Marching Band and Reading

My daughter just after the final performance.

Hi everyone! This weekend my daughter competed in the Regional Bands of America competition in Pleasant Hill, California. The good news is that they won their class and the final competition. They also won in all the competition categories. So that was very exciting. But that isn’t what I want to talk about.

I’m new to marching band competitions. When watching, I find that I enjoy some things and not others, but these may or may not be associated with what the bands get judged on. I can hear when there’s a major problem, or when there’s a serious issue on the marching, but mostly I just watch and marvel at the performances.

Now, you may or may not know this, but parents help get a lot of the equipment and props onto the field and off. I was helping set the tarp. It was a huge compass rose that covered the center of the field. It was heavy and had to be rolled out on a cart, then pulled off, unfolded, and centered, and then taped down. All in less than a minute.

So we’re standing in what amounts to the wings of the stadium as the band before us performs. One of the parents is a music teacher. She and one of the staff members of the band winced as they listened. I asked what was wrong and they both said “Out of tune.” I didn’t hear it. Both started talking about how it’s hard to enjoy shows because they hear all the problems and see them if they are watching.

That made me think about reading. A lot of writers have trouble disengaging from the editor/writer side of things in order to read for pleasure. They constantly notice any little problems in the writing. It makes it hard to enjoy a story, sometimes. Now I can generally go into reader mode and just enjoy. That is, unless I stumble over an issue that’s too egregious to ignore. Or an issue that hits my irritation trigger. Like, for instance, incorrect facts.

I wonder how many other fields have this issue? Is it limited to creative endeavors? I can think of some sports that definitely have this issue. Gymnastics, for one, and ice skating pop to mind.

Are you able to read just to enjoy? When can’t you?



Marching Band and Reading — 8 Comments

  1. I can’t. :/ I’m a compulsive editor — I can’t not see all the little glitches and typos.

    But yeah, I think this is a major issue, and I think it contributes greatly to the problem of writers who are afraid to send out or indie pub their own stories, because they’re sure they suck. It also explains writers who snark and disrespect various bestsellers, insisting that the books suck and these authors “can’t write,” despite their having literally millions of enthused fans. It’s a case of being so focused on the tiny worm-hole in a particular patch of bark that we can’t even see that one whole tree, much less the forest.


  2. Because i’m visually oriented, I can set aside the writerly focus and sink into a book as a reader . . . except when I hit typos and incorrect grammar. Throws me right out. Always has, even when I was a kid, though typos were rare in those days, proofreading being more scrupulous than it is now.

  3. Doctors, lawyers, cops — engineeers! — if not laughing themselves silly from the preposterosities with which their professions are presented by non-professionals — are sitting down by the Rivers of Babylon weeping. Historians, English Lit scholars and professors also. Lordessa save us, so do movie and television professionals — they have at least as a difficult time watching sans the vision of technical, editorial and visual expertise — they see the project go off the rails exactly here, among other things.

    People who care take children and households, often the same — when written by men who have never done either.

  4. I can ignore the writing part to a point–though, as Sherwood says, grammatical infelicities and outright stupid will stop me cold–if the voice and story are engaging enough. If the plot gets stupid that’s a problem. If the author says something research-related that I know is Just Wrong, that’s hard to ignore too. And there’s a level of bad-prosiness that will grind me to a half; of course, one man’s bad prose is another man’s lyricism, so…

    I have a harder time ignoring certain things in film: you cannot turn the corner of West 23rd Street in Manhattan and suddenly find yourself confronted with Central Park, and that sort of thing throws me out of the story unless I’m already so deep in that it would take a 6-man search party and a bloodhound to find me. My husband is that way about sound (former recording engineer). He can be perfectly engaged until someone, for example, picks up a phone and we hear the wrong dial tone for the time/equipment.

    In some cases the story/film can rebuild that level of involvement. In some cases it makes me question why I’m trying to do so.

  5. As someone who spent half of the first twenty years or so of my life in marching band, I cannot avoid being thrilled for your daughter and her band. I am sure I watch band competitions and listen to concerts with a practiced eye and ear, albeit rusty ones. Although since I understand what they’re doing and the work that went into it, I can also admire it when they get something that doesn’t look difficult right. (Every time I do Tai Chi with a group but no one leader, I am grateful for all those years in marching band that taught me how to pay attention and stay with the group.)

    Taking this into reading: I notice things. That’s useful in a lot of ways, because reading is a major part of the path to learning to write. But the quality of the writing and the strength of the story matter. I notice typos and grammar errors, but they don’t kick me out of a book, partly because I blame them on the editor or proofreader, not the writer. My thought is always “someone should have caught that.”

    Clunky prose throws me out every time. I once tried to read something by Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame and found the prose so dreadful that I couldn’t get far enough to see if the story was worthwhile. But well-written mysteries will always suck me in even when the plot is preposterous.

  6. I asked an art restorer how his work impinged on his ability to enjoy art. He said he could usually manage a short period of time at a museum before he caught himself critiquing the cleaning/restoration work on the paintings. He mostly enjoyed abstract and geometric sculpture because it was about as far as it could get from his work.
    In college I had a piano teacher who was a concert pianist who told me that she could not listen to music to relax or as background to a party, because she was always analysing it.