You can travel the country, see the president, entertain and make a difference … all as a member of a community marching band. The Portland-based Get a Life Marching Band is only one of many all-age groups that has a made a name for itself around the country, simply by continuing to perform and by having fun.
Photo courtesy of Get a Life Marching Band
The marching band fun doesn’t have to stop … ever! Even if your band doesn’t have an active alumni group, all-age and community marching ensembles such as the Portland-based Get a Life (GAL) Marching Band are springing up to fill the void and keeping people involved in the marching arts for as long as possible. Halftime Magazine chatted with Bob Pulido and John Lind, co-founders of GAL, about how they started and where they’re going.
Halftime: How did GAL get started?
Pulido: A friend of mine started an all-adult band in the ’80s, the One More Time Band. I played in that band for 15 years, and then I started my own band. I wanted to play rock and roll and funky music on the march.
Lind: The One More Time Band just did three big events within a week of each other. People wanted to put something together in order to do summer parades and do something beyond the shorter time range. One of the guys came up with the name “Get a Life.”
Halftime: What kind of performances and events do you do?
Pulido: We started out doing seven to eight parades around Portland, and now we’ve made it nationally. This little band that I started has just snowballed, and it got big, like our waistlines.
Lind: We’ve done some major road trips, one or two a year. This year we were invited to play the presidential inaugural parade in Washington, D.C., and we were the only band from Oregon to do that. Just recently we came back from San Francisco for the Chinese New Year Parade and won first place in the adult marching band division.
Halftime: Where do you get your funding or resources?
Lind: Initially we had a corporation donate $6,000 to us. And we used that to find drums, and from that point on, people brought their own instruments, and that’s how we kind of got started.
Halftime: Who are the members of GAL? What have they done in the past?
Lind: All kinds of different walks of life. Typically they’re former high school or college students that have played recently or haven’t played in years and decided to pick up the instrument again. We have people who are professionals, engineers, a mayor of a city that is a tuba player in our band. We mainly have adults over the age of 18, mostly baby boomers, but all age ranges.
Halftime: Are there auditions or experience required?
Lind: We’re a non-exclusive group; the concept is that the only people we audition are dancers and twirlers. If they struggle, then we’ll put them in a training group to get them up to speed.
Pulido: They gotta have at least some high school or college experience, but as long as they can play.
Halftime: What are the goals and philosophies of GAL?
Lind: Have fun first. Make sure the audience gets really entertained by us. As we give to them, they give back. It’s been the most rewarding thing to see people smiling and having a great time. We keep the audience in mind when we’re picking the music and deciding what we’re going to do.
Halftime: What is your favorite memory from GAL?
Pulido: Disneyland and the King William parade in San Antonio, Texas. We played, and they couldn’t even hear us because it was so loud; there was that much cheering. And we just did the Gasparilla Parade in Florida; I got flashed at like eight times. It brought my youth back; it was like a Mardi Gras.
Halftime: To what do you attribute the band’s success?
Lind: Hard work, dedication by the codirectors and really knowing the focus of where we want to take the band, what kind of music we want to play, who our audience is and where we do fit in and where we don’t.
Pulido: Every year we have a banner with these little mottos on it. For example: “We’re old and slow, but we still can play.” I make fun of our band, but we sound good. We’ve got age. Nothing but having fun in your getting-older days; that’s what GAL is all about.
Halftime: How and where do you see GAL growing and going?
Pulido: We did all the big stuff that bands can do. I’d like to start a band in Southern California, San Antonio and Seattle.
Lind: We are looking at where we can partner with other community organizations to help grow their events, to maybe do more standstills along with parades. For the first time, we’re applying for non-profit status, which will allow us to go after grants. We’re partnering with NAMM, and some of our band members will be involved in flying to New York to help the Wanna Play Music Week.
Halftime: Where do you think all-age groups fit into the world of the marching arts?
Lind: If anything I see our band being an encourager of band directors in small communities to help tell their students that they can be like us. We see these kids in our high schools get really excited about seeing us perform. We played a parade in Vernonia, [Ore.,] which is one of those areas where the high school went underwater due to flooding and was out of business for a while. We played in their town along with the high school band and helped give them a bigger sound.
Halftime: What have you gained or learned from GAL?
Pulido: What I’ve gained is 14 years of just having fun, doing it my way and looking at the reaction of the people. We’ve caught other people’s eye with this band. It’s the look, the sound, having fun. Every place we go, we have great parties afterwards. … I know I’m getting older now; next year I’ll be 60, but people would never know.
Lind: Two people can make a difference. A crazy idea like starting a marching band can actually happen; we believed in it. Overall I think we’re on top of it and keep abreast of the trends in the marching band activity. I really love the marching band, and it’s a lot of fun. We have as much fun playing for the people as they enjoy watching us. Our music is contagious.
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at four Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.