by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
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RECOLLECTIONS OF A VETERAN OF PARADING
When it comes to parades, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert. Well, let me explain that. I didn’t lead parades. I didn’t act as a drum major, ever. I never conducted a band during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner”. I made no decisions. All I did was what I was told. But I did spend a lot of time marching and playing in parades.
First, I was parading occasionally in the school band. And that was from the age of eleven. After grade school and high school, I was parading in the Penn State Blue Band, the varsity band of that college. We played all home games and quite a few away games. We had to work up some marching formations - spelling letters, etc. - for these football games, of course. After college, I was parading off and on with various town bands, works bands, fraternal organization bands, etc.
When I was recalled to active duty in June, 1944, I got into a small U.S. Army Band. Virtually all we ever did was to march and play in parades. We may have played four or five concerts during the next two years, but that was all. How disappointing.
While in that small Army band, we played very many troop movements. These involved a two-mile parade from the barracks area to a railroad spur out in the woods. These troop movements, along with the parades, went on no matter what. Blizzards, thunder and lightning storms, extreme heat or cold, etc. Nothing caused even a slight delay in the scheduled departure time. We got so that we could play when bundled up with heavy gloves, mufflers, heavy winter gear, enormous rubber boots, etc. Of course, when it was too cold to keep our valves working - they would freeze up solid - we fell out playing bugle marches. The woodwinds had to play deep street drums. Our 28-piece Army band must have sounded like a 100-piece conventional band, as far as noise was concerned. (I hate to use the word “noise” in connection with what we were playing. But it was pretty loud, I fear.)
When I joined the U.S. Marine Band, my parading didn’t stop. Back in the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s we played many street parades of all kinds. We even traveled by train to various cities just to play some parade on some big holiday. We also played many military funerals and mass burials at the Arlington National Cemetery. Of course, in those early days street parades in Wash., D.C. were popular. We played quite a few every summer as well as some during other seasons.
The inaugural parades were showcases for us, as well as for the other big U.S. service bands. These are not long parades but after the completion of that parade, we had to march farther to reach the buses than we had to march in the parade. Now I ask you, is that fair? We didn’t really mind. Back to the days when I served in that small Army band, I knew how one marches - the system of turns, countermarching, obliques, etc. Used by high school and college bands. The big U.S. service bands use this type of marching, as well. Pretty simple and foolproof. Well, “scratch that,” was what I found out when I joined that small Army band in 1944. Because we often were required to march in constricted areas, with little room in which to maneuver, the old master sergeant - very, very experienced in all U.S. Army band matters - trained us in a different system of marching. Boy, was that a bear to learn! However, we did learn it and we learned it well enough that we could march while playing and never miss anything. We could do it in our sleep. And that was because we were being drilled on that new-to-us system of marching for many, many hours.
I must admit that for the purpose for which it was designed - maneuvering in small areas - it is a dandy system. However, where it is being used, it gives the band the appearance of that of “a Chinese fire drill” - complete chaos. Therefore, such bands as our big U.S. service bands don’t use this system. And, you can plainly see that I was familiar with systems of marching most of you have never heard of. Very experienced in marching. Yes!
But now to the strange things happening while parading. How about the first one which happened to me a week after I joined the U.S. Marine Band. This happened in august 1947. We were sent by train to Cleveland, Ohio to play an American Legion parade, I believe it was. It was a very short, very easy parade. Well, for everyone else it was easy. For me it was difficult because it was very painful. I learned that day during the parade that it was definite. I cannot wear USMC or USN shoes. My feet have a peculiar shape and those shoes “kill me”. So, my very first street parade in the U.S.M.C. was my most painful of my twenty-four-year Marine Band career. I must mention that while still in Cleveland, and while limping back to the hotel, immediately following that street parade, I stopped in a HealthSpot shoe store located on a side street and bought a pair of HealthSpot high top shoes. It was a splendid pair of shoes, which fit me absolutely perfectly. That ended my brief experience with USMC shoes. I wore HealthSpot and the very similar Foot-So-Port shoes for the rest of my twenty-four U.S. Marine Band career. Excellent shoes. (I did have to get a chit from a Navy physician giving me permission to wear those shoes which he verified that I needed for a good and proper fit in shoes.)
