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Report: Second Time Arounders

Eliahu Sussman • Features • March 12, 2009

Adult Ensemble Gives Ex-Band Students a Second Chance

In 1982, Bill Findeison, former high school band director and then owner of Bringe Music in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Herb Mellany, former executive director of the St. Petersburg Festival of States, were having a conversation during which they both wondered aloud, “What happens to all of those kids who used to march in high school bands? So much talent and most of them never get to play or march after high school. We should start a marching band for adults who used to play in college or high school and want to do it again.” And that’s exactly what they did.

They placed an ad in the local newspaper for four weeks, inviting people to come to a rehearsal – all they needed to do was bring an instrument, if they played a small one, and all of the large instruments such as bass drums and sousaphones would be provided by a local school. Bill and Herb apparently tapped into something 75 people showed up for that first rehearsal, and the The Greater St. Petersburg Area Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band, better known as the Rounders, was formed.

Bill guided the band as director, something he still does to this day. At the end of that first season everyone said they wanted to do it again next year. As Bill says, “It was something that clicked and never quit. We have grown from 75 members to 500. Today we still have 15 of the original members from that first year. We have people who drop out for whatever reason, whether it’s age or they move away, but we always seem to stay with 500 members, with new people joining all the time.”

 

So what does it take to become a member of this impressive band? The Rounders have a non-exclusionary policy. Anyone can join the band with the only stipulation being a member must be out of high school, but have played or twirled in a high school or college band at one time. Members range in age from 18 to 90. There are no auditions; as long as you can play and have a good time, you can be a part of The Rounders. Members come from all over Florida and the Southeast to perform every year. All of the members are adults, with busy lives outside of the band, and because of that they are given dates, locations, and rehearsal times for the season 10 months in advance.

Dale Gunter
Drums
Member since 1983

“There is so much camaraderie in the band. It is so much fun; it is really like being back in band in high school. It’s really the only thing about high school that I miss. I missed it so much that when I saw Bill’s ad in the paper 27 years ago, I immediately responded. I will be in this band for as long as I am physically able. It’s always exciting and never gets old.”

Don Hutchinson
Clarinet
Member since 1986

“I was in high school and military band. I had heard the Rounders and immediately wanted to join. I got my wife and daughter to join; at one point we had seven family members playing in the band.

I lost my wife two years ago. She had always carried the Florida flag in the Rounders’ honor guard. My daughter normally plays flute in the band, but this year when we marched in the Macy’s parade she carried the Florida flag in my wife’s honor.

The band has always been such a fun part of our family life, and we look forward to playing every year. It’s a no nonsense group when we are rehearsing, but when we are finished it is a fun social group. Most importantly, we have great leadership in Bill Findeison. When you have over 500 in a band, it is like trying to build a house with 500 people and each one is using a different tool. For one man to be able to control 500 people, spanning two city blocks and performing in unison, it is just an amazing feat. I don’t know how in the world the band would survive his loss. As for me, I’m 72 and will be in the band as long as my legs hold me up.”

Angie Brown
Piccolo
Member since 1984

“For the first 22 years, I was the co-lead for the majorettes. Three years ago, I retired my baton and am back to playing piccolo, just like I did in high school. It’s a blast every time. It’s like being back in school.”

The band members are a cross section of life, as Bill explains, “If you randomly took 500 people off of the streets in New York City and put them in a room, that’s who we are. Our members are firefighters, police officers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, truck drivers, and plumbers. That’s the beauty of it. It makes no difference who you are, what you do, what your education is, how much money you have, or if you are black, white, or purple. If you play an instrument and want to be in a band, we have a place for you.”

With such a large mix of people and skill levels, it is difficult to imagine how things come together. For the Rounders, the audience comes first; the music has to be something they can relate to. It has to be familiar and recognizable. As Bill puts it, “Today if you go to a band contest, the performance is so sophisticated and so good, but it might go over the heads of the crowd. The performance is really for the judges. That’s fine, but we don’t compete. When we play at a contest it is usually at the end while the judges are tallying up the scores. We come in and play ‘Seventy Six Trombones.’ The audience hears it, recognizes it, and loves it. There is a rapport with the crowd, a connection made.” The music must also be mid-level, in terms of playing difficulty, to accommodate all of the various skill levels in the band. Yet, the Rounders play everything from Sousa marches to Earth, Wind & Fire.

The Rounders have six rehearsals per season, which take place at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, one of the few venues large enough to accommodate the band’s 500 members. The musicians rehearse inside, and the drill team, flags, rifles, and majorettes rehearse outside. For the last complete rehearsal, the entire band rehearses together on a football field at a local high school. The Rounders have an instructional staff of nine, which includes band directors, an arranger, a color guard coordinator, and a drum instructor. Usually there are five to six performances a year, which include two parades, and stand-up concerts around the St. Petersburg area.

As one can imagine, when the Rounders take a major trip, whether it’s traveling to another state or abroad, it requires a lot more than a travel agent. The organization has a board of directors, along with several subcommittees, who handle many of the logistical challenges. Everyone is a volunteer; no one is paid. All of the members who play a small instrument own their own instruments and the larger instruments, such as the sousaphones, large horns, and the drum section have been purchased by the organization over the years. All members pay for their uniforms, which generally cost about $25.

They have performed in many festivals and parades around the country, including the Main Street Parade at Walt Disney World and a stand-up concert at the Epcot Theme Park in Orlando. In 2001, the group took their first trip abroad to take part in the St Patrick’s Day festivities in Dublin, Ireland, where they performed at the Guinness Brewery.

Since 1982, there have been hundreds of performances and many accomplishments for the band. However, nothing has been as rewarding or exciting for them as being invited to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008. Every year an average of 500 bands apply to march in the Macy’s Parade, with only 10 being accepted. The Rounders were accepted on their first application.

The trip to New York City was the most important one they had ever taken, and this immense band and their family members totaled over 800 people. For the Rounders, this was the achievement of a lifetime, the pinnacle for a marching band. Remarking on the experience, Bill says, “Macy’s is the king of parades in this country. To get invited is an unbelievable honor. We knew what we were getting into. We had to get up at one o’clock in the morning, and none of us had been awake at that hour in years, much less standing there in a marching band, freezing cold, getting ready to do a show on national television. It was the adrenalin that kept things going without much thought. You’re not even tired; you just go. Of course, the next day everyone crashed, but that’s okay. You come by this type of thing once in a lifetime. Who wants to sleep through that? It’s like a football player going to the Super Bowl.”

As Bill and his Rounders marched into Herald Square and approached Macy’s to perform, most were overcome with emotion. For the band’s director and founder, the experience was “exhilarating, exciting, almost to tears, it was a dream come true. That’s the beauty of this organization people being able to reach out and touch life in a way that most people don’t get to do. I suppose that’s a big part of what it’s all about. It’s so nice as an adult to see people who don’t have to be there; they are not being graded. They are doing it for the love of music. It’s all positive, pure joy.”

 

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