For the record, this didn’t happen at band camp. This was a band competition. No, I wasn’t in some cool high school garage band with some crafty, angsty name like “Public Nostalgia” or something, playing at the local “Battle of the Bands.” Nope. I was a legit band geek. Loud and proud, my friends. (I didn’t even play a “cool” instrument. I played trombone. Hell yeah.) And we were competing in a concert band competition in Florida.
My high school concert band was about 70 strong. We are lucky to have a strong arts program at our school. But even little Grover’s Corners isn’t immune to the state of the economy, so we don’t receive much in the way of funding our arts program. We fundraise for the things we really want, and make do with the rest.
This means we don’t have concert uniforms. Not that it matters, really. Every other year, our concert band leaves home and goes off to a big competition somewhere using the money that we’d worked so hard for. Aside from that, we only really play for our community. They love us and think we play wonderfully no matter what we look like.
But on this beautiful Florida day, we can’t help but notice how out of place we are. We are wearing what we always wear for our concerts: a white dressy shirt or blouse, and black dress slacks or a skirt on bottom. We all look similar, but it’s obvious that we each pulled our outfits from our own individual wardrobes. Some shirts are whiter than others. Some are button down, some are pull-over. Our pants are varying shades of black, in very different cuts and styles. We’re not matching. But we’re here, and we’re doing our best.
The band that performed before us files out of the auditorium. Every one of them wears a dark red, button down shirt. The boys sport black pants, while the girls wear high-waisted black skirts. The heels of a hundred pairs of identical, polished black dress shoes and high heels click against the polished floor. Most of them don’t so much as glance at us, but the ones who do look our way do so with superior stares; eyes looking us up and down. Some of us meet their stares with indifference, and others become suddenly engrossed in taking meticulous care of their instruments. Sure, we feel a little self-conscious. We do not look quite so polished and professional. But we earned our right to compete here.
A woman with a clipboard informs us that it’s our time to perform. We exchange nervous smiles, squeeze excited hands, and whisper jittery “Good luck”s to each other. We pull a little at our clothes, smoothing out some of the creases that the iron failed to correct this morning. Our band director, our beloved and fearless leader, smiles the warmest, most genuine smile in the world. He just glows with pride. He knows how hard we’ve worked to be here. Although we know he’s probably wracked with nerves on the inside, it’s his pride in us that he chooses to let shine through. It’s contagious. We can’t help but let our chests swell with pride too.
We file out onto the stage, shoulders back, heads up, backs straight. We smile, and some freshmen even let out a nervous giggle. When we arrive at our seats, we glance around at each other knowingly. We’ve done this hundreds of times in practice. We’re good at what we do, and we know it. And right now, there a few people in the audience who are waiting to know it too.
We play our little hearts out. Admittedly, we’re a little taken aback by the fantastic acoustics in the room (a luxury we don’t have in our giant rectangular classroom. It’s an acoustical nightmare). But we sort it out. We do our best. We complete our last song, beaming 70 smiles up at our director, and he reflects them all back to us. The judges thank us for our performance, and we thank them for their time. We leave the stage with the same proud steps.
We might not be much to look at, but we do our jobs well. Nearly all of us carry instruments with dents, scratches, and fading finishes. Our concert attire is far from uniform. But we have an immense pride in what we do. So we polish our dinged instruments. We iron our mismatched clothes. And we do our best every day, determined to show everyone our talents and abilities.
Moral of the story? It doesn’t matter if your ambulance is older than anyone on your crew. It doesn’t matter if your issued uniform is sun-bleached and wearing thin. It doesn’t matter that your equipment isn’t the flashiest or most impressive. When you step out in public—be it running to the grocery store for your on-shift dinner, coming to a patient’s aid, or walking into the hospital—do it with pride and confidence in your abilities.