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Pep bands are crazy!

Posted: February 23, 2012 - 12:15am

You have not lived, literally, until you see the pep bands of Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain High Schools.

Seriously.

Pep bands are crazy!

They jump and swing and groove and chase each other around the floor and do handstands in the high stands.

Probably the greatest pep band moment I witnessed in my past was at the Washington High School state play-in games in the old Seattle Sonics Key Arena.

The band played “George of the Jungle,” and, man, did they ever look like gorillas and other jungle critters jumping about. It is all about atmosphere, baby! And they nailed it. I never witnessed something like that until last weekend at Thunder Mountain. And Juneau-Douglas.

Those Falcons bandsters never stopped moving! The JDHS cheerleaders became infected with spirit from the Crimson Bears balcony blasters! The fans went batty! The players got psyched! It made you want to be in the pep band!

Get off your duffs and see for yourselves. This weekend is your last opportunity, as it is the final home stands for each school, against each other no less, and it is senior appreciation night for those youths who soon will take their cheer, pep and hoops careers elsewhere.

And now…

If you have time, this is my tale as to why I was not in pep band:

In the seventh grade I was on the musical path.

I wanted a trumpet but played a brand new cornet that was a Christmas present. Basically the same instrument, just different tubing flarement.

My best friend could play the Beatles tune “Hey Jude” on his trumpet. The eighth grade girls loved him.

I could play “I’m Called Little Buttercup.” My grandmother loved that. My Phar-Mor (Swedish for father’s mother) didn’t speak a word of English so I don’t know what in her Swedish vernacular I was playing.

I became that little imp my unscrupulous relatives, most of whom were veterans of some world war or local pickled herring contest, would feed to the lions: the guinea pig asked to play Taps at a memorial in our neighboring village of Kake.

“Taps,” they insisted, “is as easy as playing the C note.”

Taps is also known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby” or by the lyrics of its second verse, “Day is Done.” The piece is actually a variation of an early bugle call known as the “Scottish Tattoo.”

The titles all sound so romantic and dramatic and exciting.

I, alas, was already prone to shyness and embarrassment at anything involved with romantics, dramatics or excitements.

Taps is usually in the key of C and sounds like this: g-g-c, pause, g-c-e, pause… gce gce gce… sweat nervously… c-e-g, hold…. e, c, g, hold… g-g-c.

High, low, in-between, jazzy, slangy, bluesy… if you have talent you can play a crazy Taps. I had Buttercup talent.

It was cold that morning in Kake.

Everything about my body was puckered. The long march up through the rows of gravestones and markers was more like the showing of a man headed to the guillotine.

I, of Swedish descendant, walking among the heroes of this Alaska land on Baranof Island, a name bestowed by a Russian explorer who braved great sea trials to reach this destination, only to discover it inhabited by those much heartier than he.

I could envision the Tlingit elders buried there, expecting a sound that would honor their memory, captivate their relatives and harmonize with the flora and fauna talked about in their legends and myths and storytelling.

The slight chill in the air became the icy vapor of each breath of those who marched up behind me. Their accumulated steaminess looked like the smoke from a hundred warring campfires.

The droplets of nervous sweat above my brow and below my armpit froze in temperatures best suited for the Donner Party.

My tongue froze to my lips as I moistened them for rapture. I coughed slightly as my deep breath sheeted my lungs with frost.

I began to toot.

The waters of Frederick Sound amplified pure heaven, the mountains of Kake reverberated the stylings of angels in flight and the faces of residents were fixed in a “California-plastic-surgenish-augumentation-bovine-fat-lip-injected-collagen” kind of smile.

I played my second note.

I knew I was fooling the gods. I would have to play more, have to finish the notes as great conductors intended them to be finished.

I soldiered on.

There is a note in Taps that, I believe, makes all horn players queasy at one moment in their playing life. It defines who they will become, both as young lads with horns and as adults with a passion for performance.

That note is, I believe, a high G.

It is the only note in the piece that rests ABOVE those five lines!

It is like that part in the national anthem you always hope the singer nails. The “And” proclaiming the rockets red glare.

Well, my note should have sounded like a Seraphim’s blessing. It instead “blatted” very low, screeched high and tried to gather itself among my self-esteem and testicles now laying disheartened inside muddied Xtratufs. To top it off the weather clouded in and I was stuck overnight among villagers less than appreciative of the “Swedish Wunderkind” they had been promised.

My horn became the “Flat Stanley” of the musical world. Tucked into its obnoxious large brown case it became a fixture everywhere except where it was supposed to be. It was a sled in the winter, a doorstop at night, a lunch table, and a flotation device.

It never attended another band practice…

Until my nephew found it in a basement closet under four yards of concrete and a dozen or so antique outboard engines, a few Gaelic warnings to whomever unearthed what lie beneath and a dozen or so jars of pickled herring.

My nephew was in the seventh grade. He nursed it back to health and they bonded. Together they went on to be state high school pep band, chorus and cross-country running stars. He was a sought-after prom date who wore his father’s throwback tuxes.

His musical interests flowed over into guitar and the stylings of Three Dog Night, Credence Clearwater Revival and similar sounds from my era. He was a young man finding himself, as many high school youth do.

I like to think it was my cornet that started all that.

Sparkle. Shiiiiiinnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeee.

“I’m called Little Buttercup – dear Little Buttercup,

Though I could never tell why,

But still I’m called Buttercup – poor little Buttercup,

Sweet Little Buttercup I!

“I’ve snuff and tobaccy, and excellent jacky,

I’ve scissors, and watches, and knives;

I’ve ribbons and laces to set off the faces

Of pretty young sweethearts and wives.”

(from ‘Buttercup’ in the Broadway musical H.M.S. Pinafore)

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