Now we go several years farther on when one fine day we of the U.S. Marine Band were slated to march one of our familiar street parades. Only this one was to be marched in reverse. As far as I can remember, this was the only street parade where we marched from the White House to the Capitol. All others went from the Capitol to the White House, especially the inaugural parades. Well, for whatever reason, here we were marching the reverse way. That would have made no difference. What did make a difference was the fact that it rained hard during the parade and we got soaked. However, it was during the summer so we didn’t get cold or anything - just very wet.
Now, what in the word is there to cause any problems when all we got was wet clothing? For one thing there are our shoes. Apparently, from lots of flexing while I was merrily marching along, my one shoe was wearing out, sort of. What happened was that the sole broke in half right across the instep. One end of the shoe was up, the other end was down. The weight of my body was concentrated on that uneven shoe fault every step I took with that foot. It didn’t bother me at all during the parade, but marching to our buses, in a relaxed manner, was when I started experiencing some pain in that foot. By the time we had got back to the Marine barracks and we were marching inside, my foot was “killing me”. Do you know? That miserable foot was all loused up for at least one full week. I was limping around like mad. Lucky for me that no more parades come along before the foot was back to normal. I had to throw away those rain-soaked shoes, by the way. A lousy experience.
Parading right following a group of mounted men is an adventure. Trust me; you wouldn’t like it. Those horses have no manners. If they feel like relieving themselves, they do. Right where they are and when they feel the need. They don’t break formation. They just let fly. You simply cannot avoid the liquid no matter how you try.
Fortunately, the solids are merely biscuits which can be skipped over, by-passed, hopped around, etc. However, if you are in back of a few ranks, you could miss seeing some. That could cause you to trip. Fortunately, never did one of us fall. Trip, maybe. Use some choice words, perhaps. But fall? Never.
Those horses aren’t reliable, either. Forget about how intelligent(?) They are. They get upset by lots of things. One thing they react to is to the sound of a band striking up some noisy march. And they hate trombones aimed at them and played by strong players at a high degree of volume and nastiness. When it comes to that, trombones are the best (or the worst). Horses know this. They often react to hearing some nasty trombones break into some very loud march by rearing up and backing up rapidly. Any rider who doesn’t get thrown off is lucky. And any trombone player who can avoid being trampled, when that rearing and backing stunt is performed by some huge horses, is a lucky sliphorn artist. I think that those trombone players are as slick at avoiding horses as they are at playing without valves. What a bunch of magicians! Incidentally, I know of no one who was ever trampled and no one ever fell. However, some incidents were rather scary. Put those horses in the next county. Keep them far from any band!
You think that only horses can give us fits when we are marching along? Sometimes people were the culprits. They might get angry at the music, or something else. Run amuck through the band in formation, either while marching or waiting to start marching. Occasionally some wild person would pull that stunt. Let me tell you right now that such a person was very lucky to have gone into the band and gotten out with his whole skin. There were some big guys ready to clean such a person’s clock, whatever that is. Stay away from angry bandsmen. They are armed and dangerous! (armed with such things as tubas and able to drop them on an unsuspecting toe. Painful!)
One thing which is the universal enemy of the marching band member is extreme heat - and humidity is a second thing. When those two enemies team up, trouble is near. Ever march in a parade in July or august when it was very hot and humid and become a bit woozy at one point? I’ll bet every marcher has experienced this at least once. Well, I was marching in a street parade one fourth of July in Burlington, New Jersey. I was playing in a town band, maybe numbering 35 players. We were not wearing a uniform, fortunately, but all were garbed in black trousers, white shirt, no tie. That was a good uniform in that extreme heat and humidity. There were three or four bands in that parade, at least. Two of the bands were pretty close together. We could hear the band back of us playing when we were marching along. Soon as that band stopped playing, we played. They must have been able to hear us, too.
At one spot - maybe before the parade started - we two bands were close enough to go over and chat with some of the members we knew. I remember one old guy who played a Sousaphone in that other band. He was pretty tall, had lots of white hair. He was very friendly and animated. Not slow as some old people are. I would say that he was in his mid seventies. Although he seemed unconcerned about that heat, I thought at the time that it was pretty hot for that old timer. But he obviously was having a great time and no doubt wouldn’t have missed playing in that parade for all of the tea in China.
