Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, July 12, 2010

Marching to the Beat of Different Drummers

If ever there was a case against political collectivism, it’s your typical band or orchestra.

Now, being a musician, I have no problem with playing on bands and orchestras. I live to march in step with my fellow musicians and am always grateful for the more liberal director who will allow me to play the maracas on Amparito Roca.

However, musicians do make personal sacrifices of freedom for the greater good of the orchestra. We all have to play the same music. At the same time. At the same volume (generally). We have to play the parts assigned to us and we can’t really ad lib (on some bands, we percussionists can get away with some little freedoms).

Above all, your typical orchestra is an absolute totalitarian dictatorship. The conductor or director is boss, and that’s it. His or her word is final on how a piece of music is to be played. The conductor sets the tempo and heaven help the bass drummer whose attention strays for a moment after a hard day at work photographing people who don’t want to wear hardhats (!).

Just as workers going to their jobs at a corporation, we musicians, be we paid studio musicians or volunteer amateurs, leave our freedom in our music cases. That’s the deal. We know it and accept it, willingly. What would we sound like, after all, if we didn’t?

After the performance is over, though, we go home and we can be ourselves again. The director doesn’t follow us home to nag us to practice (though he wishes we would) or clean our instruments. He doesn’t tell us what music we have to listen to in our spare time.

My marching band is a particular case. On the street, it’s particularly important that the band know that the director – and in our case, also our drum major – is in charge. He makes the decisions about what march to play, when to stop, when to turn, and when to play.

When I was an officer on the band, years ago, I had a donnybrook with a trumpet player who felt that the office of the band director should be a sort of committee, so that no one person would be burdened with the responsibility of making those decisions.

I asked her, “So what happens if we’re in Wildwood and the unit in front of us has gotten too far ahead and we’re uncertain what street to turn onto (which did happen)? If we stop, we’ll be disqualified. How long is it going to take this committee to decide which street to turn onto? What if they can’t decide? What are we going to do then?”

The trumpet player cursed at me, but common sense prevailed, and at the next election, the band elected only one band director, although there are also three other officers to help in making decisions not directly related to performances, such as accounting and the purchase of uniforms.

Being that both the bands I’m on are volunteer organizations, even those two directors can’t completely ignore the musicians’ wishes entirely. If you put a piece of music in front of them that they absolutely despise, they won’t come back. The director will find himself with two flutes, a sax, one trumpet player, and one rusty baritone player. Oh and the percussionists (we don’t care what we play).

For the short time we’re together, we’re willing to suspend our liberties, yes.

However, the Wildwood parade I mentioned is a special case. It involves a three-day holiday for the band in southern New Jersey in a seaside carnival town. When we’re in uniform, we’re together, marching in step and hopefully playing in tune.

But once we’re done, or we’re not meeting together for some musical purpose, that’s it. Our members are on their own. We don’t parade up and down the Wildwood Boardwalk altogether, still in our (very sweaty) uniforms. We break up into clusters of friends and family groups. We wear individual clothing (except the night of the trophy ceremonies when we all wear our band jackets with our emblem on it).

Our conformity is temporary and finite. Once the job is done, our members are free to do – legally – what they please. There are no organized, concerted activities (except for lunch just before the parade – and even that’s not mandatory, but since everyone loves chili dogs, they come in throngs anyway).

Our fraternity exists only insofar as our musical tastes agree (we love marches, show tunes, popular standard music, some familiar classical pieces). We’re not bound by any other allegiances. Even the degree of our participation in the band itself is voluntary, though more is always appreciated.

The collectivist activists agitating today for political, socialist unity strive far beyond that pale. They don’t seem to know where the parade ends, where people are free to go their own way. In fact, they don’t believe people should ever be free to go their own way.

They would have us Americans march in lockstep forever to the socialist drummer. Thumpity, thumpity, thumpity. Some people have become too familiar with their tune and fall in step automatically, without even questioning the philosophy of socialism.

If they do fall out of step, they’re brought back into line as easily as any of us on our band can get back into step with a quick skip. If you don’t get back in step (on my band), you’re greeted with a chorus of very annoyed shouts of “Left! Left! Left, right, LEFT!!!”

In the socialist band, there is no “right” step of course, nor even a guide right. I’m so used to stepping off on my left foot (from being on the band), that if I take a first step with my right foot, I check myself for a moment, and then realize, well, it’s okay. I’m not out on the street.

That’s how easy it is to fall in step with people who give political orders, especially for young people, who desperately want to “fit in”. They want to be like everyone else. They don’t want to look different or be out of step.

Being on a marching band (or for that matter, probably being in the military, which I’m not and never have been), gives you a keen appreciation for freedom and individuality, and while you willingly make the sacrifice for some short-term or even long-term goal (and a five mile parade, playing an instrument on a blazing hot day, as I’m sure a stint in the 120 degree heat of Baghdad does, definitely seems long-term), you realize how long forever can be if those marching orders become permanent.

The military, in particular, is to be commended for accepting marching orders in order that our freedoms are safeguarded. Today’s young people are to be cautioned that the drummers to whose beat they’re gleefully marching have no greater purpose than that – to keep them in line. There is no end to the parade they’ll be expected to march under the socialist banner.

They’ll be brooked no quarter and certainly granted no liberty, no individual freedom, no shore leave. As the means justifies the end, they’ll be expected to obey every command they’re given, no matter how harsh, even to committing violence against those who merely disagree with them.

They’ll be congratulated for sacrificing their personal freedom for a greater cause, not comprehending that greater cause is the destruction of individual liberty and creativity. So it was that first one, and then the other, of the two bands with which I play were banished from their respective Fourth of July town concerts, silencing the very music that celebrates American independence.

Mike, and Tom, Pete, Paul, and RePete and I were the drummers. But someone changed the program and the audience danced to different drummers. Some of them knew the difference. Others didn’t, particularly the very young.

The difference is with, say, Stars and Stripes Forever, Sousa knew there were limits. His march has variety to keep the audience interested and a finite structure, so as not to hold them captive. Under the guise of “freedom” in which the audience could dance any way they pleased, the hard rock set went on relentlessly, the same monotonous beat and tone, for 45 minutes without pause.

That is the essence of socialism. Democracy gives liberty. Socialism takes liberties – and doesn’t give them back.


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