The Real Way to Trim a Tree

Now, for the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing horrific news about Christmas.

When I told my friends my family was waiting for me to come back from college to cut down our tree, they thought it was “cute.” Cute!

“Oh, we get ours from outside a store,” some said.

“Oh, we just buy ours from the lot,” said others.

Many even told me–gasp–that they unpacked a fake tree from a box every year.

What has happened to this world that a Christmas tree comes with an instruction manual and you can buy it online?

This may not exactly be band-related, but this Christmas, I’m making it my mission to educate everyone about the real and right way to trim a tree.

And out of consideration for your lazy brains over Winter Break, it’s all in pictures.

Step 1: Go to a Christmas Tree farm (yes those exist) and walk around until you find the perfect tree. Saw it down.

Take the requisit annual Christmas tree picture

(Make boys) carry the tree across the farm.

Bind tree up with string using this cool/scary machine.

Attach your tree to the car for the drive home (be creative). When we had a smaller car, it used to be my job to make sure the tree hadn't fallen out of the open trunk.

Once your tree has made it home, stick it in a tree stand. Make sure you screw in the pegs tightly at the trunk.

Untie the string around the tree...

...ta-da! It's back!

There will probably be a lot of needles initially. Fake-tree supporters use this as an argument against real trees, but it's really not hard to vacuum, people!

At this point, you may want to take a break. But when you're ready again, hang Christmas lights around your tree.


Add the star last.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the BEST way to trim a tree.

Merry Christmas!

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What Band Has Meant to Me

I’ve been putting this off forever.  We had our last home football game.  And then we had our last away game.  And then we still had a concert on Friday night, where I had to get myself into that wool uniform one last time.  But as I was stuffing my hands into those stretched out gloves and stuffing my feet into those unisex shoes and wondering how in the WORLD it became normal for me to be wearing overalls and a jacket with a zipper in the back, I realized that, hey, I was going to miss this.

Band has meant a lot to me.

It meant a lot to me on the day I was born, even though I didn’t know it.  My parents actually met in the Penn State marching band.  Years later, I was their first child, and my dad was SO excited that his way of celebrating was bringing a boom box into the hospital room and blasting Blue Band tunes for his new daughter.  As I try to explain to people, I was brainwashed from the start.

Of course this doesn’t mean I’ve always accepted that.  I picked up the clarinet in 5th grade, but it didn’t mean that I liked practicing.  (Some things never change.)  Still, I stuck with band because I loved music, and so the summer before high school, my parents began campaigning for me to join the high school marching band.  Now, it was a TOUGH campaign because as we all know, many might consider joining the band “social suicide.”  But after many pro and con lists, I finally gave in.

Drum Captain & Section Leader

The Central Bucks South “MARCHIIIIINNNNGGGG TIIIIIIIITAAAANS!” was a great high school experience for me.  I got my first real nickname (“Daisy”—it sounds like “Davies”).  I made great friends who cared a lot about me.  (What is it about music lovers that just make them good people, am I right?)  In marching band, I also found something to be proud of: winning regional championships, my band director telling me I was the best backwards marcher he’d ever seen—man, that was a highlight–, and my close-knit, 6-person clarinet section my senior year.

When I joined the Mighty Sound of Maryland my freshman year, I was slightly nervous that things might be scary and different.  One freshman clarinet named Theresa had found me on Facebook the summer before and made me nervous with her questions about bringing a plastic versus a wooden clarinet.  When I went to sign in my first day, an older man put his arm around my shoulders and talked to me and my parents for a full five minutes before I realized he was my new band director.  I lost my room key in the middle of the Mall the first night.  Then during our first week, my stomach reacted so badly to the new, alien diner food that I seriously questioned if I would physically make it through the practices.

Clarinets 2008

Yet, there were still some things that stayed the same.  I was being so overfriendly and hyper that this guy from Georgia with a really strong Southern accent decided to call me “Sparky.”  I also realized that clarinets weren’t as intense about their music as I had thought—this other guy named Mike Luu admitted at the end of our first sectional that he had forgotten his mouthpiece, and had been pretending to play behind his stand the entire time.   Yeah, despite my fears that first week, I realized that this new marching band was going to watch out for me and be very accepting.  By the end of the first week, I was comfortable enough that on our last night, I linked arms with this big, tall guy as we walked across campus.  (We’ve now been dating for over two years.)

Band has meant a lot to me.

