What Being in a Marching Band Teaches You About Life

“My life’s changed a lot and for the better.” CBC Docs

Burlington’s Teen Tour Band is Canada’s oldest and largest youth marching band. They gave their first performance in December 1947, and since then thousands of teens have become what is now lovingly called “band geeks.”

“Anyone can join the band, but you do have to try out for your uniform, so it does mean there’s a lot of hard work involved,” says Rob Bennett, a managing director, who joined the band as a teen himself in 1977 and never really left. It’s everything from marching to playing and marching and playing at the same time. Not everyone stays. Marching band’s not for everybody.”

Famous Former Band Geeks
Nelly Furtado
Vince Carter
Celine Dion
Jimmy Kimmel
Alanis Morissette
Samuel L. Jackson

The 200-member band practices twice a week, and perform internationally. Wearing trademark red coats and marching in a traditional style, the award-winning, globe-trotting teens have become one of the top touring bands in the world.

The documentary Band Geeks follows Burlington’s Teen Tour Band as they prepare to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade — for the fifth time. “It’s the biggest event a marching band can do,” says Bennett, adding that it’s an honour to represent Canada.

These band geeks are all budding musicians, but as they perfect their craft, they learn many more life lessons along the way:

How to be part of a team. You don’t have to stand out to feel good about yourself. Sometimes being a part of something bigger is just as important.

Respect for authority. There are always band directors, section leaders and drum majors to keep all the parts moving as a whole.

Discipline and time management skills. You need to show up for practice to be part of the band — teens have to plan their homework and other activities around it.

Dedication and commitment. You need to work hard to succeed — there are no shortcuts here. Each member is responsible for their instrument, uniform and showing up for practices and events on time. Routines are practiced hundreds of times until they’re flawless.

Self-confidence. Learning something new and being a part of something big instills a sense of personal accomplishment. So does winning awards and travelling around the world to perform.

How to make new friends. Shy teens will suddenly find themselves with 200 new friends. Everyone has a role to play and is a valuable part of the team. Band becomes a second family.

How to multitask. Marching backwards, forward, sideways and playing at different tempos requires using your mind and your body and being aware of what’s happening around you at all times.

Endurance. Marching band is a time-consuming extreme weather sport. You learn how to carry a tube tuba under the blazing sun — or in the frigid cold — for six miles with a smile. The show must go on.

Watch Band Geeks.