Marching band and auxiliary groups embrace lifelong passion for entertaining crowds

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - The Beat Goes On Marching Band has been treating regional audiences to lively shows since it first took the field in October for a halftime show. During a February trip to the Bahamas, top left, the lively band played alongside students at C.R. Walker High School.The Beat Goes On Marching Band is really going places.

Whether it’s performing in community parades or even entertaining audiences in the Bahamas, this lively group of adult performers is proving it’s never too late to dust off those old instruments and rekindle the joy that comes with being part of a marching band.

During a recent rehearsal at the Garden Home Recreation Center, music director Steve Tolopka set the tone for the band by cracking jokes and challenging the musicians gathered to play and sound pompous as they ran through the Olympic theme song.

In keeping with the spirit of fun, band members did just that as they got into character while performing the piece.

The all-adult, nonprofit marching band was formed last September by Tolopka, his wife Janet and Tom Higham, who is the TBGO travel agent.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - At left, Robert Fulghum plays cymbals with the group in the Seattle Seafair Torchlight Parade on July 28.“We were actually a spinoff from another band that a bunch of us had been part of,” Tolopka said. “We basically just decided to put a better organization together.”

About 100 active members comprise the musical group, which encourages more people who would like to re-live their marching band experience from their younger years to join as a musician, twirler, dancer or color guard member.

“Almost everyone who’s in the band now has had a period in their lives of anywhere from five to 10 to 20 years or more where they were away from playing, and they found their way back, at least partly, as a result of the band,” Tolopka said. “And that’s a serious part of our mission.

“If you haven’t played in 20 years, the idea of coming back and doing an audition is scary, so we really try to lower all barriers on that. We have a very welcoming bunch (and) tell people to come play their way back into shape.”

Leading the way

Guiding the band down the street, twirlers spinning their batons and dancers shaking their pom poms take on the “ambassador” role as they are the first members of the lively group that parade goers see. They set the tone as they move to the beat of the music.

“They pave the way for the band to come right behind, chucking and jiving and having a great time with the music and creating a fun experience for the crowd,” Tolopka said. “And then our color guard provides the ‘bookend’ on the band with a colorful, synchronized flag display.”

According to twirler captain Patti Waitman-Ingebretsen, 33 baton twirlers are on the roster. Between 14 and 22 twirlers participate in big parade performances.

Waitman-Ingebretsen, who has been twirling since she was 5 years old, is not only a charter member and board of directors secretary for TBGO but is also a charter member of the One More Time Around Again Marching Band.

“We have a true sisterhood of twirlers, and we support each other completely,” she said about the TBGO twirlers.

The group makes sure it looks distinctive from the rest of the band, donning costumes covered in “sequins, bling (and) glitz.” 

“The crowds love our sequins and call out to us often,” Waitman-Ingebretsen said.

Dance captain Pat Christiansen was a former dancer for the Get a Life Marching Band and then switched over to TBGO last year.

There are 10 dancers in the new group, which Christiansen described as “a very fun group of adult women who love to shake, rattle and roll.”

“We all have this common denominator of loving to perform, loving to entertain and loving to connect with people,” she said.

She enjoys seeing the reaction of the crowd when the band and the auxiliary groups perform.

“It’s heart-touching when we’re coming down the street, and people hear the music, and they start perking up because it’s a very fun beat,” Christiansen said. “But when they actually see who’s making that music and realize that some of us are short, some of us are fat and some of us have gray hair but we’re still marching down the street with big smiles on our faces and having a great time, you can see the connection in their faces light up. They start clapping, and they start dancing with you. That’s what really makes my heart sing.”

Making memories

The Beat Goes On Marching Band performed its first event in October at the Hillsboro Stadium, where high school marching bands competed in the Northwest Association for Performing Arts championship. The band “looking all shiny, purple and new” entertained the crowd during halftime, Tolopka recalled.

The band travels frequently within the Pacific Northwest to play both locally and regionally, but attempts to make appearance outside of the region once a year. In February, the band packed up its bags and boarded a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship to put on a show in the Bahamas.

Tolopka said perhaps the coolest event was when the members played in the courtyard of the C.R. Walker High School, where about a thousand Bahamian kids gathered for an outdoor assembly. The show lasted close to an hour, ending with the performance of the American rock ‘n’ roll song “Louie Louie,” accompanied by the local high school’s own marching band.

“The other thing that was really fun about it — besides just doing something different at a different place for a different set of kids — is keeping them exposed to music,” Tolopka said. “We take a large part of our mission in getting people to come back to music and getting kids to stay interested in music throughout their lives.”

TBGO plays its own rendition of tunes from its eclectic playlist selection, jamming to patriotic music during the holidays, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and songs from popular, modern artists.

One of the band’s sayings is: “We may be a marching band, but we’re more likely to play Lady Gaga than John Phillip Sousa.”

The idea is to play whatever music the crowd would respond to, as TBGO highly values audience interaction and strives to leave people on the street with smiles on their faces, Tolopka said.

“There is nothing like going down the street in a parade and going over to play something special for (kids) and watching faces light up and people have a good time and start groovying,” he added.

As the oldest member of the group just turned 80, TBGO shows age is no impediment to carrying on with a marching band and having a great time while playing together.

“When people first see us, their first reaction is, ‘Wow, what the heck is that?’” Tolopka said. “Because you don’t expect to see an older adult marching band like that. I think we hook them with the fact that we’re different, and then at the end what I want to leave them with is, ‘Wow, those guys are good.’”

Christiansen agreed and added, “You can kind of toss the message along, ‘You can do this. If you have a passion, you can do whatever you want and then enjoy it for the rest of your life.’ Age is not a discriminating factor here.”

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