“Shut up George Washington High Marching Band!” my roommate, hung-over, would yell at her bedroom walls. For her, a noon riser, it was a sound only the Blue Angels could top for annoyance in this neighborhood. Fleet Week is short lived – a week of six navy jets screaming through the airspace two hundred feet above our flat. I’ve thrown bottles. This band over on the soccer field is something far more powerful.
Not a half-time marching band, no glee club harmonies, these are future military drummers. ROTC drum corps. Not exactly killers. Irritaters. A row of steel marimbas chiming out over the lowdown march of bass drums and the goose stepping snare sent for cover by the un-timed explosion of brass pie plates slamming together. The sound of war.
What is the point of a military band? Play loud enough to really bother someone? So the enemy might shoot a little prematurely, expose their location? Take out the one with the baton and blue ascot rather than the radio man with GPS and air strike coordinates? Are these drummers suicide musicians? I don’t understand the entire concept, for sure. One thing I understand, ROTC is under fire.
“The worst marching band in the city. Shouldn’t practice be held in the boiler room? As a community service?” These were the disgruntled words of the other flatmate – his bedroom window faced the back gate of the high school. He worked nights, slept late in the morning. Like a lot of people in S.F., he wanted to put an end to ROTC.
It is sad that San Franciscans are so adamantly against the military. Even ones who wake up before school starts. Sure, the music is like a very determined ice cream truck tune, 12 bars of orchestrated melody pursuing you throughout the neighborhood. Relentless. Tireless. Stalking. Determined. That is the nature of practice. But to ban ROTC from high school because you don’t like the tune will not prevent wars. It will prevent these kids from learning music. From learning how to work together. From learning how to iron wool uniforms.
While two cranky alcoholics who are prone to headaches won’t stand up for it, I will. I met these kids and they are doing something positive with the experience. They stay late after school and play music. They aren’t breaking into my car or tagging my apartment. They aren’t smoking weed on my back steps. I’ve seen the kids who do that stuff, and they are never dressed in khaki uniforms with bass drums strapped to their bodies.
I do not believe San Francisco should prevent students from signing up for ROTC just because the band practice is so loud. When I was learning how to play my first electric guitar I must have played the opening riff to “Crazy Train” three hundred times between 3 p.m. and when the Fall Guy came on. All year long. I want these kids to have a chance to play music. I’m for the ROTC program in San Francisco schools.