I think that the rise of gay/lesbian community organizations, as represented by the bands and choruses, has provided a brief blip of an upward surge in the chart, and this is good. But I now live in the very heartland of summer parades and community bands, and even here I've seen strong evidence of a slow decline in participation in general.
And yet the police band, in its tiny little incarnation, maintains its spirit and dedication. It's core members, which is to say all of its members, play merrily on as if there were 80 people on the march rather than 20. They laugh and complain and bark out random orders and tease each other. They cheer and shout when I show up to play bass drum, and they pressure me tremendously to join them for their post-parade and post-practice barbecues and gatherings. I tell you, there's something odd about seeing a group of men and women in police uniforms gathered thirstily around a cooler of beer after a parade.
The Minneapolis Police Band opened its ranks to civilians about 1919, and then to women about 1973. The conductor and the drum major and the band president and one of the trumpet players are current or retired police officers (that's a large percentage of the band at this point), but the majority of current members are not members of the police force. We practice and store our instruments at the police station. Our uniforms look for all the world like real police uniforms, and we even have badges, but technically these are not official Minneapolis Police uniforms. Our uniforms have contrasting-color pocket flaps -- yes, to the uniform-savvy this makes a great difference -- and, more significantly, the patches on our sleeves are Police Band patches. Again, people who know uniforms, like real police officers and (in my experience) aimless-looking teenagers hanging around the street, know enough to look immediately at our arm patches, even when we are not carrying instruments.
My section leader Tara called me last Wednesday to let me know that there was a marching practice on Thursday and then the annual Minneapolis Aquatennial Parades on Saturday morning and the following Wednesday evening. I was expecting the news about the parades, but the marching practice was a last-second surprise.
Marching practice with the Minneapolis Police Band is as absurd of an event as you will find. We never practice with the actual drum major, which means whatever signals we learn at practice will not be the ones we will need to follow at the parade. There were perhaps 11 people at practice. The conductor, acting as drum major and still somehow convinced that there are 120 people in the band, spent the evening making us practice counter-marching and hotel-marching, maneuvers we never have performed and never will. (The Aquatennial Parade is 10 straight blocks down Hennepin Avenue.) I just shut my brain off for the evening and smile and play my drum and completely ignore everything; it makes for a much better time.
The ad in the local paper for Saturday's parade was illustrated with a big picture of the Police Band bass drum, with me playing it. All the band members brought copies to the parade to give me. The Saturday parade has become much less crowded over the years; I'm not sure why. Tomorrow night is the evening Torchlight Parade, down the same route. That parade still seems to draw many, many spectators and scores of high school bands.
It is summer in Minneapolis now, officially.