It’s meant that I’ve cared about things I never thought I’d care about.  For instance, do you realize how much effort it takes to put a clarinet together?  We have FIVE pieces to put together, and that doesn’t even include the ligature, reed, or lyre.  So stop yelling at us to get ready faster, already!

Band has meant that monitoring the green shades of my clarinet over the season is entertaining.  It’s meant cringing when I know that an instrument—or more often, a National Anthem singer—is out of tune.  Sometimes, it means caring a lot that people scramble to their spot in time for “Block and Mess” or that they write down almost-incomprehensible coordinates into their music.  One time for me, it meant getting in trouble from a director and running a lap around the field.  Sometimes, band meant feeling disappointment in our students for not staying through rainy games, and at others, it was the guilty realization that normal humans don’t wake up to play “Hawaii Five-O” at 6am, and all the students probably hated us that day anyway.

But band has also—obviously—meant a lot of good things to me, too.  People in band helped me not get (as) lost on campus and told me which classes not to take.  They’ve gone to church with me and they’ve gone to parties with me.  We’ve gone to concerts together, we’ve gotten snowed in together, and this year, we survived an earthquake and hurricane together.  We’ve gotten standing ovations for performing the “Thriller” dance together.  People in band have gotten me to become a tour guide and to join honor societies.  They’ve also gotten me to play on a flag football team for three years, which is something I NEVER thought I’d do in my life.  I’ve fed the clarinets, and boy, have they fed me.  (I finally got used to diner food.)  Another clarinet squad leader and I both started off our first Early Week leadership meeting with nothing but highlighters and camp games, and somehow we made it all work out together.

Basically what it all comes down to is that what has meant most to me about band is the people in it.  Even my roommates who stay at LEAST through halftime for every game and our non-band “groupies” have made my four years with this organization worthwhile.  But whether it’s those of you from band who have graduated , those of you who are graduating with me, or those of you who we leave behind, I’ve loved being in band with each of you.  You will never get another college experience as important as this.  We all love music, but what really brings the Mighty Sound of Maryland together is our friendships.  I may have put on my marching band uniform for the last time, but even as I tried to zip up that stupid back zipper—like I always do—one of my friends laughed at me and helped me instead—like they always do.  Marching band may be finally ending for me, but I hope the love and support in this band lasts forever.

Clarinets 2011


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Normally, the Homecoming football game is like any other football game for me.  I go to practice four hours before the game, watch–“watch”–the whole game, perform the Pregame show, halftime show, etc.  As a freshman, sophomore, and junior, Homecoming wasn’t really meaningful.  Not to say that it didn’t come with some memories.

My freshman year, it was the band’s 100th anniversary–its centennial year.  A few hundred alumni came to perform with us, all dressed up in their centennial shirts…only to discover that it poured during that game and they all had to wear their rain coats instead.

That didn’t deter them, though.  Every Homecoming, the alumni pay for food for the whole band.

And, every homecoming, the clarinet alumni come back and sing their “Clarinets, KILL KILL KILL!” song.

As memorable as those little moments are, I think this Homecoming will be my most significant yet.  Partly because some of the pictures that were taken of me during a photoshoot this summer have been randomly showing up in Homecoming ads.  Partly because I’m a senior and this will be the last time I’m already “home” for homecoming.  After this year, I’ll be the outsider coming back to campus, which is very weird and sad to think about.  But this Homecoming is also partly exciting because I was chosen to be a Spirit of Maryland Finalist, which means I’ll be recognized at Homecoming.  The reason I wanted to write this post is because band is the reason I’m in the running for this award.  One of my essays was about my greatest accomplishment at Maryland, and it was with the clarinet section.  I’ll leave you on this note though: I think they call it “Homecoming” because Maryland truly does feel like home, and the people here truly do feel like family.


My greatest achievement at Maryland was realized on a cold October day in a crowded, Spartan band room.  We were nearing the end of marching band season–sorry, football season–and our director was leading us through one of our last music rehearsals.  I could tell that the 20 or so people in my clarinet section were restless.  As the season goes on, our music gets more and more difficult.  As a squad leader for the clarinet section, I knew that the marching formations that I was teaching out on the field were getting more complicated.  Add that to exams, work, and everything else that people were involved in, and you get a group of college students who find it hard to focus for a whole two-hour rehearsal.

I heard some giggling behind me and felt a light tap on my shoulder.  It was one of the freshmen in the section.  We had 10 new members that year–more than we had ever had before.  At first, the upperclassmen were shocked and slightly nervous.  Ten new people out of a section of a little more than 20?  How were we going to teach so many people and keep them interested?

