By Ken Trainor
My first visit to Courageous Bakery last Thursday was cut short by the fact that they close at 5 p.m. I was taking notes for a column about courageous conversations and the difficulty conducting them on social media. Seemed appropriate to write courageously about courageous conversations in a courageous bakery.
But I didn't hold the eviction against them. Courageously continuing my walk, I heard a familiar sound and turned right at Ontario, continuing past Cheney Mansion and down to the chain link deadend at Linden, where I found what I was looking for, though I didn't realize it at first.
On an Indian-summerish, mid-autumn late-afternoon with the setting sun intensifying the orange brick of this venerable institution, under blue skies airbrushed by high, thin clouds, I came upon the OPRF Huskies Marching Band, or Marching Huskies, or whatever moniker they proudly go by.
And proud they should be as the director and the conductor (who looked to be a student) stood on their high platform and put the players through their paces. Section by section, they worked while idle instruments — large brass bellows, for instance — rested on the turf, their players schmoozing quietly nearby, awaiting further instructions.
The grass in this still-natural portion of the grounds was green from last week's liberal drenching, the turf drained enough to support the hoofers dancing above — for this is not so much a "marching" band, but, at the moment anyway, a tango band, as the full contingent strikes up "Libertango," a composition by Oscar Piazzola, the Bach of Tango — members in shorts and T-shirts gliding rather than pounding, instruments playing the players instead of the other way around. Or so it seemed and sounded.
These are high school kids, right? I needed to remind myself — 14 to 18 years old? The sounds did not jibe with one's expectations of adolescent proficiency: the familiar unripe discordances erupting here and there, understandable and easily forgiven. But none of that was happening, as far as I could tell.
Purple and white flags twirled in the confident hands of the color guard. One inspired youth ran about with flags splayed to the sides like wings, as if about to take flight, which he did, in a manner of speaking, breaking free of the group and enjoying a momentary liftoff. Parents pulled up in SUVs to drop off tiny, shoulder-padded football players, who scurried to a separate portion of the field for practice, taking no evident notice, though surely these tikes must have heard their immediate elders — former children so recently — playing tunes with panache and soaring with emotion as their feet kept the beat. Talk about multitasking.
The selections followed a Spanish meme, castanets and marimba in full flourish as girls in colorful flamenco outfits began to dance, in modified fashion, of course, since the soft soil could never amplify the kind of gunshot stomping this dance tradition is known for.
I don't mean to hyperbolize all this, but when "Bolero" began and the afternoon deepened, and the ghosts of thousands of young hopefuls who gamboled and drilled, tackled and sprinted, played and paraded, practiced and performed on this same sacred ground for decades made their echoes felt (OK, maybe I do mean to hyperbolize), I couldn't help feeling somehow that this was a culmination, not just of their "season" but of all that is worthwhile about high school. Here they were, gathered and in communion, with one another and their music, talented and fun-loving simultaneously, practicing for God knows what. Their last home game? Some national competition at Disney World? Who cares really?
It's not about the competitions and the halftime shows. Oh, they provide the motivation and incentive, surely, but what matters is not the audiences and judges and even the high bar this director clearly sets. It's about one moment of transcendence, when it's all working and they're loving it. This was the pure thing itself. Maybe this is why we send them to high school, to sit through all those classes, to develop their gifts, all so they might experience moments where they let go of self-doubt and self-questioning and just flat-out play. These are the moments of bliss we all yearn for, and here they were experiencing one before even turning 18. The tonic of their tonality. What a gas!
And all for the benefit of an audience of one (as far as I could tell). This was the real show (so I had to tell you).
And when it was over, the director opened his arms wide as if to encompass them with appreciation or approval or whatever it is he conveys to motivate them. Or maybe it's just so much fun they naturally rise to meet his standard. Who knows?
Like any institution, this high school has its ups and downs. Most of our institutions, you might have noticed, are having a lot of downs these days. All the more reason to celebrate the upswings. Eric Linden, back in the recesses of Wednesday Journal's deep past, used to say that whenever he heard the OPRF Gospel Choir sing, he would wave his arms in resignation and say, "Just give them all the money they're asking for. It's worth it." That's how I feel when I attend the winter musical. And that's how I feel now about the marching, dancing Huskies.
It doesn't mean we can postpone courageous conversations on tough topics like race forever. This doesn't make up for whatever shortcomings need to be addressed. That's also part of high school (and every other institution, too, for that matter).
But it did make me postpone my column plans for at least a week.
There's only one thing to say about what I witnessed last Thursday afternoon:
Thanks, I needed that.
Answer Book 2017
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