The best show on TV is Friday Night Lights. Set in the fictional location of Dillon, Texas, this drama explores (among many things) the powerful role of high school football in the town’s social scene and pecking order.
Living in the heart of oh-so-erudite and over-educated suburban Boston, watching Friday Night Lights is like a trip to another planet. You see, what football is to Dillon, band music is to the town I live in. Yes, band music, as in the high school trumpets and triangles variety.
In these quaint New England parts, where bus loads of people come to seemingly just stare at the local citizenry (and also the fall foliage, in season) high school football games are spottily attended. As far as I know, no one talks about them except the parents of the players. You can park right next to the field at anytime during the game. The tiny squad of cheerleaders probably have to be recruited from out of district (they look like eighth graders, actually), and the marching band does not march at all.
Rather, they sit haphazardly sprawled in the bleachers, no school colors or uniforms in sight, while they ironically play “bad music badly” as my son, one of the trombone players, attests. And to cap it off, if not enough High School band members show up on a given game day, the band director just skips out on the whole thing and takes the rag-tag bunch that does make an appearance out to breakfast at Denny’s.
In Friday Night Lights, both the games and the associated football banquets are the social events of the town. The mayor comes, Buddy the obnoxious-pig of a local car dealer gives a speech, and the Dillon Panther’s coach Eric Taylor always enters the Knights of Columbus banquet room to a high-decibel hero’s welcome.
Last night in “Our Town”, a stunning, unexpected version of football coach-worship drama unfurled. The event was the annual “Pops Concert”, a three hour marathon of musical energy expended by a long line-up of talented, and high-achieving school choruses and bands.
It’s a sell-out event. My husband, tickets secured weeks earlier, stood in line for two hours outside the school gym until the doors opened and he could join the crush of family members rushing to nab prime seating.
Normal stuff, sure, if you live in a geeked-out town full of Harvard professors, Julliard grads, and Nobel prize winners.
But the Friday Night Lights moment was when the five music faculty members entered the gym. They sort of trotted in, beaming, and gathered together in the center of the performing area, holding hands and looking happily at an adoring crowd full of teenagers and their families, all in enthusiastic full-throttle clapping and screaming, just like the Dillon Panther fans put out for handsome, boyish coach Taylor.
But in my town we are talking about middle-aged adults in white dinner jackets with purple tuxedo sashes. These school staff members don’t throw balls, punches, or kicks. Their weapon of choice is a tiny little white baton you could break over your knee, and their pump-the-team-up language is full of multi-syllabic metaphors and cultural references.
I love Coach Taylor. I have a not-so-secret crush on him. I don’t have a crush on any of the band teachers, but God I just loved their moment of glory. I loved that teenagers would stand on their chairs and scream and yell and whistle and stomp for a bunch of surely-underpaid music educators. I can’t carry a tune. I can’t play an instrument. (I tried the violin for a few weeks in second grade, until my mother gently asked me to stop practicing.) But even without a shred of musical ability, I can recognize inspiration when I see it.
It’s great to love a small-town football coach. It’s great to love a band conductor. From what I hear about the motivational skill of our Wind Ensemble conductor, he should write a management primer for CEO’s. Surely we’ve listened to enough of that kind of advice from inside the sidelines. Either way, whether you save your standing O’s for sports teams or musical ensembles, what an interesting country we live in.