A couple weeks ago, I took my band kids to march in a local parade. They’d worked really hard, had all kinds of cool choreography, and a great arrangement of a Bruno Mars tune that was done by one of my students. Everyone was hyped to perform, as the parade was going to be a big one, with thousands of spectators. One of the biggest parades on the East Coast. Exciting!
Alas, it was for naught.
My band’s bus pulled up next to where all the other bands were parked next to an elementary school and my kids all got out, ready to go. However, it was overcast and foreboding. I was told by one of another school’s band parents that all the other band directors were huddled over by the school discussing whether they were going to march or not because of the weather. My wife and I headed over to join them.
The principals of each of those band directors’ schools eventually told them that because of school rules (no event held within 30 minutes of a lightning strike), and with the parade starting in less than that, and with the weather not clearing up on the radar, they were to pack it in and go home.
I decided to follow suit. After all, the kids’ safety is of primary concern, right? Right.
So we told our kids to get back on the bus… we’re going home. It ended up being a good call; there was hail later on and we would’ve been marching in it.
It was disheartening, though; the students were quiet on the way home, and some told me afterward that they were very disappointed… they wanted to show off what they’d accomplished. I felt the same way.
But, as I reminded them, we had one more parade left to do… our hometown’s parade. It was the one that all their parents and friends would attend. It was by far the most important parade in their hearts and minds, as well as the community.
I hadn’t prayed much about that first parade, just some generic ones about the kids’ safety and that they’d do a good job. But I really wanted my kids (especially the seniors) to have a fantastic experience out there. So I prayed to God specifically for “perfect” weather for our hometown parade.
Yes, “perfect.” What does that even mean, anyway? 🙂
Anyway, the big day arrived. My family and I pulled into the parking lot of the high school to open the doors.
It was hot, muggy, and sunny. The first day of real summer weather.
We did a one hour rehearsal around the track as is our tradition. I gave them sectional time to review music and choreography inside or in the shade. Then we went around the track a couple times and then went in.
Still hot, still muggy, and still sunny.
I gave them an hour to cool down, get dressed, eat a late lunch, and hang out. I spent that time talking to kids about life and relationships and listened to them tell of their silly and often ill-advised escapades that most teenagers have in those years. It was then was time to walk up to the staging area.
The walk to the parade route involves walking up a steep hill, followed by a winding trek through town in front of old houses with mostly well-kept yards on cracked sidewalks. There’s some decent shade, but it was the hottest part of the day. In full wool uniforms. It’s not necessarily the most pleasant of strolls.
My students arrived at the line-up area for the parade. They all sat down on the sidewalk (which I never allow them to do in uniform) and passed around spray bottles full of warm water. I had them unzip their uniform jackets in public (which I also never let them do) and fan out. Some kids went into the convenience store whose shade we were huddled in and bought bottles of water which they passed around.
Through all this, I was thanking God for the beautiful weather, since it wasn’t raining and that we would be able to do this parade at all. I was excited and the kids were too.
At 15 minutes prior to step-off, I had the students suit up again to review the choreography and music before we began the parade. It’s also a chance to perform in front of people since the other units around us have nothing to do but wait for step-off, too. All the pageant queens in their floats and the girl scout troops and the fire fighters in their fire trucks sat and watched. We’re typically the only band in this parade, so we’re a novelty.
As the kids were playing, suddenly, the sun disappeared. My wife later said that she thought, “YES! Shade!” before turning to see what had caused our respite.
It was a huge, black cloud.
A huge peal of thunder rolled through the staging area.
But no visible lightning.
I was thinking about how upset I would be if we got rained out of yet another parade, the only parade, the last parade for my seniors. I had visions, as I’m sure every band director does, of color guard members with 6-foot long lightning rods in their hands or tuba players with large metallic objects being struck from the sky.
My students sang their alma mater as is our custom. It was emotional because it would be the last time for the seniors. Some of my staff, who had been working with the kids for years, were also leaving, so it would be their last parade too.
A couple rain drops blipped on our shoulders and eye lids.
We started to line up.
The temperature suddenly dropped.
Now, for those of you who’ve been in this situation, there’s nothing like a good rain right before or during a performance to lift the spirits of a hot, sweaty marching unit. My kids started laughing and talking and became giddy with excitement.
No lightning. The parade was about to start. I happened to see my pastor sitting in a car in the staging area. He smiled, I smiled. We both knew what was about to happen.
As the first wave of real downpour started while we waited to start, the kids cheered. They became jubilant. They broke out into chants and songs and began playing pep band tunes from memory. When they were called to attention by their drum major, they roared in response. It was incredible!
Off they went. The wind hammered the kids and the rain blew in sideways as they pounded down the street. They did their vocals and their dance moves in the pouring rain with flair and style. The drumline sprinted their rotation choreography with no slips or falters. The guard fought through the wind and manhandled the waterlogged silks into the correct positions even though they were 4 times heavier than usual. It was beautiful to see.
And the crowds!!
From the groups huddled in the storefronts to the stalwarts sitting in their lawn chairs in the rain, they cheered those kids on more than I ever remembered them doing. One of my staff came up to me at the end and said, “Did you hear them?!?!? They LOVED ’em!”
The sun came out again right as we turned the last corner and finished the parade. They circled up as usual and they dismissed with such intensity that I teared up. I talked with a couple kids on the way back and they all said that this parade was the best they’d ever had. One kid called it a legend that will be passed down for years to come.
And as we passed by dripping trees and shimmering puddles reflecting the sunlight, students and adults giddy with their reminiscing on events of the past hour, the sounds of the parade still going wafting between the old houses, it dawned me.
God had answered my prayer…
Torrential downpour was, indeed, the perfect weather for this particular parade.