During the parade, then, we would march a while and stop, march and stop, etc. And play marches here and there. At one point in the parade, just when we were about as miserable as we would get that day, from the oppressive weather, a runner came up from the band behind us. That white-haired old Sousaphone player had been overcome by the heat, had left the formation, had put his Sousaphone down on a side walk, had sat on a curb, and had looked ill.
Then, he died suddenly. Just keeled over, dead. Tell me that parading isn’t hazardous to one’s health! It didn’t bother me. Then. I was in my twenties, that’s why. Would I go out on some hot July Fourth and play a street parade, if I were still playing my euphonium? I would not! The day I retired from the Marine Band - it was in the end of July 1971 - I swore that I would never play another parade of any kind. And I never did what about uneven terrain when marching in a parade? Ever experience anything like that? Well, it was always a big concern for us in the 1940’s and 1950’s when marching along the streets of D.C. because, for one thing, of the street car tracks. If you didn’t watch out, you could hit a slick track and slip. A nasty fall could result. Our drum major always cautioned us about this and advised us to keep a wary eye out for slick street car tracks. I sometimes did see some band member slip a bit but never did anyone fall, that was good.
Another thing, which we didn’t like, were cobble stones. I hate marching on such rough and uneven surfaces as cobble stone streets. We found lots of cobble stones between trolley tracks and around those areas. Good places to avoid, if possible, when marching along.
One thing which we almost never had to deal with was high wind. You can imagine what a problem keeping your uniform hats on would be when the wind was strong. Only one parade were we ever compelled to engage our chin straps. That was the Kennedy inaugural parade. It had been blowing and snowing all evening long but we didn’t march in any snow. Street crews had cleared the streets on the parade route so the pavement was absolutely bare and dry. However, it was still very windy. I am afraid that had we not engaged our chin straps - holding our hats firmly on our heads - we would have lost them (the hats, that is). Not good!
I didn’t like having to use the chin strap to hold the hat onto my head even though it was necessary. Maybe my chin wasn’t conditioned to that. However, it was painful. The strap was too tight and it was a very stiff leather. Unyielding. No doubt we all would have got used to using the chin straps had we been required to do so often. But that was the only time that I ever had to secure a hat on by means of the chin strap.
When I first joined the U.S. Marine Band in 1947, we were issued two red coats. One was called “the winter red coat” and that was because it had a very dense and thick quilted and padded lining. That was one heavy and warm coat. And - wouldn’t you just know it? - that was the coat we used for outdoor work all summer long. Talk about a bunch of very hot musicians! It’s a wonder all of us didn’t pass out during some dress parade on the parade deck in the Marine barracks at five p.m. when the dress parades went on all summer - on Fridays. That was the hottest part of the day.
I did, in fact, suffer heat exhaustion during one parade. I didn’t have to fall out or anything. It didn’t really hit me until the parade was over and I was headed for the locker room to change into civvies. However, hit me it did and I felt rotten all weekend. I spent a lot of time in air-conditioned movie theaters. That was a help. By Monday morning’s band rehearsal, I was okay again. I did mention the full dress winter red coats. Well, we also were issued a White House red coat. That was made of a nice flannel but not with any heavy lining. It was suited for indoor playing quite well. However, it was a very plain coat. The full dress quilted and padded red coats were not suited for anything but cold weather, in my opinion.
One day back in the very early 1950’s the Marine Band was issued a brand new red coat. That was a splendid coat. It was made of tropical worsted and it had no heavy lining. What a fine coat for warm or hot weather! We really loved these red coats from the first minute we started wearing them. Eventually, something occurred which changed everything, however.
We were scheduled to play a big parade of some kind in D.C. this was in the summer. It wasn’t long after we had been issued those splendid tropical worsted red coats. However, on the day of the big street parade - slated to go right past the White House - it looked very much like rain. The weather report called for storms. And did it rain. A lot! As it turned out, we didn’t have to march far. When we came to the White House, we turned into Lafayette park, directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, marched into the park, countermarched back to the edge of the street, stopped, and rested a short time. Soon more of the parade went by. Every time a flag came by we had to be at attention, of course. We would play an occasional march but that was when we could hear no other band playing. We got to see all of the other big U.S. service bands and to hear them as they played past the White House. Very enjoyable, except for the weather.
