Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Be true to your school
Most of the time, the culture in the U.S. is not so radically different from that in Canada. The friendliness of the people is more-or-less, the language more-or-less the same, the merchandise on the shelves more-or-less the same.
This weekend, I had probably one of the first “I’ve moved to another planet” moments. And that was when one of Amynah’s cousins invited us out to his part of the city to watch his high-school marching band in a parade.
Of course, I was familiar with the concept of a marching band, of course – my hometown is home to one of the world’s larger military tattoos, so I’ve seen a few drum lines in my time. Not to mention, I was in my high-school’s music programme, albeit as a percussionist, thus saving me the trouble of having to learn any music.
But the American high-school marching band… that is something else entirely. It’s a quasi-military spectacle, as interpreted by a Vegas Casino – all sequins, showmanship, and saxophones.
The parade, it turns out, was not a parade but a competition, with some fifty middle- and high school bands, plus their associated drum-lines, colour guards and cheerleaders, strutting their stuff in front of thousands of onlookers and a raised stage of stern-faced judges, whose eyes were unreadable under the shade of their Stetsons.
The colour guard introduces the next band
Amynah’s cousin explained to me that the judges were scoring the musical platoon on a number of factors: music, obviously, but also the orderliness of their ranks, their stride, the choreography of their “colour guards” (these were basically cheerleaders carrying signs and banners of the school colours), the sparkliness of the uniforms, and “spirit.” This last was measured by the band shouting their school team’s name at top volume en masse.
Of course, each school had its own traditions, which were reflected in their remarkably elaborate uniforms. A number of the bands on parade came from schools that evidently had some Scottish connection, as they were in full Highland regalia: kilts all around, bearskin hats, a stepdancing colour guard, and – to my delight – bagpipes.
Now, being from Nova Scotia (New Scotland, for those of you not up on your Latin) I’ve seen more than one kilt and bagpipe consortium in my time. Most men I know – let alone high-school boys - cannot be induced to don a skirt unless they have some connection to the hills and lochs of Scotland, however generationally distant.
Not so here. The area where Amynah’s cousin lives has a very large population of Chinese immigrants, meaning that most of the kids suffering the full Scottish regimental first thing on a chilly late-fall morning were more likely to have descended from families that hailed from Dhezhou than Dunbar.
Give me an ach!
When we first moved to the U.S., people who showed us around would frequently point out some local oddball – like a burly biker on a neon green Harley-Davidson – while saying “only in America.” They were usually wrong: in my experience, there’s no country that can’t boast its share of eccentrics and obsessives. But I really think that only in America would you find hundreds of East-Asian descended high-school kids marching in lockstep to the keening cadences of “Scotland the Brave” while their sequins glitter in the early Saturday morning light. It was strange, and kind of inspiring.
Yeah, I know I already posted on this in French. I’m not going to be twice as interesting just because I’m writing twice as much.