I am still stunned, that within a month I with the help of some friendly neighbors was able to bring 20+ musicians and helpers together to rehearse three times and then march and play in the 4th of July Highlands parade. Sweet proof of how the internet can bring us closer together.
Almost 2 years ago we moved to the San Mateo Highlands [map] an Eichler community of about 550+ households. There are two centers to the community, the Elementary School and the Recreational Center with pool, small gym, playground and preschool. These community engines are the reason why we have our own 4th of July parade.
This year it almost got canceled. It needed a call for volunteers and thank you Mozique Daviel and others for stepping up and making it really beautiful with the red wagons and balloons. Check out Bowling Alone if you want to learn about why these things are so rare these days.
Last year for the first time I watched the little parade. Liked it a lot and as someone who loves music and dabbles with many instruments, I was hoping and waiting for at least one marching band to come by, but there wasn’t one :-(
I started to ask around why and people said: The kids are out of school for the summer, therefore there are no High School bands available.
The backbone of any local community are the mothers. In the highlands there not one, but two active lists run by mothers, the Highlands Parents Google Group and Highlands Parents Yahoo Group.
I got active on both of them, first to find out whether there is general interest and then to announces the rehearsals. I also told everyone I met about it, in the playground, at the pool, the garage sale, …
Myself I have never played in a marching band, of course I omitted that fact when I started to recruit musicians. How hard can it be? You agree on a couple of simple songs and play. Only later I realized, that it is essential to have sheet music especially if you don’t have a lot of time to rehearse together.
What made it additionally tough was, that some of the instruments are tuned in Bb, but others in Eb or C. We needed the sheet music transposed. What makes marching band music interesting is when not every instrument plays the same note, but when the music is arranged with small variations and harmonies in different sections of the band. I was able to find a program that transposes the simple songs, but arranging a song for a marching band is way beyond my reach.
But not out of the reach of Stephen Bell, who is an elementary music teacher who joined for the first rehearsal and was then literally instrumental to the arrangement of our songs: Chasing the star, America the Beautiful, Rock-A-By.
David Solomon also joined us for the second rehearsal. He is a veteran marching band drummer and boy does that make a difference. It gave us structure and time to breath between songs.
I was also super glad that the Chen family came out in force. Father on the clarinet, daughter on the sax, son playing the trumpet and the mother Judy organizing a lot of the logistics including making and carrying our banner.
Coming back from LA, I almost missed our last rehearsal, where for the first and only time we created a formation and marched around in the Elementary School Yard. That fun we had that evening alone was worth every hour that was spent leading up to it.
The last week I practiced the songs so that I could play them without needing any sheet music. I still hit wrong notes here and there, but was able to enjoy the parade a lot more.
On the day of the parade we had 5 trumpets, 4 clarinets, 3 saxophones, 2 drummers, 2 euphoniums, 2 banner carrier and 1 flute player (hope I didn’t forget anyone.). It was amazing and we sounded amazing too, for having only been together for 3 rehearsals, actually a couple of the players joined us that morning.
It was the greatest to play sweet music together with friends and on the way bring smiles to your neighborhood.
As rehearsed we stopped in front of the Rec-Center. When the announcer heard that we are going to play America the Beautiful he advised everyone to get up for it and people did. We played our best, people cheered and we marched on.
Our enthusiasm must have even reached the Jury and we got awarded the best of parade. My only regret is, that we didn’t make a picture with all the musicians that were still around when the winner was announced.
The whole event was one of the most fun and rewarding thing I ever did. There are 51 weeks left until the next 4th of July, enough to dust off your instrument that is buried somewhere in your garage, or even pick up an instrument at our local shop: B-Street Music and start from scratch. By June next year you will be good enough to play with us. Looking forward to it.
If you want to know what is going on or when the next gig/rehearsal is happening, please join the Highlands Marching Band Facebook group. There you will find additional links to pictures from this year’s parade.