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Every October, Somerville hosts the Honk Festival, a. series of parades and exhibitions featuring, “activist street bands.” Others have written in MMA that the marching arts were once all about, ”God and country,” and it appears that musical instruments and color guard equipment can also be put in the service of social justice and organic farming. The marching arts, like duct tape, have 1,001 uses.

Yes Ma'am Brass Band from Austin, Texas

Yes Ma’am Brass Band, from Austin, Texas, performing in Honkfest at Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

There are high school and college bands that proudly represent their academic institutions. There are bands and drum corps in the armed forces. There have been ethnic marching units such as Boston’s Roma Band, who have provided music for the parades associated with saints’ feasts. (When I think of the Roma Band, I think of sweltering summer weather, sausage-and-pepper subs, and statues festooned with paper money.) And of course, there are alumni corps, which are fun for the whole family.

Feast of St. Anthony in Boston's North End

Feast of St. Anthony in Boston’s North End

Fifty or sixty years ago, many of the competitive junior corps in the northeastern United States were sponsored by Catholic parishes. There were also the St. George Olympians from Springfield, Massachusetts who were backed by a Greek Orthodox church. Every so often, one can find relics of this drum corps past, as when I attended Latin Mass at Holy Trinity in Boston and saw photos of the Holy Trinity Cadets on the wall of the church basement. Holy Trinity has since been converted into condos, so I hope that those pictures have not been consigned to a landfill.

St. George Olympians, 1973

St. George Olympians – 1973

Ex-churches and disbanded drum corps are reminders that everything made by humans passes away, and I sometimes wonder if drum corps may someday catch on in Buddhist cultures, since a marching formation, which is there one moment and gone the next, is a sort of mandala, a symbol both of order and impermanence. But while we are here, we have the opportunity to pass on our culture. Just as there are English language authors all over the world and French chefs in Tokyo, there are color guard competitions in Malaysia.

I imagine a future in which a kid from Somerwhere-istan, on his way to the Silk Road Invitational, is mesmerized by the beauty of the central Asian steppe, as I was once transfixed by the natural grandeur of the American West when I was on tour. Or there may be marching units in outer space colonies, wearing special boots to adjust for gravity and doing three-dimensional shows. Perhaps there is drum corps on other worlds as I write this, the events run by an evil species akin to the Klingons, who force the 12th place corps at Finals to self-destruct.

I am getting far afield now. I used to watch “Star Trek” reruns every weeknight as a kid, and once a space cadet, always a space cadet. But whatever happens in the future of marching arts activity, I hope that you all live long and prosper.

Leonard Nimoy giving the Vulcan Salute


Holy Trinity Cadets, Boston, MA – 1961


  • Featured Photo – Holy Trinity Cadets on Tremont Street in Boston, November 11, 1953

** Editor’s Note: My great-niece, Emilene Rodley, is a member of the Yes Ma’am Brass Band (second trumpet player from the left). I had the pleasure of seeing them perform a few years ago at Honkfest in Harvard Square. It was a hoot!  I am very proud of her.  –  Rick