My Polished Silver Growth
By Corey Inscoe
By Corey Inscoe
The Bell Tower looms perilously above me as I lie on the brick sidewalk beside Wilson Library. The ringing tells me that it is 8 a.m. It is also making my headache worse, but, unlike the rest of the student population, I don’t have the luxury of sleeping off last night’s mistakes.
You would think with all the great advances in the textile industry that a Southern college marching band would not be wearing itchy, hot and heavy wool uniforms in early September. You would be wrong.
I feel like I’m in a trance as I walk around in this stuffy uniform – people pass by me in blurs, lips flapping but not making a sound. One hour of sleep doesn’t do much good for the mind. My headache only gets worse when I see the white band truck roll into the parking lot behind the library.
That rectangular blue box that just came off the truck holds the bane of my football Saturdays. I unhook the two clasps hesitantly, hoping that the silver hunk of metal might have disappeared while I was gone. Unfortunately, it’s still there when I look down. I pull out the body and the bell and put them together, tightening the three screws that hold in the bell. I pull out the silver polish in the left compartment of the case and spread the thick blue liquid over the front of the bell, making sure I can see myself in the reflection. Too bad it will be so dirty by the time the game starts it won’t look like I cleaned it at all.
Thirty-five or 40 pounds of polished silver rests on my left shoulder. Who decided that this was a good idea? I’m starting to realize why it’s always the big guys that get chosen to play tuba.
Manning Hall is staring me in the face. I’m in some crazy line down an uneven brick sidewalk in Polk Place that stretches from the Old Well to Wilson Library. My back is tight and sore from bad sleep, but that won’t matter once the football players, coaches and spirit squad charge through our impromptu lined passageway. I’ll be slinging this big shiny instrument back and forth, and up and down throughout the fight song.
It’s like the military here. Everything is so regimented. The schedule is determined a week early and is followed to the minute. Everyone knows it; everyone lives by that single sheet of paper. It’s like one of those crazy contraptions where an alarm clock goes off and pushes a marble down a ramp that sets off a ridiculous chain of events that will eventually cook eggs and brew coffee.
I am just a small part of this powerful marble. I have no control.
I am standing in front of Dey Hall with 45 trumpet players screaming obnoxiously high notes behind me. My headache just came back with a vengeance. Why am I doing this again?
In front of Wilson Library, the mass of blue-clad musicians brings the pre-game ritual we call “Tar Heel Town” to a close by playing a beautiful chorale written and played just for us: “Blue and White.” I get that familiar chill down my spine as the sound of over 300 horns blasting the final chord bounces off those majestic steps and columns.
The drums start banging out our cadence as the band forms the parade block and winds around Wilson Library and toward the stadium. While the drums lay down the groove, I’m marching behind them, swinging my horn, kicking, dancing to the beat, and doing everything I can not to collapse from exhaustion. Students, parents and alumni cheer as we march past them, chanting and jumping around. A little girl smiles and points at my big, shiny tuba, then turns to ask her dad, “What’s that?” A young boy stares wide-eyed and open-mouthed at me hopping back and forth with this silver growth on my shoulder.
As I look at the people smiling, cheering and dancing on both sides of me, I suddenly realize why I do this. All the practicing, waking up early and excess weight on my shoulder is suddenly worth it when I see the joy that this band brings to the Tar Heel fans.
The Bell Tower looms over me once again as we turn onto Stadium Drive. This time the white face tells me it is 11:30 a.m., 30 minutes before kickoff. For most people this means that game-day at UNC-Chapel Hill is getting ready to start. For me, it’s already half over.