finest score available.
    Our band was made up of 14 ranks, each with eight marching members. The trombones were usually in the first rank and the tubas in the last rank. The drums were always in the middle of the band right behind the mellophones.  We were led by a drum major and an exceptionally talented majorette. If our majorette dropped her baton during the program, she could do a cartwheel while retrieving it, so that the audience often thought the error was actually part of the program.
      Our uniforms were wool and for two months out of the year were extremely hot and uncomfortable in the heat. However by November, we were much more comfortable with the heavy uniforms on chilly nights. At one time our uniforms included white spats which were a constant struggle to keep clean. This was particularly true after a night of marching on a muddy field. We often had to scrub those spats with Chlorox to get them white again.
    Many years have come and gone since those days in the 1960’s. I still enjoy seeing halftime shows at high school or college football games.  But, when the leaves on the trees begin to change color and the evenings bring a little chill to the air, my thoughts wander back to the marching band, the sound of the drums' cadence, the crisp autumn air, the stadium lights and the swell of the music as we marched across the field.  And the sweetest memory of all is of the friends with whom I was so close those many years ago.
“Stand up and cheer!
Stand up and cheer for dear old Manual!
For today we raise our standard high above the rest!”