Well, on that October day, the freshman sitting behind me smiled and handed me a piece of paper that she and the others had obviously been working on from behind their music stands.  I quickly transferred it to my stand and surreptitiously took a look.

They all had drawn a “Clarinet Family Tree.”  It was complete with couples in the section, alumni who had graduated, and each of the classes at different levels, with all the freshmen at one level as brothers and sisters.

This feeling of family, of knowing that I had helped bring 10 new Terps (and other current Terps) into what they thought of as an accepting, surrogate, Maryland family, is my proudest moment here at Maryland.

It wasn’t easy.  Spending 16 hours a week at practice with the same group of people isn’t always conducive to lifelong friendships.  We definitely had difficult times.  Whenever I hear “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5, I always think of the times I had to convince my squad to stay after practice and rehearse the rotating diamond form for that halftime show.  There were other times when we were exhausted and things on the field just weren’t going right, or when football season and basketball season would overlap and we’d have band for up to 20 hours a week.

There were great times too, of course: winning $25,000 in the Hawaii Five-0 contest, performing the entire Thriller dance in front of 50,000 people, scoring touchdowns on our clarinet intramural football team, or just making sure to all eat dinner together after every practice.

It wasn’t just me that got the section to be so close that it felt like family, but I’d like to hope that I helped.  I’m a Squad Leader again this year, and am working on a new generation of Terps.  (Although in case you were wondering, all 10 of our “New Men” came back to band this year.)  My dream is that these new freshmen, too, will feel as at home at this university as I do, and will pass this feeling on to new Terps in the years to come.

This post is dedicated to the clarinet section! Love you guys!

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“That takes the cake!”

Two fun musical facts I learned in my classes this week:

The Cakewalk

1. Back in the 19th century, slaves used to compete and perform a dance called the “Cakewalk” for their masters, and the slaves who won the contest were given a cake.  (Hence the expression, “that takes the cake!”)  What their masters didn’t know is that this exaggerated, high-kneed walk was really the slaves’ imitation of their silly and “dignified” masters.  Nevertheless, whites were still oblivious, and incorporated the Cakewalk into their popular “Minstrel Shows” where they’d “blacken up” their faces like black people and make fun of them.  (This was ironic because by performing this dance, whites were unknowingly making fun of themselves.)  The Cakewalk became very popular though with whites and blacks, and eventually was incorporated into the marching style of many Historically Black College and University (HBCU) marching bands.  They still perform it this way today.

Here’s an example in the Bethune Cookman Marching Band:


2. Ever heard of a “Keynote Speech” or a “Keynote Speaker”?  It’s the speech that is given at the beginning of an event like a rally or convention.  It is meant to introduce the event and set the tone for the rest of the speeches or events that follow.  Fun fact: this term actually comes from the first note played on a pitch pipe at the beginning of a barbershop quartet performance.  This “keynote” literally sets the tune for the group and tone for the rest of the song.

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The Maryland-Miami Game

This picture is a good representation of tonight’s game.  It’s of my impromptu drying rack.  We’ve got my soaked Maryland band hat, two pairs of soaked socks (one pair from practice and one from the game), my roommate’s soaked socks, my shako (unseen is the grass and mud on the other side), a wet garment bag, and some wet red clothes.  If you weren’t there or haven’t guessed, IT RAINED TONIGHT.

Now, rain at a game might be something you’d think would be miserable.  But not for us tonight.  Did we put on our parkas? No.  Did my clarinet lose a pad from getting wet?  Yes.  Did I care?  No.  (Not yet.)  Did the rain pouring over the brims of our hats motivate the band, the team, and the sold-out stadium?  Heck yes.

I hate it when I see marching band t-shirts or websites that say, “What is the football team doing on our field?”  That’s just stupid.  We’re all obviously here to have fun, but we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t to support the team.  Don’t get me wrong–running out for my last first Pregame Show as a SENIOR was incredibly awesome, as was the student section’s dancing and reaction to our Top 40 halftime show.  But how about that GAME?  It was close and exciting the entire time.  And an interception with 39 seconds left?  We couldn’t stop jumping up and down.

We just had our Early Week last week, and all the upperclassmen were trying to show the “New Men” what the Mighty Sound of Maryland is all about: being a family, doing your best, being a musician, supporting Maryland……but it’s also about football.

Tonight, we savored all of those.

All I do is win.

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