It was not 20 years ago today. 20 years + 4 days ago was the first time I reported to Revelli Hall for Band Week, and I had no business being there.
First, I have never been more than a passable trumpet player. I was first chair in high school my senior year, but we only had 4 trumpets in the band and I was the only senior.
Second, I had never been in a marching band before. My high school didn't have one; we just had a pep band that played at football and basketball games. When my best friend Chris and I got invited to do Crisler Concert we had to go into one of the school's storage spaces and find an old uniform that smelled like mothballs and the oil crisis.
Third, despite what my dad thinks, I've never been much of an athlete. I have terrible exercise-induced asthma and poor fine motor control. I'm a good skier (for a state without real mountains) and an OK JV tennis player, mostly because fewer people play those sports.
Given these major blemishes on my application, I did what any mediocre white guy would do: I went ahead anyway and trusted that somehow things would work out in my favor. And they did, but not in the way I expected.
I arrived on campus the night before freshmen were to report for Band Week. I had no computer and the lab in the basement of Markley wouldn't let me login. I knew how to get to Revelli via South University, State, and Hill, and the only way to get breakfast I knew of was Bagel Fragel on South U.
When I reported in the morning, I learned I was supposed to have been sent a VHS tape of basic marching band things to practice and a piece of music for auditions. I had neither. We were assigned lockers, instruments, music, ranks, and rank leaders. We practiced music and practiced attention, tired our best to remember each other's names and then we were dismissed.
I have never had a more vivid dream than I did that night, and it recurred throughout the night. It was the simplest dream possible: I heard our drum major, Gregg Whitmore, shout "DRILL THE POSITION OF ATTENTION!" and then I was awake and actually crouched on the floor, waiting for "EVERYBODY UP!" to reach my sodden, addled brain, but it never came. I couldn't find my watch or an alarm clock. I didn't have a cell phone. I was panicked and I couldn't prove that it was OK to go back to sleep. This happened four or five times during the night. In the morning, my only solace was that my roommate wasn't in the band, so there were no witnesses.
I was in over my head, but being overwhelmed by the Michigan Marching Band was the only thing keeping my from being overwhelmed by the University of Michigan, so I never seriously thought about quitting. Not when my best friend quit, not when the rest of the band got to campus and let me know how far behind I really was, and not when I (correctly) knew I was not ready for First Look.
I wish I could say I worked hard, improved and eventually locked down a spot on the field every week. What happened instead? I worked hard, I improved, and eventually I spent 3 years almost entirely in the reserves. I made the travel roster for one away trip (MSU '01) and zero bowl games. I might have done better my fourth year, but the senior design course in my field was only offered in the fall and would have conflicted twice a week with marching band. You might think I'd be disappointed in my time in the MMB, and you'd be completely wrong.
Up to that point in life, I'd coasted on natural aptitude and fortunate circumstances. The band was the first time I learned that work itself can be the point, how to manage my time, and how to be genuinely happy when other people achieve your dreams and you don't. I found a home and friends when I needed them, taking me out of my natural inclination to either lean on my high school friends or hole up in my dorm room. My only regret is not doing more.