SENECA FALLS — Yes, it’s the band’s real name.
The Bedford Falls Mediocre Marching Band is rehearsing for its second annual appearance in the Wonderful Life parade down Fall Street at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, as part of the annual It’s A Wonderful Life Festival.
Try to imagine about 35 people marching with kazoos and toy xylophones playing Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.”
“It may sound a little pejorative, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we want to have fun,” said band director Gretchen McDonald, a local private piano and voice teacher. “You don’t need to have college marching or even high school band experience. We will train you. But there’s nothing mediocre about our playing ability.”
The general model is the Doo Dah parade in Pasadena, Calif., begun in 1978 as a spoof of the stuffed-shirt Tournament of Roses Parade. The Doo Dah is a quirky, off-beat, irreverent parade that features marchers such as the Chair Force Precision Lawn Chair Drill Team.
The BFMMB features experienced musicians who play traditional marching band instruments such as trumpets, trombones, flutes, clarinets and drums, plus a bit less formal kazoo and toy xylophone section.
McDonald said she’s always wanted to do something like this. Last year was the band’s inaugural performance and it’s back again.
“I get people who play in the Seneca Falls Community Band, the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Wind Ensemble and other groups to join to play their traditional instruments. There’s some college kids and Mynderse band members in the mix. They are the backbone,” McDonald said.
Then in steps Fisher-Price and Little Tykes toy xylophones and the kazoos. Not as polished as the other band members, this group of marchers likes to have fun, but they also rehearse and take their music pretty seriously.
In addition to the Bob Seger rock song, the band also plays Christmas-themed songs as part of its “Conga Line Christmas” during the parade.
“I like the opportunity to play my instrument again after a long hiatus since high school,’’ said French horn player Charitty Gillotti, a music teacher in the Waterloo school district. “It’s fun to be part of a big community event like the Wonderful Life weekend. I feel volunteering for the band is a way to give back something to the area.”
She also said she joined to help McDonald, a friend and colleague. “And I joined so that my children could see the lifelong benefits of playing an instrument. The payoff is a chance to have fun and fulfill a different role as a musician than my usual role as a teacher and director,” Gillotti added.
Elbert Eller says he plays the toy xylophone partly because of his friendship with the McDonalds.
“It was a chance to have fun, contribute to the Wonderful Life weekend and help Gretchen with something that she is passionate about,” Eller said, acknowledging he is “tone deaf and can’t read music.” He said Gretchen has been an excellent teacher who’s made it easy.
“The rewards are camaraderie with the band, the thrill of seeing and hearing the people lining the street on parade day who laugh, smile and cheer. A big reward is also seeing Gretchen lead us,” he added.
McDonald fronts any costs of the band and gets donations of musical equipment as needed. Last year, band members donned Santa hats with BFMMB written in the front. This year, they will add T-shirts made by WomanMade Products of Seneca Falls proudly carrying the band’s name on front.
“We appreciate the positive response and applause we got last year,” McDonald said. “We’ll see how it goes this year. I’m sure we’ll be even better.
“I’m so grateful to those involved with the band, from college-aged to their 70s. They are volunteering their time in home practice and rehearsals. They didn’t think I was too crazy and they share my enthusiasm in giving their time to produce some great music within a fun-loving group. I love this bunch and enjoy every minute I get to spend working with them.”