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We March Forward

I have loved music for as long as I can remember. My parents filled our home with music, and I loved it, even when all I could do was sing off-key. Sometimes I think about music and realize that it was the only thing in my life that made sense when nothing else did. It still is. Sometimes I feel like the only thing I know, 100%, without a doubt, is that I love music. When I feel like I have nothing figured out, I'll play some music, and get this reassurance that I don't have to have anything figured out. When the stresses of my unpredictable life become too hard to be expressed through words, music gives me an outlet to express myself.

I moved to Copperas Cove, Texas in the fifth grade. There, we reunited with my Aunt Reese and my Uncle Randy, who are two of my favorite people in the whole world. They both already had their fair share of Texas band culture when they raised my cousins, and they immediately immersed me in it. They talked non-stop about how much I was going to love band, and more specifically, how much I was going to love marching band when I got to high school. I had fallen head over heels in love with the Texas music world and worked so hard in my middle school years, so my vision for the future could become a reality. I built myself from the ground up during my time as a student at Copperas Cove Junior High, which is something I had never really done at my other schools. I was determined to make sure people knew my name and that I left a legacy. As I neared the end of my eighth grade year, everything I had worked so hard for was finally within arm's reach.

Until it wasn't.

A couple of months before the end of my eighth grade year, my family received the news we would be moving to Carlisle, Pennsylvania so that my dad could attend the war college there. I would no longer be able to march and play with the band I had dreamed of one day being a part of. To say I was devastated would be an understatement - I was crushed.

I had to completely start over in an entirely new school, and start my high school music career in a place I knew nothing about. Being a part of Copperas Cove High School's band community was something I had been dreaming of since I watched the band march at the first Copperas Cove football game I attended. Now, it felt like all of that would remain a dream.

I showed up to my first marching band summer camp, feeling the loneliest I had ever felt. All my old friends were getting the experience I so desperately wanted, getting to learn and march alongside the older peers I looked up to and the teachers I was so excited to work with. I felt so much resentment as I stepped onto our marching field for the first time. As the freshmen got a rundown of all the fundamentals, I watched the band stretch and warm up, just imagining I was back in the Texas heat, instead of baking underneath Pennsylvania's humid summer sun, surrounded by strangers.

That's when I met these three special people.

My flugelhorn section was the reason I realized band was about so much more than the music. Of course, the music was really important; it was what brought us together in the first place. But they taught me that being in band meant you were a part of one big family.

From the moment I met them, they all took me under their wing. We were all in different grades, going through different periods and stages of our lives, and yet, we all loved and cared for each other. They helped me with everything I was confused about or scared of. I was invited to sit on their picnic blanket during breaks, and they treated me like I had always been there. They never excluded me and always made me feel important, even if I was just one piece in a big puzzle.

Carlisle had some of the most fun band traditions ever.

In this picture of the four of us, we were all wearing matching bandannas, which had been a tradition for the longest time - long before I got there. This little tradition became one of the most important and memorable things to me, something that is still important to me now. Some of the traditions wouldn't fly in the strict band culture of Texas (they were kind of crazy), but they were ours, and they were special. They made me feel like I was truly a part of something special.

Outside of my small section, I got to know the rest of the band, and they became my family. We all laughed together, we baked in the sun and froze in the cold together, and we fought as families do and we laughed as families do. We weren't a winning band, but that year taught me what truly mattered, and that was the connections we shared.

After my first marching season ended, I was invited to participate in the indoor marching program they offered, where I marched cymbals, which was something completely out of my comfort zone. It was there I got a taste of the excitement and adrenaline rush of musical performance that the outdoors could only offer to an extent. The excitement and thrill that I got out of seeing what the musical world could offer to me was exhilarating.

But I couldn't get too comfortable. Our season ended before our last competition, and just as I got comfortable, I found out I was moving again, but now I'd be back in Copperas Cove.

The school year when COVID shut everything down was really hard. Even though I was back in Cove, everything was different. Sometimes we forget how much a year can change everything. I had certainly changed a lot, and so had the people I once knew. Not only that, we were experiencing a completely new reality that was pandemic life. Everything that I imagined and saw the Pride of Cove marching program to be was made different because of this new reality. My section was so much bigger, it wasn't the quaint, small group I was used to. It felt so hard to connect to people after I moved since I felt so small in this bigger program.

Even if that year was hard, I decided I wanted to do something special.

One of the section leaders and I got together and made personalized bandannas. I got that feeling of family and togetherness I was missing.

Junior year was approaching, and now, so many opportunities opened up for me. I finally had the opportunity to be a leader within the band. And my dream was to be a drum major. I had wanted to be a drum major for as long as I understood the marching world, and now I finally had the chance to audition. I put my all into that audition, and fully expected to be leading the band. And yet, that's not what God wanted for me. Instead, I was a section leader. I was thoroughly disappointed. I cried, wondering why I wasn't good enough. But I was called to a different purpose. And that was to create a new family.

