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Brassed Off
by Lani Matsen

The end of February … almost March already? Yes it is, and to welcome it. In this month that precedes spring, the Renegades did what they do best.

Let me backtrack to the Friday before camp. I was in a quandary. What to take? We’d be marching, of that there was no doubt. LOTS of drill to learn. All the drill to the opener I’d been hearing. That’s…a lot of drill. Daunting back when I was marching junior corps. A whole tune? In a weekend?

I packed light, but warm. Good thing. Saturday dawned a cool and clear morning, a good day for marching. After breaking into a fellow horn player’s apartment to bring his horn to him in San Francisco, and picking up one up another fellow member we were on our way. Now…normally…we arrive JUST in the nick of time with me scooting into the big room to drop off my stuff just as everyone is getting circled up to stretch out. Not a lot of time for hugs and greetings…just getting down to business. I do get to say hey to Stephen and Paul though, and new section member Len for the first time in more years than I can count.

So we stretch. I’ve been having problems with my feet cramping during marching block, so I’ve brought two pairs of shoes along to try out. I pay special attention to my feet and calves as we’re stretching…really trying to take advantage of the opportunity to warm up my body before we hit the pavement. I keep thinking that a brisk jog wouldn’t hurt too much either…just to really get everything warmed up. A quick walk over to the pavement is about all there is to be had however before we’re circled up and ready to begin with…basics.

All I can say about basics on Saturday is ow. Come Sunday morning, that would have been the term many member were using to describe Saturday basics. Ow. Horns up and down was designed to be a torture device somewhere in the fourteenth century…had to be. Once we managed to convince the marching staff that we were possibly dialed in enough to start working through the drill however, we were off and running. Set after set was worked through, one after the next. Somewhere in there…we had a break for lunch wherein the Altos had a sectional then it was back to the pavement…and more drill.

Somewhere around fourteen pages of drill, the fires went out. Enthusiasm gave way to tired, aching feet and sore shoulders, hips complaining of cold, and knees protesting the hardness of the pavement as opposed to the softness of a good uneven turf field. Still though, it was a more than satisfactory days work. Eyes were still bright, despite the tired, aching muscles.

A quick break for dinner (even quicker for those horn line members who’re singing in the choir ensemble) and we were all back at it, ready for an evening of working through parts. At this point…all I truly remember about Saturday evening sections was the F sharp. That’s all. Two counts of a simple F sharp and then entire horn line was bouncing about with merry grins on their faces.

Actually, I fib a little. I do recall what the horn line sounded like at the last camp I attended. There was a big difference in the way the horn line sounded then, and now. It’s apparent that sections have been meeting and working through parts. It’s apparent that people are working on their own to clean up the parts they’ve committed to memory, and that all and sundry have made significant attempts to memorize their entire book.

It’s so exciting. It’s not even March…

Sunday dawned bright and clear, a situation, which would keep us warm in the morning hours, but would disappear before the end of the day. First however, we were treated to a wonderful seminar wherein members were given some tools so that they might look at their approach to performance, and improve upon it. There were certainly things presented that I know I’ll be able to apply to my performance on the field this summer. Shirley Dorritie “opened windows” for all in attendance, setting us all a little bit further up the path that leads to DCA finals.

…and then we hit the pavement…again. No marching basics however. Rather than run circle drill, we ran what we’d learned the previous day as marching warm-up. Once the staff was satisfied that the line was ready to go, work on the new charts began. We could catch glimpses of the color guard on the tennis courts, flags snapping in the breeze that was becoming ever more brisk. Feet met pavement while tempos were pounded out on the woodblock. The temperature, dropped. We kept warm, wanting to work through the next series of counts, eager to see where the next move would take us. The marching staff, patient yet determined work the line till lunch…and then we break. This is a quick break; many of us have made sure to bring food with so we don’t have to leave the island. There’s so much more drill to learn, so much more to do with the music. We simply have to play some of the book while we march the show.

As I’m wolfing down my lunch, more food than I normally ever eat at any single meal, I’m chatting about the show with other corps members. There’s such an air of excitement, of eager anticipation. But how can they not feel it too? The drive is to get the show learned and cleaned so that we can hit the field and take it by storm…

By the time lunch was over, it had become decidedly nippy. After donning not only mine, but my husband’s “Loud is Good” shirt, and my sturdy blue corps jacket, AND the by now somewhat infamous frog stocking cap…I’m still cold. REALLY cold. It’s time to warm up the horns though and get things running once again. We’re going to play while we march now, and soon…the drums will be joining us, perhaps even the guard. I hear whispers from other corps members, we never get to practice with the guard, when will the guard join us? The guard is missed.

We warm up. We practice playing loud. Very loud. We practice playing soft. We tune. The French Horns have to push their G triggers all the way in, because it’s cold and the horns are playing that flat. It’s just plain nasty weather to be marching in, but we have to get going. In the marching and the playing however, we begin to warm up and the show that we’ve been laboring to put together seems to gather substance. It begins to move. You can begin to feel the entire opener snapping into place, a giant moving puzzle.

I see my friend Kelli standing on the sidelines with the pit, her hood on her sweatshirt is up and her arms are wrapped about her tiny body. I turn to see a fellow section member with his hood drawn up also and closed so tightly that only his eyes, nose and mouthpiece are visible. We’re all similarly garbed, layered up against the cold as we work section after section; listening now not only to the instruction of marching staff, but to instruction from music staff as well.

The rehearsal moves on until at last, the line is arced up. And finally, there is the guard. I don’t know about the rest of the horn line, but I for one was happy to see them. With the battery ranged in a line, the horns about them we finally run the opener full out. It’s exciting. It’s fun. Then we run the ballad. It’s pretty, like any ballad should be. Then there’s a pause. I’m busy trying to remind myself that I DO know all of parts three and four because I’ve just reviewed them with no trouble a couple of days before. Panic sets in. What if I fail? I remember the meeting that morning and calm down only to hear Chris telling us that we’ll play part one…again!

WOOHOO! THAT I can do! Though, there is a little stab of disappointment as I realize…I DO know the beginning of part three and part four and now have to wait to play them. But we get to play part one again. And for the Altos, that means two extra little counts of F sharp…two little evil counts…

…and finally, it hits me. It’s not even March. I’ve mentioned that before, yes? The book is done, I’ve got my parts memorized, we’ve just learned three minutes of drill. March begins tomorrow. Each camp is an awakening in which the 2004 show for the San Francisco Renegades becomes a little more solid and a little more real. This camp was no exception, and despite cold weather and long hours, it was … for me at least … a huge success.

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