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Victorian bands and their dissemination in the colonies

  • Trevor Herbert and Margaret Sarkissian

This morning I unintentionally stumbled across the annual Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, DC. It was probaly little different than any other American public parade, full of decorated floats and oversized balloons interspersed between uniformed marching bands from high schools all over the country. What caught my attention was the ‘foreign’ element in the parade – three groups that represented Japan, land of the cherry blossom. Two of these groups were local martial arts associations: one representing the Ryuku Islands, the other, Okinawa. The men and women of both contingents, obviously multiethnic, were dressed alike in stereotypical Japanese martial arts costumes (complete with coloured headbands). Participants paused every few steps to demonstrate kicks and poses, then proceeded on to the sound of traditional Japanese music played through loudspeakers. The third group was the official Japanese delegation, flown over especially for the parade. I'm not sure what I expected – perhaps a float of graceful kimono-clad Japanese women waving cherry blossom branches to the ethereal sound of the shakuhachi. Instead, to my surprise our ears were assailed by a familiar John Philip Sousa march played with gusto by a Japanese high school band. The only difference between this band and its American counterparts was that the musicians did not wear unisex military uniforms: all wore fuchsia pink school blazers, with long white pants for the boys and short white skirts for the girls (Sarkissian 1994).

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