And the Band Played On

At the start of this football season, four members of the Rydberg family made a pilgrimage to one of college football’s most holy sites — Buckeye Stadium at The Ohio State University (Ohioans always make “The” an official part of their school’s name) in Columbus, Ohio. Our youngest son, Jon, was soon to begin his college career there, and it seemed like the right thing to do. So we journeyed east to see a game pitting the defending national champion (Jon’s school) against the university where Marilyn and I had spent nine years doing college ministry (the University of Washington).

 We collected many memories on that Saturday: randomly running into four Young Life staff among the 105,000 fans in attendance, watching the Ohio State players — dressed in coats and ties — walking to the stadium through the crowd escorted by burly policeman, watching one of our Young Life spouses do a live radio program in the midst of tailgaters and the game itself.

But what struck Marilyn and me most of all was the band. That’s right, the band. The Ohio State University Marching Band has such a storied past and such a current fame that hundreds of underclassmen compete for the 225 positions each year. The competition may be as intense for the band members as it is for the football team. And when the final 225 are selected, they excel. They march precisely, play with emotion and precision, wear sharp uniforms and are worthy of the praise they receive.
Back in line
But it wasn’t that band that caught our attention. It was the other band that choked us up, The Ohio State University Marching Band Alumni. Each year at the first home game, former band members, drum majors and cheerleaders have a reunion. Band members practice and perform regardless of how long it’s been since they were students.

This year, approximately 650 alumni polished their horns, took their drums out of the attic, put on their alumni band uniform (black shoes, gray slacks, scarlet sweater and jaunty beret) and marched. And former drum majors joined them.

The oldest member of the band — according to the public address announcer — was 88. And many appeared to be in their 60s and 70s. Some didn’t make their turns as sharply as they had 30 or 40 or 50 years ago, but they were members of a world-class band for another 15 minutes in their lives. They marched, they played, and they joined in with the 225 current band members in the final number. One older member came marching smartly out of the tunnel, stayed in lock step through the end zone, ran out of gas by the 5-yard line and labored to catch up at the 10. But he was there, and he was proud, and the crowd loved it.
A band’s legacy
As I watched the band, I thought of Young Life. For many of us, we are in the alumni band. There is the “other” band that wears the better uniforms, is made up of great people who may be more youthful and who may have more energy. Their uniforms are more stylish, and their musical instruments are newer and more finely polished. They get to play at more games, take more road trips and spend more time in the spotlight. That band is made up of volunteers and staff who work each week with kids. But they are really only the tip of the Young Life musical iceberg.

Standing behind them is a group of people who used to wear the uniforms they do and who set the standards for what the band is emulating now. They established the high reputation. They raised the bar. And they are the ones who give to the annual band fund so that the 225 members of the other band can wear the uniforms and travel.

But there is a Saturday when the groups merge in a packed stadium, filling the field, and the great cloud of witnesses rejoice. It’s not just 225 current band members, but 875 horn blowers, drum bangers and baton twirlers who fill the field with music and pride. That’s much more impressive than watching a group of 225 current students — regardless of how talented — march.
Marching on together
Thank you for playing in the alumni band. Thank you for polishing your instruments and digging out your alumni uniform and giving to the program so that our staff and volunteers can continue to march and play to the glory of God and for the love of kids. Thousands of kids will meet Christ this year. Our staff and volunteers will get the credit. But we will quietly know that the Lord used us, too. And every now and then, we’ll march into that stadium and let the world know that we’re proud alums and part of this great mission.