Five Post-Grad Lessons from Playing Trombone in College Marching Band

This week’s Five Things Friday post was written by Kristen Frank, an alumna of Lousisiana State University’s “Golden Band from Tigerland” who played the trombone in high school and college. She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and psychology with a minor in linguistics and an MS in psychology and currently currently teaches psychology at Baton Rouge Community College.

See the end of this post for Ms. Frank’s more complete biography.

The wand chooses the wizard, and the trombone chose me. Here are five things I have learned from playing since I graduated!

Ten years ago, I was in the 10th grade, my instrument of choice the flute. I loved it: It was pretty, small and lightweight, and the same instrument my aunt had played in her high school band. She had gone on to play piccolo in her college days, and I thought I would do the same. Two years later, however, my flute was sharing the stage (literally: my last concert in high school saw me switch back and forth at least twice, not to mention the jazz band sections) with the trombone. The trombone was big and awkward, and, at first, I couldn’t buzz, much less play, to save my life. A year later, though, I had gotten into my college’s marching band on trombone. This was amazing, given that I had basically taught myself and only been playing a year. It was tough: the hours were much longer than in high school—band camp itself was a week from about 8 am to 8pm—and I was in a section full of guys, which I was not used to. I grew to love my section-mates, however, and the next three years flew by. Now that I’ve been out of college for a while, some important lessons from that band and from playing the trombone stay with me:

1. I miss it more than I thought I would. It’s been four years, and still, every time I hear the first four notes of our Pregame song, I wish I were on that field again. Alumni Band is coming up, and while I’m not going this year, the year I get to march alongside members new and old will be like coming home.

2. I know the value of punctuality. I was never someone prone to being late if I could help it, even before college band. After being in college band, however, I try to be early everywhere I go. We would often arrive at another team’s college hours, if not a day or so, ahead of the actual game, and even our own stadium saw us in the stands over an hour before we would take the field for pregame. “To be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late.” – all band directors, most likely.

3. The trombone takes skill. This one is a no-brainer to those of you who have even attempted to play it (or any brass instrument), much less done so for years. When I first got to college, I wondered if I’d ever catch up to my section-mates, most of whom had been playing the same instrument since middle school. If I didn’t know how to play something I’d ‘slide-cheat.’ I wasn’t very good at it,  though, so it was obvious that my slide was a few seconds behind or wasn’t even in the correct position for the note. This meant I had to practice more than I thought I would have to in college—once you were in, you were in, right? It didn’t help that, because the trombone usually gets lower lines that are more than just whole notes, we’d have sectional playing tests. Sometimes these tests were for our director, which solidified that I would need to practice to improve. I’m grateful for that practice now, however, because when I pick the trombone up again (see #5), it won’t be as hard to get back into playing.

4. The best people come from marching band (or ‘have musical backgrounds’, if that seems more appropriate). Clearly I’m biased, but aren’t we all, to an extent? Regardless, my best friends and long-term boyfriend all came from my college band. (I met my boyfriend the first week of band camp! He’s also a trombone player.) The people you meet in college band, if not high school, are friends for life, possibly more so than those you meet in class. You’ve sweated together, cried together, and learned together.

5. I need to continue playing. Any musician knows that once you stop, it can be hard to pick it back up again. No one is making you practice, and if there isn’t a game or competition to play for, you don’t really have incentive to do it. I don’t even practice my flute anymore, sad to say, and I was in love with it before I really considered the merits of the trombone. This really just means that I need to find the intrinsic motivation to play again, if not an extrinsic reason.

Full biography:
Kristen Frank is a former Golden Band from Tigerland member from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She holds bachelor’s degrees in English and psychology with a minor in linguistics and an MS in psychology. She played trombone and flute in high school, participating in Concert and Marching band all four years, and Jazz band her senior year. She tried out for Honor band all four years but only made it her senior year when she tried out on trombone. Ms. Frank played trombone in college as a member of the Golden Band for three years. She also sang in Women’s Chorus for two semesters and was a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota National Professional Music Fraternity for Women. Ms. Frank currently teaches psychology at Baton Rouge Community College. Three years post-grad, she would like to get back into being a true Brass Chick.

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