JENKINS: From 76 trombones down to 3

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

A passage from Don McLean's classic "American Pie" describes an event that, apparently, could never happen at a modern high school: "The players tried to take the field," he says, but "the marching band refused to yield."

That scenario might have seemed plausible back when the song was written, or even 10 years later when I was a student at Ringgold High. In those days, despite the fact that we were only a AAA school, our band boasted more than 200 members, making it more than twice as large as the football team.

True, few individual band members were as stocky as the footballers -- except maybe for a couple of majorettes -- but sheer numbers might have enabled them to fend off the team had they so desired.

My son's high school, on the other hand, with approximately twice as many students, has a marching band that is smaller than the average Obama rally these days. There aren't enough band members to keep the football team's ball boys off the field, much less the team itself.

Admittedly, our school is only two years old, which could explain the miniscule band. But I don't believe it's an aberration. A few weeks ago we played a school with more than 3,000 students, and the band was still less than half the size of RHS's "Band of Gold," circa 1979. (Some of the majorettes were about the same size, though. Good to know some things never change.)

Clearly, there aren't as many kids interested in being in the marching band as there used to be. But why? How do we explain this complete reversal, from the mega-bands of the 70s to the mini-bands of today?

Perhaps we should ask ourselves who used to be in the high school marching band. The kids who were really into music, yes, but also a lot of other kids who might not have been diehard musicians but who weren't really into sports, either, and who were looking for something worthwhile to do.

Many of my good friends were in the band, and apparently it was a lot of fun. They told stories all the time about band camp -- stories that, for the most part, are not appropriate for this family newspaper. But clearly they enjoyed the camaraderie and being part of something larger than themselves.

So where are those same kids today? The ones who are really into music are still in the band -- all 40 of them. But how about the other kids, the ones who were just looking for something to do? I'm going to guess that, instead of playing the trombone, which is hard, they're at home playing Xbox 360, which isn't particularly hard.

So it looks like the marching band has finally yielded after all -- not to the football team, but to lethargy, anti-social behavior, and general sorriness. Somebody try explaining that to Don McLean.

Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer who lives in Lawrenceville. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.