Dorien Grey's Links

APRIL 27, 2012 8:00AM

Marching On

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Band 1A march is playing as I type…a march I played as part of the Naval Aviation Cadet band at a time, it seems now, both only slightly after dinosaurs roamed the earth and yesterday afternoon. And instantly I am back on the parade field at Pensacola Naval Air Station, sweating in the Florida heat, but almost euphoric with the sense of  being part of the music and something much larger than myself.


 I played the clarinet, though I did not play it particularly well. In fact, I dreaded the very thought of actually being heard as other than a part of the whole band. But I also know that I played far better when I was one of many than I ever could alone. And to have been part of a uniformed military marching band, marching down the street, belonging, is a sensation I can never forget.


 The need to feel we belong is an elemental but is particularly important during our teenage years, but it remains with us, sublimated and redirected, all of our lives. It is a human need. Few things promote a sense of belonging more strongly than patriotism, and patriotism is nothing but an awareness of unity and, underlying it, the human need to feel that we belong. There are, of course, both visual and visceral symbols of patriotism and unity: the flag being most prominent of the visual, patriotic music…and especially march music…being the most visceral.


Marches convey a sense of power, confidence, boldness, exhilaration, and inclusion which resonate strongly with something deep inside us all. It is not coincidental that drums, the very first musical instrument after the human voice, are at the core of marching bands. Drums echo the heartbeat, and the rhythm of march music has been proven to increase the heart rate. You can’t get much more basic than that.


To stand on the curb along a parade route and hear the approaching staccato of snare drums and the flourish that leads into the start of the next march even now never fails to create an almost out-of-body experience in me. I love it, and I am not alone…literally.


 It has frequently been suggested that exhilarating The Stars and Stripes Forever should replace the vaguely awkward The Star Spangled Banner as our official national anthem, and I agree wholeheartedly. The only drawback to The Stars and Stripes Forever is that it has no words. But can anyone listen to it without being infused with a deep sense of patriotism? The Star Spangled Banner evokes patriotism, I think, largely through a form of osmosis: we’ve been simply programmed for that response. But it doesn’t grab us with anywhere near the power and force, or provide the euphoria of, John Philip Sousa's classic. No need for programming there; it just scoops us up and carries us away.


 I think those of us who have spent much of our lives being made to feel like we are outsiders; like we do not belong, take perhaps an inordinate degree of comfort in anything which tells us that we are not, indeed, alone. Music…almost any kind of music…provides this comfort, this escape from the world. Some find it in opera, others in symphonies or string quartets. But for me, play me a march, turn the volume way up, and I’m gone. 


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Author tags:

emotion, music, belonging, open call

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That sense of belonging we all need. I share your fascination with marching bands, I will forever love them. I am immediately taken away with all those uniformed muscians and the sounds they are creating. Love, love, love me a marching band. So lucky that you had talent enough to play for such a prestigious band!
My mother loved Sousa's music and played records for me when I was really small. When a march came on the radio, she would stop where she was, almost standing at attention. Thank you for bringing me back to that. I love a parade!