Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I love a parade

Well, once in a while, anyway.

Last weekend we ingested a dose of neighborhood culture with "Multnomah Days", a celebration of local businesses, artists, and services based in our little corner of Portland (the corner also known as Multnomah Village). The high point (for anyone with kids, anyway), was the rather lengthy morning parade, whose participants ranged from the very predictable (local churches... yawn) to the very eccentric (you shoulda seen our hairy, hippy clowns). In other words, typical, charming Portland.

I spent much of the time either dodging candy or watching with great interest to see who was going to accidentally step in the horse-shit that was deposited early in the parade by a cop-carrying thoroughbred. But there was a moment when my interest was truly piqued: by a freaking marching band, for chrissakes.

I guess what grabbed me was that said ensemble was staffed by a panoply of, uh, mature gentlemen and women.

I know it has become hip as all get-out to revisit the marching band format, but what probably sold me on these folks was that they weren't hip -- and they dug in and rocked the crowd anyway. It was completely without artifice. The notion of having a marching band wasn't a gimmick, or a unique way to express post-modern angst, or whatever. Rather, it was simply a bunch of older folks who wanted to get together on a Saturday morning to play a surprisingly rousing version of "Wooly Bully."

As a former prisoner of a high school marching band (it was very hard to circumvent that particular ensemble if you wanted to participate in most of the other music programs at my high school) I had to smile. I never really enjoyed having to don the spats and other ludicrous hand-me-down regalia, but every once in a while I'm reminded that maybe my time on the field wasn't totally wasted. Practically speaking, marching band gave me some of my first experiences arranging horn harmonies on the fly (mostly as a way to goof off during band camp, while some other section of the band was being taught their choreography). And of course there's this: jazz has a significant tangle of roots in the New Orleans street culture that included marching-band-like entities.

On the other hand, given that most high school marching bands are obligated to include at least one "contemporary hit" in their repertoire, I cringe to think of some of the performances that will unfold on football fields across the country starting in September...

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