Punahou Marching Band

Marching in the Presidential Inaugural Parade is one of the greatest privileges for a marching band. Meet the band that has had the added honor—and the added pressure—of representing one of President Barack Obama’s alma maters.

While most bands take years to prepare for travel, groups that participate in the Presidential Inaugural Parade aren’t chosen until after November’s election for the January event. The feat was even greater for Mark Falzarano, director of the Punahou High School Marching Band in Honolulu, since he only began his tenure in May 2012. He had to quickly assimilate and lead his band all the way to Washington, D.C., for the 2013 Inaugural Parade.

Falzarano marched drum line in high school as well as participating with and instructing the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps. He earned two masters degrees from Northern Arizona University and was a high school band director in Arizona before moving to Hawaii.

Halftime: Why did you decide to become a director?

Falzarano: I was very lucky; I can pinpoint the moment. One morning my junior year of high school, my teacher came to give the post-rehearsal announcements. He said, “Share all your music with people out in front of you.” With the sun behind him, seeing my inspiration standing on the podium, I decided to pursue band.

Halftime: What has been your proudest moment as a band director?

Falzarano: I can’t top the inaugural parade! Passing by President Obama was absolutely surreal. I heard my name over the loudspeaker and couldn’t believe this was reality. Having the students realize that the President of the United States had eaten in their cafeteria as a student and checked out books from the same library was amazing. These students share an amazing link with the President that is extremely inspirational.

Performing student-written pieces (our fight song and “The Men of Punahou”) in two inaugural parades has been a real special thing. There have only been 57 of these inaugurations, and our school has been in two! That and the fact that there were over 2,000 bands that wanted it but only 80 were chosen for each parade.

Halftime: Were you automatically chosen due to the President’s connection, or did you still need to apply?

Falzarano: We had to apply for it. They wanted audio and video of our band’s work. We needed to come up with a narrative about representing the President and about why we wanted to be a part of the parade. They also requested additional information on the length and width of our formations. It was definitely a bit of a process.

Halftime: How does it feel to be representing the President’s alma mater?

Falzarano: It’s a real clear example of working hard and being passionate about something, and that the sky is the limit! Our current president worked hard and was passionate, and some neat things happened to him. I think the students really understand that if they work really hard and are passionate, really neat things are going to happen to them, too!

To see the lights go on in their eyes after standing in the warm-up tent for four hours, watching the inaugural ceremony, it became more and more real until it actually became surreal. It wasn’t something you could absorb all in that moment. For the students to see that and share that was priceless.

Halftime: What is it like to represent the state of Hawaii?

Falzarano: Hawaii is exceptionally different from the other 49 states. Bringing our spirit of Aloha, a spirit of caring, of sharing, of understanding, was an important aspect of our performance.

Halftime: How does the band handle this long-distance travel?

Falzarano: Well, the marching band is definitely not traveling anywhere next year! However, the jazz band will be going somewhere this spring. Our orchestra is going to China. In general, the school tries to travel to support the mission of the school: To give students things that wouldn’t be possible in Hawaii or just with their families.

Yes, travel puts a burden on resources. We make sure to support the students along the way with getting good grades and keeping up with schoolwork. These students have big dreams!

Another important note is to not only take care of the things that are nice to do but also taking care of the things that we have to do. Our school is on the small side; many of the students are involved with much more than just music. They end up majoring in organization as much as they do their content. It is an absolute gift to teach such talented kids!

Halftime: What advice do you have for aspiring band directors?

Falzarano: You need to make sure that this is something you need to do, not something that you want to do. To be good at being a music teacher is not a responsibility that you can take lightly. If you merely like something, you should not be responsible for the lives of young people.

About the Author

Lindsay Lundeen is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California (USC). She marched one year on alto saxophone and two years as drum major with the Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School Eagle Marching Band. Lindsay is currently a mellophone player and works on the office staff with the USC Trojan Marching Band.