Maine Bicentennial Parade Band member Gabe Lasalle practices Friday night with other members of the percussion section of the band at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Individual sections in the band separated for the first hour of practice to rehearse before they all came together to march outside during their final practice before Saturday morning’s parade through Lewiston and Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Who loves a parade? 

These guys. 

On Friday night, just hours before the Maine Bicentennial Parade was to set to begin, the musicians and band leaders were polishing their instruments and their performance. 

In a sweltering hot classroom at Edward Little High School, a team of percussionists were getting in their final practice. 

Two women and a young man were tapping out neat and tidy rolls on the snare drums. A young man stood rigid and ready at the bass drum while a woman held her cymbals up high and ready to go. 

At the front of the room, percussion instructor Jim Hagar of Gorham tapped out notes on the podium, occasionally swiping at the sweat on his forehead. 

Everything sounded clean and orderly. The team appeared ready to roll. 

In a room across the hall, Band Director John Neal was addressing a different group of musicians. At the front of the hot classroom, he looked quite a lot like a gridiron coach giving his team a last-minute inspirational speech. 

Neal didn’t scoff at the comparison. 

“It is like that a little bit,” he said. “This is a team that’s going out to achieve something.” 

Maine Bicentennial Parade Band color guard leader Jamie Cole leads her team during the final practice Friday night at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Individual sections in the band separated for the first hours of practice to rehearse before they all came together to march outside during practice before Saturday morning’s parade through Lewiston and Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Outside in the parking lot, the color guard worked in cooler air, twirling their flags to the stirring notes of “Stars and Stripes” playing on a portable speaker. 

Were they, too, confident and ready to hit the streets? 

Absolutely. Color Guard leader Jamie Cole was adamant about that. 

“They look so good,” said Cole, a music instructor at Edward Little, “especially since we’ve only had two in person practices together before today. And these people are strangers to one another. They’re from all over the place. Everybody is looking forward to this. They’re going to be amazing.” 

In the color guard, after just two live practices for the biggest parade in the state, there was no sense of jitters anywhere. 

“You know what? I can’t be nervous,” said Carol Giasson, 46, of Auburn. “We have an amazing instructor. She’s done such a wonderful job.” 

Giasson was in the Edward Little color guard from 1991 to 1994. That’s a long time ago, but she said when she heard about the parade’s search for band members, she decided to go for it. 

“It’s been a while,” she said, “but I thought it’d be fun to try it again.” 

The band members gathered in different areas of the high school Thursday night represented a diverse mix. Some were young, some were older. Some have musical skills that are sharp, others are working out the rust. 

For Carrie Hebert of Greene, playing the alto saxophone in the parade marks the first time she’s played since high school and yet she was not the least bit nervous. 

“Nah,” she said. “It’s really cool because we’ve got such a variety of people. It’s a good mix of experience levels. Some have been playing in bands all around the state, but some haven’t played in 20 years.” 

Maine Bicentennial Parade Band member Hannah Hills plays her trumpet Friday night with other members of the band at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Several different groups in the band separated for the first hour of practice to rehearse before they all came together to march outside during their final practice before Saturday morning’s parade through Lewiston and Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Neal, the band director, made the same observation. 

“For so many of these people,” he said, “they haven’t played in decades. It’s given them a reason to pull the horn out of the closet, or the flag or the drum.” 

Bob Bennett, a school teacher from South China, is 71 and one of the older members of the band.  

Bennett, a drum major, did not have rattled nerves, either. Why should he? This is a guy who has been playing in bands his whole life, including 20 years with the 195th Maine Army National Guard Band. 

“No, I’m not nervous,” he said, tapping his baton. “When I was in the Guard, we played in some pretty serious stuff.” 

Bennett recalled marching in a Mardi Gras parade that was six plus miles long, roughly six times longer than the the route he’ll march on Saturday. 

He marched just behind the Budweiser Clydesdales, weaving his way around what those horses left behind. 

“When it was over,” Bennett said, “everybody but me had a brown haze on their pants.” 

Bennett was also keenly aware Thursday night of the strange journey music had taken him on. Roughly 50 years ago to the day, he was flying out of Portland to Fort Dix for basic training. 

On Saturday, bright and early, he’ll lead the band through the streets of Lewiston and Auburn before thousands of eager spectators. 

“I’m the drum major so I’m going to be out in front of everybody,” Bennett said. “This is going to be interesting.” 

Neal, a life-long music educator, said he had small concerns about this or that as the big day approached, but otherwise he was a confident fellow, even though a lot of the band practice was remote, like so many other things. 

“I’m very proud of these people,” Neal said. “They’ve really pulled it together and that most of them did 90% of it by themselves at home using the information on the website. They know what they’re doing. I’m very pleased.” 

Also confident of parade success on Saturday was Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, who helped make it happen. 

“Not only does the parade celebrate 200 years of proud Maine history that we have a history of overcoming adversity through grit, determination and a belief that ‘the sky is not falling,'” said Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque,  “My special thanks to the folks (at) Auburn Hall who have worked tirelessly since 2019 to make this celebration happen.” 

Maine Bicentennial Parade Band color guard leader Jamie Cole leads her team during the final practice Friday night at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Individual sections in the band separated for the first hours of practice to rehearse before they all came together to march outside during practice before Saturday morning’s parade through Lewiston and Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


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