It wasn’t long before it started raining. Then, it turned from a moderate rain to a genuine downpour. It rained so hard and so fast that in seconds, it seemed, we were soaked to the skin. Our brand new red coats were sopping wet. Our hats and shoes were sopping wet, as well. I was in the second rank and - unlucky we - that rank was standing right in the gutter. Naturally, the rain came down too rapidly for the gutters to carry it off. The water piled up so fast that by the time that the drum major instructed the front two ranks to step ahead two paces, we were already deep in water. The third rank was up on the sidewalk and they never did get wet feet - or, rather, not that wet. Not soaking wet. However, all of us wound up with sopping wet red coats.
As soon as we had dried our brand new red coats and had occasion to put them on again, we were dismayed to find that they couldn’t be worn very comfortably. Every one had shrunk up two or three sizes. What a mess. The people who manufactured the material were called in. The people who had manufactured the coats were called in. Everyone connected with the manufacture and sale was called in. Eventually, representatives of all of these people were assembled in the Marine Band leader’s office. Lt. Col. Santelmann then called me in. I was to wear my new red coat and I was to be an example of the worst shrinking which had occurred. My red coat wouldn’t meet despite any stretching I might try. It lacked 3” of meeting across the chest.
When I went into the leader’s office, as ordered, wearing this new red coat, I must have looked strange. What a rotten fit that coat had now. One of the representatives exclaimed, “Oh, you are just sticking your chest out. That’s why the coat looks small.” With that, I did stick out my chest and then the coat lacked, not 3” of meeting but more like 8”. The rep who had shot off his mouth was silent.
The upshot of all of this was that they called back all of our new red coats. In time we received another set and these, just as beautiful as the first set, did not shrink at all when they got wet. What had gone wrong with the first red coat material, I do not know. Obviously, it was not suitable for a military uniform.
The red coats were not the only part of our uniform to suffer. Our hats shrank up, too. Fortunately - maybe not so fortunate - I had a hat stretcher so, as soon as I returned to the Marine barracks after that rainy parade, and after I’d taken off my sopping wet clothing and gotten into something dry, I put my wet hat on my hat stretcher. As soon as the hat had dried, I tried it on. Fit perfectly. I’d saved my hat. However, the rest of the band members had no hat stretcher so they were all issued brand new hats. I am still trying to figure out if I made out so well when I used that hat stretcher. One thing is true. I didn’t get a new hat out of it.
Back to the WWII days when I was playing in that small Army band - we were stationed for six months at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation near Harrisburg, PA. We did nothing but play parades. Once or twice - two times, I seem to remember - we had to play a big review at some small air field in that general area. The air field had a long grassy runway. Probably more than one. At any rate we were to be one of two small Army bands playing during the review. We went over to the air field two times for rehearsals. Each time we had to pass in review and that entailed a very long march from one end of a runway to the other and back. It was such a long distance that we played through six marches before we got to the spot where we countermarched and started returning via that very long route to our starting spot. Talk about getting tired lips. Lips were shot!
The playing of six marches 2x each and segue was tough enough but that terrain was brutal. I was very careful to hold my instrument in such a way that if I stumbled, hit a clump of grass, stepped into a pot hole, etc., the mouthpiece didn’t bang hard against my lip and teeth. It seemed to me that if one were not careful he could have a lip cut or even a tooth knocked out. I sure didn’t want anything like that so I was very, very careful. Still, I had to keep playing. Marching and playing. That was what it took. That and successfully avoiding those pot holes, clumps of grass, etc. And, if you caught a foot in something, not getting a cut lip, or worse. What an ordeal. I was always so relieved when the parade was finally over and done with. Of course, I was getting paid handsomely, wasn’t I? (In a pig’s eye I was!!!)
In the mid 1950’s the commander of the Marine barracks - always some full colonel - had a small cocker spaniel dog. This animal had free run of the entire Marine barracks. This was no problem until the little tyke had eaten something which did not agree with him and it had affected its bowels. Even then it would have not concerned us except that when it had “loose movements” it always made wet deposits right in the turf of the parade ground. Naturally, this usually was located just where we had to march during a dress parade. Just great!
