Who says that marching bands and stodgy uniforms go together?
For 32 years, the Perfection-Nots have entertained crowds at Coeur d’Alene’s Fourth of July parade with rousing patriotic songs and outrageous attire.
On Saturday morning, an infectious rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” had spectators clapping in time to the music, while snickering at trombone players dressed in drag, a tuba-playing witch, and a male clarinet player sporting a poofy pink veil. The band – 140 strong – strutted down Sherman Avenue, no two costumes alike.
“Don’t they tour internationally?” one spectator asked another.
Far from it. The hometown band comes together once a year to perform at the Fourth of July parade.
The tradition dates to 1978, when no live music was scheduled for the parade. The lack of a marching band pained Larry Strobel, his wife, Sharon, and his sister-in-law Sally MacKenzie – all avid musicians.
“At Sunday dinner, the ladies convinced me that we could get our friends together and get a little music going in the street,” said Larry Strobel, a French horn player.
About 50 local musicians signed up. Since they didn’t have uniforms, each wore an attention-grabbing costume. The rest, of course, is parade history.
Linda and Jim Barnett, both saxophone players, are original members of the Perfection-Nots. The couple haven’t missed a single parade.
“They said it wouldn’t fly, that it would only last a year,” Linda Barnett said. “But we get more people for every parade.”
Despite temperatures in the low 90s, she wore a furry teddy bear costume. “That’s my husband over there in the muumuu,” she said, pointing to a man in a flowing purple house dress patterned with tropical flowers.
John Terris, the bass drum player, opted for a toga after sweating through prior parades as Big Bird and the Energizer bunny.
“I get to see a lot of my old students,” said Terris, a retired Coeur d’Alene High School band director. “It’s kind of like a band reunion.”
Musicians range from 14 to 80 years old. Many of the adults have fond memories of performing with high school and college marching bands. Some still play in concert bands or ensembles. For some of the teens, the Perfection-Nots is their first introduction to a marching band.
Strobel schedules one practice, which takes place in his yard. About 100 people show up with their instruments. Terry Jones, North Idaho College’s band director, directs the rehearsal.
The 90-minute session includes practicing the music, marching up and down the street in front of the Strobels’ house, and refreshments.
“We do pride ourselves on playing well,” Strobel said. “The ‘Nots’ refers to how we look.”
The large turnout helps guarantee a diverse mix of instruments. The band wouldn’t be a crowd-pleaser if it was dominated by a single sound.
“There’s quite a bit to getting the right instrumentation,” Strobel said. “You need strong trumpets, strong trombones, saxophones and a good drummer.”
The size also allows the band to incorporate nontraditional instruments. Twenty-year-old Evan Secaur, dressed as Wolverine from the “X-Men” comics, pulled a bass viol in Saturday’s parade. He grew mutton-chop whiskers for the costume.
“I would postpone a vacation to do this,” said Dennis Grant, a trombone player and longtime Pefection-Nots participant.
This year, he persuaded his brother and two nephews, who were visiting from Mukilteo, Wash., to join him. “We’re an all-brass family” – trumpets and trombones – he said.
Grant’s nephew, 14-year-old Conner Grant, marched behind him in the trombone section, sporting a blue wig. Conner initially wasn’t sure about joining the band, but he had fun at the rehearsal.
“Now we’ll probably be in it for the rest of our lives,” he said.