Here is my section, decked out in green for our section color wars, which we won. Those kids will

never know how much money I spent on them.

It's hard to see but, look closely, and you'll see our matching, customized bandannas.

This is my family, and they always will be. I got blessed with leading some of the most wonderful people I will ever know and leading alongside some of the loveliest peers and, ultimately mentors, I will ever know.

The mellophone section at Cove had never been tightly knit, but I was truly determined to change that. I didn't do everything perfectly when leading, and there's a lot I would go back and change if I could, but there's a lot I know I did right. I worked to create a safe space for my peers to be themselves. I helped rebuild a section from the ground up, changing it from one that was swept aside and under the rug to one that was a shining example of positivity and hard work. I got blessed with such an amazing group of kids. When I knew I was being called to take up a different leadership position, I knew they'd be okay. They didn't think they would, but I knew they'd be just fine.

I knew I was being called to be a drum major. Even though I was hesitant, wanting to remain amongst my peers, I knew that's what was being asked of me. It was hard to take up this leadership position, even though it was everything I dreamed of for the longest time. While I still held close to my section, which was now growing and changing but still dawning our matching bandannas, my sphere of influence was now far greater. My family now consisted of every musician in the program, from the members of the leadership team I was now I expected to diligently steer in the right direction, to the kids who probably couldn't care less if the note they were playing was wrong. Everyone was watching me now. Literally, everyone... that's part of the job description.

My desire to leave an impact has been heavily influenced by my experiences as a military kid. As military kids, we often watch our peers spend years building up their legacies, through academics, athletics, peer groups, and friend groups. We only get a year or two in the place others have spent their time making a name for themselves. Every military kid faces and approaches this reality of our lives in a different way. For me, I was desperate to make a name for myself. Even before high school, I wanted others to know my name and to leave behind something worth remembering. Now, that seemed impossible. Carrying the weight of my own expectations, I thought of how I was once impacted by my older peers, and how I later impacted a sweet group of young musicians. How was I now supposed to replicate that with a group so big? I grew frustrated and disappointed with myself when I didn't see the results I was looking for. And yet, the thing about my life, is that I have always eventually found what I was looking for, and most often in ways I didn't envision.

I did manage to leave an impact, just not in the way expected. And certainly not on my own.

Something that was really hard for me when I moved back to Copperas Cove was the disconnect I felt from my graduating class. While I spent my year in Carlisle, my class, my old friends and peers went on to win first place at the Midway marching preview. I watched their success and celebration from behind a screen, envying the experience that my classmates got. When I came back, I really felt like I had missed out. That missed experience that they all got to share, added to the year I could’ve spent forming connections with my classmates, made me feel even further detached from my classmates. While all three previous seasons were very special to me, I didn't get that big win in the same way that my graduating class got. Not only were we a small-town program in a big region, but we were a small-town program recovering from bumps in the road left behind by the pandemic.

As we approached the Ludwig Musser marching classic, I wasn't expecting a lot. We placed third at the admittedly smaller competition that was the Midway marching preview. Now, we were approaching a competition surrounded by much bigger programs from San Antonio, and the neighboring area.

I watched the kids of this small Central Texas town do something incredible that night.

We won. We won it all.

But the moment I remember most clearly is not the moment our name was called. It was the moments after. My friends, my teammates, and my peers all came running down from the stands. It wasn't more than four seconds until I had multiple kids tackling me in a hug. My mellophone section came soon after. I ran up to one of my best friends in the junior class, as we shook each other, screaming how we had done it. I was swarmed by kids of all different ages, all so excited, and so proud of themselves. A particularly special moment was when, despite being absolutely engulfed in this crowd of crazy, happy kids, I felt a hand grab my shoulder. My friend, who I've looked on as my younger brother since my middle school years, pulled me into a hug. He looked for me amongst this sea of people.

Those moments were how I knew I made an impact. I didn't win that trophy, that was truly all the work of the kids, I was just there to guide and encourage them. In a victory that was truly all theirs, they sought me out among so many other people, because my guidance and encouragement meant something to them. In that moment, I thought back to that new student at Carlisle High School, who was immediately embraced by others. And how she was now the one embracing the members of the group she thought would be too great to impact.

The four seasons I have been participating in high school marching band have truly healed a part of me. My military life has made it feel hard to find my place. I've struggled with it all my life. But if being in marching band has taught me anything, it is that family is everywhere. Big or small, we can find our place in the most unexpected places. As I approach my freshman year of college, the doubt that I will not fit in or find my place has been creeping in. But all I have to do was look at the pictures of my families over the years. And how, despite all the hardship, we marched forward.

We always march forward.


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