In high school I never drank a drop of alcohol at a party. I actually only went to one party all four years of my high school career. I wasn’t into the idea of wasting my time by getting drunk and partying. At that time, that’s all I thought fraternities were all about.
The other thing was the fact that I never really felt like I was part of social group. Only when I was in fifth grade did I find a social group that was mostly fourth grader. For the rest of my primary and secondary school time, I only had individual friends. Well, I guess there was a group in middle school that I hung with during lunch and recess but honestly I was mostly a “hanger-oner,” a person who really wasn’t part of the group but hung around them.
I didn’t really want to party in college and I had given up hope with the idea that I would ever be in a group of friends. I accepted that I just wasn’t going to be that kind of guy.
In some ways this made me sad but I didn’t let myself dwell in that emotion as I ignored more and more parties toward the end of my senior year. Instead I built up a superiority complex. I thought I was better than the other kids in my high school graduating class. I had gotten accepted early-decision into Northwestern University, which was a college everyone talked about getting into, but no one else did.
In a way, getting into Northwestern, solidified my superiority complex. I was better than everyone else and it was because of this fact that I didn’t get invited to parties. How could I be part of a social clique when everyone was so far below me?
Why did I choose Northwestern? Well, it wasn’t because of how great the visit went, because I never visited the campus before applying. Northwestern was a top 10 school on all of the college lists. It was a smaller school but most of all it was near Chicago. My brother, Ed, went to NYU and survived in a huge city. If Ed could move across the continent, the least I could do was go halfway across the country to Evanston, Illinois. I couldn’t imagine living in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitans in American, but I could picture myself in a suburb. So Northwestern made sense.
There was the music composition program, which was strong, which was what I wanted to study and there was the Northwestern University Marching Band, otherwise known as NUMB.
I fell in love with marching band in high school. I did orchestra sense middle school but after watching the high school jazz band record the fight song for the cheerleaders to practice with, I knew I wanted to be in the band. I learned the saxophone and joined my sophomore year.
I had never been a part of a sports team so doing things as a group, teamwork activities and cheering each other on was brand new to me. I was immediately part of a larger group when we were out on the field and in the stands and I loved it. As I rose to a senior, I held onto traditions, trained the underclassmen on how things went in the band. During my last marching band game senior year, after standing in the rain for hours I found myself dancing around our school seal with the other seniors as the rest of the band surrounded us in a half circle playing their hearts out for us.
When my marching band director told me that college band was like this but even better, I knew I wanted to keep marching.
What attracted me to NUMB isn’t that kind of band. NUMB is a group that doesn’t ask its members to audition for a spot to march. They take in everyone regardless of their experience. When I watched videos of bands Iike USC, I couldn’t imagine having the ability to play in a group like that. However when I saw the video of NUMB doing pregame on their website, it looked like something I could do.
Northwestern had Chicago, it had the major I wanted and it had the right kind of marching band. That was enough for me.
The weirdest thing to thing about NUMB was that from the moment I registered at the music building before band camp, everyone was really nice to me. I had already gotten a letter from my upperclassmen NUMB-Buddy, which gave me one person to connect with. This was only one example of the warmness and friendly spirit, I felt all the way through band camp.
On one of the last nights of band camp, we collected in an auditorium space for skits. Every section had been working on some kind of skit and now it was time to share. I was in the alto saxophone section. We did a play off the Brady Bunch theme song, which was really cutesy and was applauded as such. The reputation of the alto saxophone section was that we were the tamest and most virginal section. By my senior year, we had effectively changed our reputation and held the status as the raunchiest and most politically incorrect section in the band. Our skit my senior year featured . . . well . . . it’s best to ask my in person what it involved. There are some things I never want to write down.
Toward the end of the night it was announced that the sisters of Sigma Alpha Iota were to come to the stage. I had seen Greek letters on t-shirts the whole day but I had no idea what they meant. Now it started to make sense. It seemed like every girl in the room went up on that stage. In reality it was only a minority of the girls in NUMB on stage but the way they came out from every instrument section made them seem like they were everywhere.
Then it was Phi Mu Alpha’s turn.
Up there on stage were section leaders, the most confident members of the band and all three of the drum majors. They seemed like men up there. I was just a boy and I couldn’t imagine being a man like those guys. They were poised and confident and as they sang what I would come to know later as “The Red and Black,” I was shocked at the quality and power on their singing.
I thought to myself, “Was this really what a fraternity was all about? Wait a second? Did he just say that we could join in the winter? What’s this rush thing? Could I really be a member of a fraternity?”