(Wednesday night) Living in an older subdivision, Woodland Drives, close to the heart of town, I can hear the sounds of that heart beating. I hear the bells of the First Baptist Church, tolling the hour, and I hear the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University band, the "Marching 100", at practice in the weeks leading up to football season. Starting in July, they practice most weeknights, it seems, for several hours. Tonight, in this first week of classes, they are sounding pretty tight.
FAMU is an HBCU, (one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and the Marching 100 is famous. They marched in the Bastille Day Bicentennial parade in Paris in 1989, and in the inaugural parades of Presidents Clinton and Obama. They are well-known for their "moves".
Those moves are not unfamiliar to me. I know them from having watched the high-stepping Jones High School band, from the top black high school in Orange County, in the Orlando Christmas Parade, years ago. I think they even had the same colors as FAMU, orange and green.
I was a trumpet player in marching bands from the eighth grade to the eleventh grade, at the Sanford Naval Academy and at Winter Park High School. Marching is actually pretty demanding, and even more so if you are playing an instrument. There you are, putting one foot in front of the other in time with the drums, dressing yourself by line and column, watching where you are going, watching for the Drum Major's orders by baton and whistle. At the same time you are trying to play in concert, flipping to the right tune on the little instrument-mounted music book.
Winter Park High had a very traditional marching band. Other school bands played the "Hawaii 5-0" theme song, or formed a spinning wheel on the field while playing the Blood Sweat & Tears hit of the same name. We stuck to the classic marches, American Patrol, On Wisconsin, Stars and Stripes Forever. We sweated in uniforms of heavy drill cloth, with spats and shakos and high collars, patterned after the military dress uniforms of the 19th century. We played at football games, marching at half-time, and in Christmas parades. Nerd that I was, I had no idea how the game was going. I knew when our team had scored a touchdown because we would play Dixie.
Around 1970, school bands were forbidden to play Dixie. School racial integration was proceeding apace, though we had no black musicians in the band yet. (Why would they have wanted to join the likes of us, when they would have had a much better time at Jones, as they do now, ironically, at FAMU rather than at FSU?) As the boundaries of our insular white world began to crumble, we began dimly to grasp that black folks might not share our nostalgia for the "land of cotton". Best to forget those "old times", after all. And forty years later, I think we largely have.