I just read a story in the Los Angeles Times about how the USC Trojan Marching Band (of which my sister is an alum) and the Alabama Crimson Tide Million Dollar Band are “Tiffing Over ‘Tusk’.” It is an interesting story about why both bands (along with Arkansas), and even the schools, consider the Fleetwood Mac hit “Tusk” as theirs. (In my humble opinion, I’m not sure why any band other than USC can make that clear distinction. The others are certainly welcome to like the song, but USC seems to win any argument since they are part of the song’s vast history.)
The story reminded me of my band days. Starting with my family’s move to Maine (from downtown Chicago) just before my 11th birthday, I got involved with the local school bands. First was the elementary school band where we learned to play instruments and be part of a band. Second was moving up to the junior/senior band. The Woodland Jr.-Sr. High School Band was pretty good. It was actually pretty well known in the state of Maine, which is saying something). We were a marching band, a pep band for basketball, and a concert band as well. Considering the rural area where we were located, it was pretty impressive that our director, Mr. Noonan, was able to put together a band consisting of all kinds of students from communities up to an hour away. We played circles around bands from bigger high schools with more money around the state. But I am getting distracted…
One of the songs we were known for was “The Horse” and we played it damn well. Horse was one of the bands favorites. You could tell we changed gears a little when it was time to play the song. It was a source of pride. No, we were not unique in playing it. Many bands still play the song to this day, but we considered it our song.
Of course, we weren’t the only band who played Horse. One of our biggest rivals (band-wise) at the Eastern Maine Basketball Tournament played the song as well. John Bapst Memorial played the song pretty well, so it was always interesting to see the two bands react when the other was playing. Every once in awhile, the two schools would face off in the Eastern Maine (now Northern Maine) boy’s or girl’s basketball tournament at the old Bangor Auditorium. The unwritten rule was no band played the same song after the other played it, so there was always coordination between Mr. Noonan and the other band director(s). Usually it meant the bands would play Horse in difference halves.
However, one year there was a twist. A local TV station, I think WABI, wanted to do a story about The Horse and how the bands who played it. From what I remember, they knew John Bapst and Woodland were the kings and they had an opportunity with both schools playing against each other to get video of both bands playing the song. There was only one problem: the station needed to get back to edit the story together and couldn’t wait for one of the bands to play it later in the game. They asked us to play it back-to-back. I still remember when Mr. Noonan told us we were going to play it after John Bapst and some of us wondered why we would do such a thing. You didn’t one-up another band no matter the request.
Well it didn’t matter what we thought, the band directors had agreed and early in the first half (probably first quarter), John Bapst played The Horse. We listened. We judged. We probably smirked. They were good; we were better. Then it was our turn and we nailed it like we always did. We had the ability to sound so much bigger than our size. We had pride that a small, rural junior/senior high school could play as good if not better than the big schools. But the kicker came moments after we started… Mr. Noonan walked away. You see, he always walked away especially during the Eastern Maine basketball tournament. It was probably his way of showing off. It certainly was our way of showing off. He started us… we finished. We didn’t need the baton. We didn’t need the guidance. This was our song. We could play it blindfolded. I remember Mr. Noonan walking over to either the TV reporter or the other band director or at some point both while we played. I know I smiled. I am sure he smiled. This was our song. Did I mention we nailed it? And we did it with a TV cameraman moving in and around the band while we played and while the crowd went nuts.
This all took place around 25 years ago, but I will never forget it. That band was awesome. Mr. Noonan was revered. And it was our little moment to have a “battle of the bands” and one I distinctly remember the feeling we won the moment Mr. Noonan walked away and we kept playing. Too bad technology of today wasn’t around then to show you that on YouTube.