American Band

I was never in marching band.

When I was a kid, I took the obligatory piano lessons from the scary neighbor lady. I wasn’t very inspired (or talented) and took every opportunity not to play the piano. My father played the piano, including a rollicking good Bumblebee Boogie, and we listened to all kinds of music when I was growing up. In fact, I have an uncommonly clear memory of coming home from school to see my oldest siblings and my parents listening to the just released “Tommy” album by The Who. But as I write that, I’m wondering if it only happened in fuzzy BeckyLand because my parents were never there when I came home from school. They had to work to provide allowances to be frittered away on rock opera albums. Come to think of it, I don’t really recall attending school. Or having siblings. Or allowances. Other than that, it is a crystal clear memory.

Imagine my surprise when all three of my kids picked up instruments and played most of them fairly well. (I can confirm this is a Real Memory because I live in the house where they practice.) Between them they play: piano, violin, clarinet, saxophone, tuba, upright bass, trumpet, guitar, recorder, kazoo, pan flute and that thing shaped like the horn of some extinct animal like in the Ricola commercials.

The one nearest and dearest to us is the tuba. Both boys march(ed) tuba in their high school band and because of their fantastic experiences, I became interested enough to use the marching band as the setting for my current young adult novel.

Even though I knew a LOT about the Wonderful World of Band as a Band Mom (much like a pit bull hockey mom, but without all the creepy lipstick), I still wanted to do some research to get other perspectives.

But guess what? There aren’t that many books about the high school band experience. I KNOW! But I found a really terrific one …. AMERICAN BAND – Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland by Kristen Laine.

It’s a non-fiction chronicle of the lives of a group of kids in an Indiana marching band. Stefan Fatsis says, “It’s much more than the story of a season in the life of the most fanatical practitioners of this uniquely American ritual. Kristen Laine has produced a captivating portrait of what it’s like to be a teenager in middle America in the first part of the twenty-first century.”

I found it riveting. I was sucked into the lives of these kids and I cried at the end. (I know, I know. I cried at the end of Shoot The Moon too. So sue me. At least this time I wasn’t a public spectacle.)

It provided excellent research, but it left me craving more. Laine listed some titles in the back of her book, most of which I can’t find. Do you know of any books about high school marching band? College marching band? Drum and bugle corps? Novels or non-fiction ”” I’d love to read more.

0 thoughts on “American Band”

  1. Dear Becky,

    Your blog came up in my Google Alert for my book, American Band. I’m glad you enjoyed American Band. You aren’t alone in crying at the end. If they gave awards for such things, American Band could have won the I Didn’t Expect To Cry award for 2007. A lot of people picked up the book because they had been in band or were in band now or, as in your case, because their kids were in band, expecting to learn a little bit more about this whole marching band thing. But as you say in your description of the book, it’s narrative nonfiction, and the real-life stories I discovered during my research pack plenty of emotional power.

    Please forgive me for including a short brag. Feel free to skip this paragraph. American Band received the L. L. Winship / PEN New England award for nonfiction earlier this year. The paperback is just out this week! If you haven’t seen the website yet, you might like to view video of the band or find out more about the students and directors I wrote about:

    I’m sorry you haven’t been able to locate the “band” books I mention in my acknowledgments. I highly recommend the Barry Hannah novel Geronimo Rex. The book won the William Faulkner prize when it first came out. The book I have on my shelves is published by Grove Press and should still be in print. I also drew on an illustrated history of brass bands in America published by the Smithsonian in 1987. That book is called The Music Men and was written by Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert Hazen. My local library was able to request that book through inter-library loan.

    I agree: Those are slim pickings. Let us not forget Olivia Forms a Band, by the incomparable Ian Falconer, although I guess you don’t mean readers *that* young. Here are a few more recent books about life in drum corps, the crazy marching-band cross between semi-pro baseball and Olympic training. The Line is a young adult novel by Courtney Brandt, and Not For the Faint of Heart is a memoir by Jeremy “Spike” Van Wert. A memoir that includes great stories about being in a marching band in an Idaho mining town is The Good Times Are All Gone Now, written by Julie Weston and due out soon from University of Oklahoma Press.

    I hope this information helps. Best of luck with your novel! We definitely need more books about marching band, especially if they’re written with humor and by fans of Dave Barry and Haven Kimmel.

    All best,

    Kristen Laine

  2. Kristen … thanks so much for all the titles. I’m definitely going to try again!

    I’m thrilled by your Winship/PEN award ”” I’m a big fan of your book (and so were my kids) and love that it received the attention it deserves.

    And just an FYI, I’m new to blogging and am still trying to learn everything I need to do to have great posts, so in the next few days I have to learn how to do live links inside the posts. You know, like when folks scroll over or click on the title of your book, your website will come up. Cool that you found me before I was ready for prime time, though!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.