Joining the marching band.

Posted on Apr 3, 2015

I read a weekly opinion column in a somewhat local newspaper. Couple of weeks ago the topic centered around the writer’s experience in his high school marching band. Tidy metaphor about joining the band (and participating in life). I’ve been thinking about that column.

Bowman High School Band 1987-88

I was in my high school’s marching band. I played the flute. How’s that for an instrument that allows participation and get yet has no real responsibilities? Drums and trumpets are where it’s at, and maybe the guy with the sousaphone. Now those are the real attention getters. Anyway…

I loved being in marching band. See how we are on a basketball court rather than a football field? That’s a North Dakota marching band for you – our routines were court-centered. The pinnacle of the year was performing as the half time show for the State Class B Boys Basketball tournament. I wore uniform #103 – which was the internal temperature of the suit also.

But back to the metaphor. I like to join up. The skill I lack is knowing when to quit.

Sarah Regan Snavely witness cones

I’m terrible at quitting. Absolutely terrible. I’m not sure if I’m stubborn about the outcome, so optimistic that every idea can be accomplished if given enough effort, or just stuck in rut. When I explained this propensity to a friend, her only comment was, “Well you are just so darn loyal.” Blech. Yuck. Phooey. She’s a good friend – turning my character defects into positive attributes. I think it is more like a Greyhound who finishes the race despite a broken limb. Too often, my answer to adversity is to lean into the collar and pull harder.

I’m not sure this is a good “life” quality.

But in the studio, this characteristic serves me well. It is the thing that pushes past the hard part that inevitably comes. It pushes past the resistance to sit on the couch and eat Doritos. It pushes for new and more and odd and beyond. Its dialogue is, “Why not?” Couple that with its sister quality, the wild optimism about how much time it will actually take to reach a project’s completion, and you’ve got the cornerstones of my artistic practice.

Sarah Regan Snavely ceramic test tiles

I’m well aware of my deficit, so I gravitated to a medium with defined end points. I love clay for many reasons, but I couldn’t be an Oil Painter. Yes fired clay can be messed with here and there, but compared to an oil painting that can be painted, repainted, retouched or painted over indefinitely, fired clay is done. The material makes the decision for me.

And so there it is. Too much joining up. Lately I feel like I wade into the cold water, my body adjusts to the temperature, and I begin a studied backstroke. Then three laps and a buzzer sounds or something, and I’m supposed to backstroke in another pool. Doesn’t feel like I’m getting very far and its getting harder to get into the water.

Of course this may be winter malaise. Or maybe it is the realization that an expansive To Do list isn’t a measure of Done. Maybe the idea letting things go, of having more time for a single focus, is a mirage. What are the markers for an ending?

Come to think of it, I did quit the marching band before my senior year in high school. It conflicted with Art class.


  1. Louise Gagné
    April 3, 2015

    Good morning Sarah:

    You need to perhaps remind yourself that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. You have created many, many beautiful pieces of art which have brought, and will continue to bring joy to many people. And, sitting on the couch is part of the creative process because to create, you must do ordinary things like relaxing to be able to welcome inspiration when it visits.

    Happy Easter to you and yours!

    Louise Gagné

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