Geek Parade

For an old band geek like me, the Fourth of July means just one thing: Parades. Lots of ’em. And the many, many, many layers of heavy clothing one must wear to march in them.

Oh, I’ve done my share of parades, believe me.

Parades here on Cape Cod are kind of a big deal. I never noticed it much growing up, but my summer friends would remark on it. Turns out, not every community has a parade nearly every weekend from Memorial Day right on through to Labor Day weekend.

Of course, most communities tend to empty themselves out each summer, while all their residents flee to places like Cape Cod.

So there is that.

There is undoubtedly a heavily concocted, Chamber-of-Commerce-y vibe to it all, when you get right down to it. But like I say, I never noticed it. I was too busy trying to angle my way into as many parades as I could.

Yes, I am the most bizarre mixture of introvert and absolute ham you have ever met. I’ve never met a microphone I didn’t love, I adore public speaking, and every parade I see or hear of just makes me wish I were marching in it. But I prefer to spend the vast majority of my time at home, alone, writing. With cats. Go figure.

Before I made it to high school, and the Very Good Marching Band thereof, my main access to the parade limelight was either by marching with the Girl Scouts (less than optimal, let’s be honest — I was deeply unpopular as a kid, but even outcasts have their pride), or on the Harwich Junior Theatre float.

Oh my, yes. I can let you guess which one I preferred.

Being a part of the HJT float meant that you could:

  1. Choose a costume from the hundreds — nay, thousands — stored on the magical third floor costume room of the theatre. This called for a serious nerdgasm, right there.
  2. Help build the float (really just a platform on the back of a pickup truck) with all the cool kids from the theatre, the ones who always won a role in at least one show per summer, and not in the kinds of roles I got cast in either, with character names like “Girl #2” and “Street Urchin with Limp.” Needless to say, these people were like gods to me.
  3. Ride on said float for the entire, unspeakably long parade route, your only duties being to toss candy at the kids lining the sidewalk every now and then. (Parades around here are insanely long. One of them was 7 miles in all. Seriously. Nailing a spot on a float was like winning the lottery.)

Of course, it’s always ridiculously hot for the Fourth of July parade, and wearing a shaggy, musty-smelling, no doubt fully polyester costume from the third floor attic of the HJT was no treat in the blazing sun. Full makeup was naturally called for as well, it should go without saying, and this only increased the broil factor once you were out under the not-so-sheltering sky.

One year I scored the costume for the Cowardly Lion. Yeah. I realized somewhere around mile 3 why there hadn’t exactly been stiff competition for that one.

But then I eventually ascended to the ranks of the local high school marching band, and suddenly I had time for very little else in my life. I played theĀ euphonium, a lovely brass instrument that looks to most people like a small tuba, but sounds like a sort of mellow trombone, or like a brass version of the cello.

It is also a rather heavy instrument to carry for long parades, especially whilst wearing several layers of wool band uniform. Back in the awesome ’80s, the D-Y Marching Band (Go Dolphins!) uniform included not just wool/polyester blend pants and a dashing, gold-braided, cropped wool jacket, but also shirt ruffle, cummerbund, and hat (complete with plume). When I got promoted to Drum Major as a senior, I got to add a full-length cape to this snappy ensemble.

Those were long parades.

But the tedium was enlivened, you see, by the playing of highly inappropriate tunes, which for some reason we specialized in. The crowds at these parades, no doubt anticipating some cheery Sousa march, would instead find themselves clapping along to a brass-and-woodwinds version of Carry On Our Wayward Son, or possibly Enter Sandman. Good times, they were.

I loved marching band. And for all of you who snicker at the kids in marching band as they go tromping by — especially the much-maligned ranks of lower brass, the tubas, euphoniums, and trombones — sweat streaming down our wool-encased bods, eyes staring straight ahead with a look of fierce desperation mingled with hopeless pride, remember this:

Colin Firth played the euphonium. And while he’s been quoted as saying “nobody ever got laid playing the euphonium,” I think he’s done rather well for himself, just the same.

And he’s clearly forgetting what one gets up to on the band bus later, on the way home from the parade. Ahem.


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