By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
Did you ever wake up in the morning and think, “How did I get here?”
I’m not suggesting that you had too many fuzzy navels on spring break or that aliens abducted you in the middle of the night. I’m referring to that realization that occurs when we’re at a certain point in our lives and we’re not quite sure how we got there.
Well, as someone once said, “Time flies whether you’re having fun or not.”
My wife and I often talk about what we want to do when we “retire.” I just turned sixty and she’s close behind. We have no desire to work in our jobs longer than we have to. That does not mean that we will retire to a “home” or require our food to be pureed. We plan use our newfound free time to serve our community, spend time with friends and family, and maybe even do something that generates a bit of revenue.
The point of our chat was to plan for our future. Rather than just spinning the wheel and seeing where life takes us, we’d like to carve out a routine that it is both meaningful and worthwhile. Even though we’re not sure what our retirement will look like, there is great wisdom in the concept that where we are today is a result of our thinking yesterday. In keeping with that philosophy, where we will be tomorrow is a result of our thinking today. In fact, when we look back, we can see how this plays out.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a documentary film about my college band, or to be specific, the Award Winning University of Virginia, Fighting Cavalier, Indoor/Outdoor, Precision(?), Marching Pep Band and Chowder Society Review Unlimited, henceforth more succinctly referred to as “the Pep Band.” It’s an idea that bubbled up unexpectedly and has grown into a wonderful project.
Several years ago, I was having dinner with my college friend, Dan McKeon, and his wife Kit. Dan was also in the Pep Band and whenever we get together, we tell band stories. Now, those of you who were members of a marching band probably have stories as well. But I would venture to guess that your stories are a bit different from ours. You see, we were a scramble-style joke band. We did not march in perfectly even blocks or company fronts. Instead, we ran chaotically around the field, while the announcer told a joke. We then settled into a funny image on the field and played an appropriate piece of music to accompany the joke.
For example, during one show, the announcer said, “Would the owner of ten thousand dollars in small, unmarked, non-sequential bills, wrapped in rubber bands, please report to the ticket office. (Pause for effect) We have your rubber bands.” The band then formed a dollar sign and played Pink Floyd’s song, “Money.”
For four years, I was part of the committee that wrote the jokes, designed the field formations, and chose the music for the Pep Band shows. During my last year, I was in charge of the committee. It was an amazing experience and the performances were very popular with the students, especially since the performance of the football team was not. Unfortunately, after a series of humor controversies and a few run-ins with the athletic department, the band was formally disbanded, so to speak, in 2002.
At that fateful dinner with Dan and Kit a few years ago, Kit looked up after our tenth or eleventh Pep Band story and said, “This would make a great documentary.”
And thus, the idea was hatched.
Fast forward to the present day and I’m working with director Chris Farina to develop, film, and release a documentary about this unique band and our extraordinary experience in it. Recently the University of Virginia’s alumni magazine published a brilliant piece, written by Ed Miller, on the band’s history. To read the article click here: Pep Banned Article. To hear a radio show where Ed and I were interviewed about the article, click here: Sunday Morning Wake Up Call
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been communicating with donors, former classmates, and band members who have shared their funny, bizarre, and heartwarming memories of the band. In the process of listening to the tales and doing my own reflection, I realized that where I am today has a lot to do with those four years in the UVA Pep Band.
For one, I learned to write humor. I’ve never considered myself a gifted writer nor a comedian. But I learned about the mechanics of humor while writing jokes on the Pep Band Show Committee about our opposing teams, current events, or the terrible food in the university cafeteria. Ideas would be tossed around, lines would be written, and then we would edit until we had the perfect joke. I discovered that punchlines always went at the very end of a joke. Words with K or P were funnier. And jokes about beer were always popular among colleges students.
A second lesson I learned was how to work on a team. We needed everyone on our committee from the funny people to the English majors to the music geeks. Everybody contributed to the success of the show by sharing their unique perspective.
Third, I learned about leadership. During my last year in the band, I was one of the two Field Conductors (a position shared with my friend Dave Linkous), which meant that we were responsible for managing the Show Committee, and for leading the rehearsals and performances on the field. I quickly learned that if I yelled at band members who were not following directions, they would most likely resist my future requests. I also learned that if I had a good relationship with the band’s Music Director, the band’s Administrative Director, and the university’s Athletic Director, the work proceeded much more smoothly.
And lastly, I learned about the power of humor to bring people together. Oh sure, we stepped on a few toes over the years and perhaps we could have done some things differently. But when we delivered a perfectly constructed joke with great accompanying music, we were rewarded with a chorus of laughter and applause from the stands. It was Humor Nirvana.
I wish I had had the foresight to understand these valuable lessons at the time. Honestly, I just wanted to have fun and make people laugh. If I’d known I was developing skills that I would use today, I might have been more purposeful in honing them as I got older. But that’s how life is. Sometimes we’re on a particular path for a long time before we realize it. Yet, when we stop and think attentively about what we’re doing and where it’s taking us, we might instead wake up one morning and say, “This is exactly where I thought I’d be.”
Indeed, where we’ve been is how we got here.
Before closing, I thought I’d share one more line from a Pep Band show: “Now for the first time ever on the Scott Stadium Astroturf, the Pep Band presents its world-famous precision drill. Yes, that’s right, it’s a Black and Decker Precision Drill!”
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