An audience of one in the late afternoon

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

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.


Reader Comments

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Carol O'Keefe from San Francisco  

Posted: October 28th, 2017 11:00 PM

Kudos to the the Marching Band. I witnessed their performance in full regalia before departing to San Francisco. The pride of many parents watching the Homecoming performance and the dedication of the band members to produce such a spectacular display of talent reminded me that they are our future. Let them be an example for all. The cookie gramma- Grambea

Dennis Ryan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 26th, 2017 6:59 PM

As the father of three recent "alums" of the Marching Huskies, I tell friends whose children are soon to enter OPRF that the marching band was, for my kids, a wonderful vehicle for right-sizing such an immense high school into a small, close-knit community - brimming with camaraderie. Great kids, great parents, and great faculty leadership. And, the band is only getting better and better with each passing year, as evidenced by the awards they've been receiving. Oak Parkers should be very proud of these passionate young ambassadors representing our high school and our village!

Susan Parks from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 4:34 PM

As the parent of a Marching Huskie alumni, I am glad to hear nothing has changed! These young people, under the encouragement and and support of an excellent faculty team demonstrate how to work hard, work together and succeed. Well done.

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 1:44 PM

Lovely article! Thank you for acknowledging these committed and talented students!

Donna Peel  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 1:15 PM

No cut, yet excellent. Cross section of students from all economics, races, genders, learning abilities and musical abilities. It is a model of what can go right when our priorities are straight. And, as you witnessed, it is excellent. We can win and include anyone who is willing to work. Being part of such excellence is an experience all of our young people should have. A real tribute to our community for financing it, the parents who volunteer, and the outstanding directors who, in my opinion, should be coaching every sport in our village. Thank you for highlighting it.

Angela Farnham  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 12:53 PM

What a beautiful tribute to the Marching Huskies! Thank you! This article gets clipped and preserved forever in the family scrapbook!

Sandy Tijerina from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 12:23 PM

Beautifully written article. We proudly have "Home of a Marching Huskie" sign on our lawn... You captured everything we love about this group, the talented marchers and the outstanding directors.

John Harris from Oak Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 12:13 PM

Bravo, Ken Trainor.

Laurie Myers  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 12:05 PM

Ken, This is a lovely article. All of the Marching Band Parents reading this are crying about now...especially those who, like me, have seniors who have just finished their Marching Huskies career. It is everything you said it is - an amazing experience for the kids who get to work closely with their awesome teachers- Anthony Svejda, Patrick Pearson and Drew Fredrickson- in order to produce a fabulous show. No other activity quite captures the essence of teamwork like this one. What you saw is what it truly is ... a learning experience that is fun, challenging, and that offers great camaraderie for ANY and EVERY kid who wants to participate. Thank you!

Ginger Yarrow from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: October 25th, 2017 11:30 AM

The Marching Huskies were preparing for the Illinois Marching Band championships when you witnessed their passion, their grace, and their community. It is an amazing group of kids, who spend so much time in late summer and early fall perfecting that show, led by our committed and superb directors! Highly entertaining to watch and a gift to us proud parents!

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