CHAPTER 3 – THE CAFETERIA
One foggy Saturday morning, my then-girlfriend Rumiko and I made the five-minute drive to Washington high school to watch the Renegades rehearse. When I got there, I was disappointed. Actually, that’s not quite right. I was beyond disappointed. Technically, I was dumbstruck, stupefied, stunned-silly, gobsmacked, pissed-off, and embarrassed in front of my girlfriend, who I had hoped to impress.
THOUGHT. Five horn players and seven drummers? This is it? This is the Renegades? They’re milling around in a cafeteria with no one in charge of anything. What the fuck. Maybe they should cook a pizza. What am I doing here?
After a brief introduction, the Renegades struggled to play some drum line warm-ups and a horns-only rendition of I Left My Heart in San Francisco for me. It was horrendous. Seeing her first drum corps, Rumiko got right to the (sarcastic) point. “This is what you did before law school? Wow. I’m so impressed.”
For a fleeting second, I felt sorry for the sad little kazoo band. Although the corps wasn’t good (putting it nicely), something kept me at rehearsal that day. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something special about the Renegades. Then, just as they kept playing that awful music, I had an epiphany. They’re having fun. They’re all having fun. In fact, everyone is having a great time at this crappy rehearsal. How can this be? This didn’t compute, and was in stark contradiction to the last unhappy year I spent teaching the Vanguard. Especially the part where I got shot at.
Right then and there, I decided to teach the Renegades. I don’t know why, it was a ridiculous idea. Maybe I realized drumming was missing from my life. Maybe the Renegades taught me drum corps could be fun again. Maybe I temporarily went insane. Rumiko was confused but supportive when I told her. “You have a lot of work to do.”
But I had one problem. I couldn’t teach an entire drum corps by myself. In fact, if I had to teach the horns, we were staying in kazoo mode. That night, I called Kent Cater, SCV’s award-winning bass instructor, and Chris Nalls, a talented horn instructor who I also knew from Vanguard. Although the Renegades had little to no money, Chris and Kent both thought the name “Renegades” was cool, and they joined the staff. Every other Saturday, we rehearsed at Washington. Chris taught the horns Hava Nagila and Black Saddle, and the drummers learned the ridiculously difficult parts that I wrote to catch the interest of any new fighter-pilot snare drummers who might show up (didn’t happen).
Potential new members often came to check out the Renegades, but most were walking, sneaking, or running back to their car after only a few minutes. I couldn’t blame them. We had a terrible sound, little talent, small numbers, and no realistic performance plans of any kind, save the occasional parade. The only thing we had going for us was a small group of die-hard members who always came to rehearsal, and the delusional belief that the Renegades could be a world-class corps someday.
The Moment of Truth was our first ensemble rehearsal. We had two horn players. Count them. One. Two. Michael Nash and Munson Chan. Technically, a horn line too small to form an arc. As our five drummers and two horn players stood around looking depressed, somebody spoke up. “We have two horns. This is pathetic. We should just go home.”
After a few moments of thoughtful reflection mixed with the slightest touch of panic, we decided to rehearse anyway. In fact, holding an ensemble rehearsal with seven people was so ridiculous, we hyped on it. Why? Who knows. But we did.
Everyone got in line. Brandon nervously counted off Hava Nagila, and rehearsal began. Then, as we played the chart, something mysterious happened. No one knew how or why, but for the first time ever, the Renegades didn’t sound like a bad kazoo band. The music sounded like music. You could actually recognize a melody. One by one, Renegades smiled. After weeks of rehearsal, we were playing music.
With this borderline supernatural and/or divine-intervention turn of events, we played Hava Nagila over and over and over and over and over and over until it was well past the time rehearsal was supposed to end. Somehow, a pointless and depressing moment had morphed into a fantastic collective musical experience. We had few members, little talent, and no rational basis for believing that the Renegades had a bright future. But for some mysterious reason, the tide had turned. And we knew it.