Spread. Flash. Blow.
The fortissimo chord of the Blue Devils warm up reverberates back off the press box. A distorted reflection of myself and the baritone players to my right stares back at me from the underside of my instrument’s freshly polished bell.
The morning sun peeks over the east side of Bill Snyder Family Stadium and brings the purple and gold sunrise through the cotton ball clouds with a blinding reflection off the silver instruments and platinum press box.
The goosebumps spreading down my arm are not due to the crisp morning air.
Nothing is more beautiful.
Today is my last home game as a member of the Pride of Wildcat Land. This is senior day and my 22nd birthday.
My first pregame three years ago in Bill Snyder Family Stadium featured few notes from my baritone. It was all I could do to stay in step as 50,000 screaming fans swayed back and forth to the “Wabash Cannonball” — the Big 12’s No. 1 pregame tradition.
Even at the halftime show of last year’s Liberty Bowl, I was not myself while marching.
I remembered neither the next note nor the next move. I could not think — I could only do.
My fingers and legs took over as the baseline of the opera section of “Bohemian Rhapsody” overtook me. I placed all trust in the hours of rehearsal that had burned the moves into my muscle memory.
The two hours of rehearsal become the best part of your day when you allow yourself to forget about all your other worries and focus on making music with your friends.
In band, you have two jobs: march your dot and play your part. Those two jobs are the brief escape from the real world of classes, work, relationships, rent and everything else.
After four years of collegiate marching band, today’s memories are bittersweet.
The eruption of yells of “zah” from the Oklahoma band with each “zah” step during the Les Miserables halftime show my freshman year. The discovery that valves could freeze at the same game.
The eruption of cheers from the small but passionate crowd of high school bands as the first note of the Chicago show hit them at this year’s Central State Marching Festival. The marching with severe sickness that left me unable to play — but still able to march — at last year’s festival.
Performing three times with the Boston Brass and once with Travis Cloer, who plays Frankie Valli in the Las Vegas production of “Jersey Boys” and is a K-State graduate. The social media backlash over the Starship Enterprise destroying a Jayhawk in our first show after earning the Sudler Trophy.
Surprising Eric Stonestreet’s parents at their home for a 50th wedding anniversary pep band. The unmatched excitement of tailgaters during a pregame pep band. Waking up at 4 a.m. for rehearsals before an 11 a.m. kickoff.
Seeing my face on the big screen. Missing my step off because I was watching the big screen. Missing my step off because I was watching the Classy Cats dance in front of me.
Storming the field for the halftime show at Kansas my freshman year. The slosh of melted ice seeping through the cracks in the soles of my shoes at the KU game junior year.
The improbable comeback win against Iowa State junior year. The cacophony of Harley Day at the Auburn game sophomore year. The heartbreaking loss.
A wedding proposal during a Fort Riley Day halftime show. The playing of “Taps” by a soldier in the 1st Infantry Division band during pregame as the names of lost soldiers are scrolled before the quietest audience ever in the stadium.
Yelling “Welcome to K-State” to opposing football players as they run by. High-fiving future Wildcats before we charge the field. Never seeing my roommates because I am always at class, band or work.
Dressing up as a section, as a box of crayons and as the aliens from “Toy Story” for Halloween rehearsals. The love and companionship of dating another baritone player. The agony of the reminder at every single band function of the heartbreak after the breakup.
I have more memories than these, and today I will add new memories to my list. I don’t know how it will feel to march pregame and halftime knowing that it will be my last time in the stadium with the Pride.
But I am ready now. Four years of playing in the Pride has given me the best of friends, the fondest of memories and a greater appreciation for music, hard work and the K-State Family than any other class could have taught me.