During one incident, which I witnessed to my horror, I was marching in the second rank right behind Tommy Elwein, a trombone player. I was wondering whether or not we might make contact with something which that little dog had done on the parade deck. Therefore, during the parade I was keeping a wary eye out for such a mess in our path. Obviously, Tommy was not paying attention to this for what did he do but step right in the very spot which he should have avoided at all costs. What a smelly mess! We were wearing our white duck trousers. Tommy’s revealed every spot and blotch made by what his shoes had stepped in and what was being sprayed upon his poor white trousers. Tommy was a miserable mess. And was he angry. I guess that no one blamed him in any way. I hate dogs when they do what they should not do on “my” parade deck!
In 1956 we had been issued brand new Besson euphoniums. We wanted the Boosey and Hawkes “Imperial” model horns but what we got was Bessons. We were told that there was no difference. We could not tell any difference, either, so apparently they were correct. The very first time when we fell out with our brand new, shiny silver instruments, it was for a dress parade on the Marine barracks parade deck. We were all lined up, ready to march, and we were formed on the parking lot at one end of the parade field. There are three small cannon set there - a permanent spot for these. On this occasion some cannon shots were called for - a 21-gun salute or something. I don’t believe that it was that many rounds, however. Whatever it was, they must have used black powder for as the rounds were fired, a heavy black smoke issued from the muzzle of the cannon. A slight wind was blowing from the cannon in our direction. When the smoke hit us, it landed upon the surface of our brand new euphoniums and it caused small black specks on that pristine surface. Horrors! It was the sulfur in the powder which was causing the black spots. Before the parade was over, our horns had a be speckled appearance. It took us a long time to polish away the black spots. Rotten cannon. They made too much noise, too.
Speaking of dogs, let me tell you that drum majors hate dogs. Well, on a parade they would rather see no dogs. Why is this? Simply because dogs sometimes love bands and drum majors. Sometimes they hate bands and drum majors. Sometimes they love bands but hate drum majors. In my experience it is usually that dogs love bands. In fact, they want to prance at the front of the band, the spot reserved for the drum major. You can see the cause for conflict right there. No wonder dogs usually do not like drum majors. Of course, dogs express displeasure by biting. Drum majors know this. They have been known to swing a mace towards a particularly aggressive dog. It has never been reported that any dog was struck by a mace, however. But drum majors have been bitten by dogs. When I was in high school, we had a six-foot-six-inch drum major. Back in the 1930’s that was extra tall. Taller than it seems to us now-a-days. We would practice marching down on a football field at the outskirts of town. We were getting ready to perform at halftime at one of the football team’s games. A nice medium-size terrier type of mongrel took a shine to the band. He did expect to occupy the front-and-center position occupied by the drum major, however. This was in conflict with the drum major’s plan for the band. He expected to be in that place twirling his baton. The little dog objected so persistently that eventually someone had to take him off and tie him up. Must have broken that pup’s heart. He was a true lover of band music.
Do you think that this is the end of the story? It is not the end but it is close to the end. The end came when that little ruffian escaped from being all tied up, made his way to the football field, and tried to take the coveted spot in front of the band. The drum major got angry and swung his mace at the tiny tyke. That did not set well with the dog. He quickly rushed the drum major and, before anyone knew it, he had an 8x12-inch piece of the drum major’s trouser leg in his mouth, proudly prancing around showing all us what he had done. What a clown.
That did it. We don’t know what happened to the dog after that. Someone took him away and “that was all she wrote.” I still think that dog should have been given his own place to occupy and to be allowed to march along with us, perhaps wearing a tiny uniform coat tailored just for his tiny body. How happy he would have been. Why, he would have sung for joy. (that’s what we needed up front. A singing dog!) Speaking about someone or something singing up front of the band reminds me that while I was playing in that small Army band during WWII, we had something pretty nice, which was, used up front on all parades. A glockenspiel. The player on the glockenspiel was always a piano player. The glock is easy for piano players because the keyboard is set up like a piano’s. Abbreviated and held vertical. Otherwise it is a lot like the piano. Our piano players played everything by memory, of course. Have you ever seen a glockenspiel player in a parade use the music? I haven’t. You probably have never ever seen a glockenspiel played in a band, let alone at the very front, right behind the drum major. I love a glockenspiel in a military marching band. I think that we adopted it from the Germans who seem to use the glockenspiel a lot.
