The Band Is Up And Marching

The 53 members of the Sounders FC Band are preparing for their first performance at Seafair on July 26th.

Nobody wants to be in the Sounders FC band more than Naomi.

Although she hadn’t played in 13 years, she picked up her flute and began learning it all over again. Naomi played night and day in the hours leading up to her audition. She coaxed a friend into joining her for the tryout. She loves soccer and loves the Sounders.

Only one problem: In the Sounders FC band, there will be no flutes.

However, there will always be room for a Naomi.

"She did a great job," says band director Keith Rousu of Naomi’s audition. "Honestly, if we had a flute, she’d be great. But we’re going to find a home for her somewhere and, trust me, she’ll be great."

An eclectic mix of 53 skilled musicians and crazed soccer fans is now on a crash course toward becoming the funky football symphony Drew Carey first envisioned, with their debut just a month away.

Seattle’s famed Seafair Torchlight Parade on July 26 will mark the band’s first performance. The 2.5-mile route through downtown will end, appropriately, at Qwest Field, where the band will begin performing on a regular basis at Sounders FC home games in 2009.

Later this fall, the band will perform at halftime of a Seahawks game and in the Macy’s Holiday Parade.

Walk the Walk

Between now and the Torchlight Parade, Rousu, Naomi and the rest of the band have got a lot of work to do. Rousu says any band can simply march down the street.

"(But) we want swagger, we want movement," he says "We want to give off the aura of professionalism and presence, where people say, ‘Wow! This is a professional music group.’"

And, mind you, there are some true professionals in the ranks.

Mike of Shoreline is a music teacher by trade, and this summer he will instruct the Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps. Mike’s friends refer to such groups as "marching bands on steroids."

"To be in a drum and bugle corps, you’ve got to be both musically and athletically inclined," Mike says.

He has played sports for as long as he can remember, including basketball and soccer to this day. Mike honed his craft on the horn throughout high school (Shorewood) and college (Central Washington). He is now both band director at Kirkland Junior High and formely taught the marching band at Mukilteo’s Kamiak High.

"I’ve been waiting for this a long time, to be in the stands, getting people pumped and helping to create the whole game atmosphere," Mike says. "It’s a great way to have fun, get involved with soccer and to do what I do as well. It’s two things that I enjoy coming together."

Tuba Wanted

Like Mike, Chris has music and sports in his core. The Seattle insurance agent is just a few years removed from the Husky marching band.

"I like playing for crowds at sporting events, and you just don’t get a lot of gigs for a tuba," admits Chris.

If you don’t hear the thump of a tuba emanating from windows in your neighborhood, one reason might be their prohibitive cost. "It’s cool that they will supply the horn," says Chris, "because I don’t own one and they cost around $5,000."

Rousu is now searching for the best buys on equipping the Sounders FC band with a full array of brass and percussion instruments.

The more Chris learns about the band, the more enthused he becomes.

"Marching fans into the stadium will be fun," he says. "Encouraging them to participate, to bring auxiliary percussion, leading cheers and just being big fans, I’m really looking forward to seeing what this turns into."

Mike realizes that many fans want the game atmosphere to resemble that of Europe, yet the Sounders FC band will be unlike anything, foreign or domestic.

"In some ways we’re in a tough spot, trying to start a tradition," says Mike. "Who’s going to come up with the first song, the first chants and will they catch on? I know that as members of the band, we’re ready to jump in, go full throttle and hopefully we’ll find things that create a tradition."

Got Passion?

One thing’s for sure: this band will always have members who are passionate.

Says Rousu: "The serious musicians are passionate about music and the soccer fans are passionate about soccer. To me, there’s no difference between the two, and there’s a reason why we’re bringing them together."

That’s why it was important, says, Rousu, that they find a place for Naomi. Just as he has converted horn players into members of the Seahawks’ Blue Thunder drumline, Naomi’s musical background will ease her transition from flute to cymbals.

"I did this more for the soccer part of it, to cheer on the Sounders," she admits. "But the cymbals will be easy for me to pick up. I’ve got a friend who made it as a trumpet and we’re real excited. The more we learn about this, the cooler it becomes."

Like the others, Naomi knows there is much work to be done. Yet the upside is extraordinary; spending game days in the thick of it all, performing at community events and, who knows, possibly meeting the players.

Rousu says that if there’s a common thread that runs throughout the band, it’s that they all want to be in on "the ground level and be part of something bigger than themselves."

What they play and how they play remains to be seen and heard.

"But we’re going to be unique, really cool, really fun, with our own sound," claims Naomi. "I think it will look a lot like Europe, and if the crowd is anything like Europe, the atmosphere is going to be insane."