In that little Army band, we often had dogs which felt that they, not the drum major, were supposed to be at the front of the band. These never attacked the drum major. They were stray dogs fed and housed by military personnel. Kept them alive and well. Made pretty nice pets, I guess.
Well, some of these were genuine band lovers and never missed a parade by our small band. Not the parades on the base, that is. Several usually walked or pranced along with us when we were parading up and down the streets of the base. They knew which dog was the drum major’s rival. That was that dog’s spot and no other dog ever tried to take it away from him. Our drum majors didn’t seem to care if some small nondescript dog marched along with us no matter where he took up his position. Perhaps the drum majors felt that the friendly dogs would keep away the biters. Drum major could have been correct about that. We did have strange dogs appear along the parade route only to be chased off by our friendly parade following dogs. Those “invaders” never offered any opposition, merely beating a safe but hasty retreat. They knew that they didn’t belong so they left.
Oh, I almost forgot perhaps the most interesting parade of all. This happened when I was a college student, on New Year’s day 1938. I was persuaded - against my better judgment - to play with our town band in the New Year’s day parade in Philadelphia. It is called “the Mummers Parade.”
The Mummers must be the large banjo and guitar “bands” which have all of the members dressed up in extremely ornate - with feathers, no less - and flowing robes and headdresses. Believe me, those uniforms are the most ridiculous marching outfits ever. They resemble American Indian ceremonial dress in some ways. Lots of feathers.
Well, we knew from long experience that these parades were l-o-n-g. I mean long! Like all day long. That’s why I’d never let anyone talk me into playing one of those ordeals. This time I did let myself be talked into it. Sorry was I! We were in place in line at the start of the parade, in some small town north of the city of Philadelphia by 6 a.m. we started marching at around 6:30 a.m.
When noon came, we had progressed all the way to the exact center of the city and at around 12:30 p.m. we stopped marching, left our spot in the parade for lunch, went into an automat, and grabbed a bite to eat. They were great places, those automats. You could get excellent sandwiches and lots of other food items. Just put a couple of coins in the slot, turn a handle and pull out the item. My favorite was the chocolate whipped cream pie. Just an ordinary chocolate pudding filling on a good pie crust. The real, genuine, honest-to-goodness thick whipped cream made that dessert, in my opinion. (it would make me sick now, I’ll bet. Much too rich.)
We took forty-five minutes for lunch and off again we went into our marching and playing mode. The main trouble with me was that while sitting at the table in the automat, one leg got so stiffened up that I was limping for a while after we returned to our place in the parade and started marching again. That soon disappeared. We continued marching down through south Philly and that was in the slums. The people down there enjoyed watching a parade as well as those in the better parts of the city and the citizens clapped and cheered the various units as they marched along. By then it was dark. We didn’t finish the parade until 7:30 p.m.
I can’t remember how we got back to that small town which was a suburb of Philadelphia but eventually we did return, get into our cars, and make it back to the good old home town. As soon as I had gotten inside my home and changed out of the band uniform, I got a bite to eat and collapsed on a chair with my bare feet on a stool. Poor feet were swollen and sore but I was happy to be finished with all of that marching and to rest up for a while.
At the next rehearsal of that town band some of the older members, those very familiar with the city of Philadelphia, got together with an enormous street map of the city. They plotted the route the parade had taken and calculated the distance we had marched. I almost fainted when I learned the total - 27 miles. We had marched from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with forty-five minutes off for lunch and had covered 27 miles! No wonder I was tired and my feet were swollen and ached. I never played that Mummers parade again. Once was too much!
Just to show you how things changed for me in just 10 years, let me make some comparisons. On that New Year’s Day Mummers parade we had a twenty-five piece band. I was the only baritone player and I marched in the front rank because we didn’t have enough trombone players to fill the rank. Now move ahead ten years. I was in the U.S. Marine Band. We marched with 99 musicians. The front rank was made up of nine trombone players. I marched in the second rank. And we had several euphonium players. What a difference just ten years make.
Written by Arthur Lehman, June 3, 2007