Dallas saxophonist Tim Stallman readies to march with 175 other gay musicians in Barack Obama’s historic inaugural parade
Dallas-based musician Tim Stallman has marched with dozens of bands in many parades — so many, he can’t remember them all. But the parade he’ll perform in this Tuesday is one he’ll surely never forget: the inaugural parade following Barack Obama’s swearing-in as the 44th president of the United States.
Stallman will join approximately 175 of his fellow gay and lesbian musicians, playing along a 1.6-mile route along Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill to the White House.
"It is an amazing opportunity," Stallman said. "I will do my part to represent the GLBT community."
Stallman and the other musicians, all members of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, will be among nearly 13,000 marchers representing more than 90 groups invited to participate in the parade. And the selection of the LGBA was not without controversy.
"There’s been a lot of backlash against us participating" from conservative Christian and right-wing political groups, Stallman said, calling it similar to the reaction by progressives to the selection of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation.
Some groups objected to the selection of a gay band over more "wholesome" high school bands.
"It’s just amazing how some of the conservatives can take something as all-American as a band and make it something bad," Stallman said.
Despite the unwanted attention, Stallman — who has held several leadership duties during his association with the LGBA — expressed excitement about the "huge visibility" afforded the organization.
Marching in the parade marks a first for the LGBA. The group performed during the 1993 and 1997 Clinton inaugurations, but on each occasion they were stationed permanently on side streets, concert-style, not marching along the parade path.
"We did apply for President Bush’s first inaugural and of course we were turned down. But we do try to be inclusive," Stallman said.
Being part of a processional appearing before an estimated 300,000 onlookers makes this event an unforgettable — and humbling — experience. "This is an amazing opportunity to support Barack Obama. It’s a pretty historic event, and for our community to be able to participate in this great event in our lifetime … well, you just have to do it," Stallman said.
Participating requires a substantial commitment of time and money for all those involved, who must submit lengthy applications to be considered for the nearly 200-member band.
The approval process for inclusion in the parade began nearly a year ago — long before Obama was even the Democratic Party nominee. More recently, individual members began submitting their qualifications.
"It’s a pretty big commitment," Stallman said. "[In addition to musical ability], you have to be physically able to march for miles during cold conditions. And it’s costly," requiring taking time off from work and paying for travel and lodging.
Stallman knows of only one other Dallas-based musician — clarinetist Wayne Swearengin — who will be marching in the inaugural parade.
Just getting to the District of Columbia proved a challenge, with flights that are crowded and hard to come — if available at all. Stallman knows of some San Franciscans who were forced to book a flight into Philadelphia and then drive down to Washington.
Because all the marchers were scattered across the U.S., the five pieces of music to be performed were sent out electronically. Full-day rehearsals will take place Sunday and Monday in Washington with the entire complement of musicians.
Among the selections will be "Brand New Day" from "The Wiz," Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy" and John Philip Sousa’s "The Washington Post March."
"Our goal is to perform something at the reviewing stand that reflects the stature of the event," said Stallman.
Despite all the rigors of the process, for Stallman, marching behind the U.S. president is the culmination of a passion that began decades ago.
Stallman’s band experience dates back to the fourth grade, when he began studying saxophone. (He also plays clarinet and baritone horn.) After high school, he auditioned for the U.S. Marine Corps Field Band and enjoyed six years performing around the world "as well as my other Marine duties." (Stallman, who was in the service prior to implementation of the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, says he was lucky enough to be out during virtually his entire military career.)
While stationed in San Diego, Stallman and some fellow Marine Corps Band musicians went to see the LGBA performance at the Hollywood Bowl hosted by Rita Moreno and Elvira. "I was hooked," he said.
The day he was discharged from the Marine Corps, he joined the Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles, a member of LGBA. Stallman eventually founded two LGBA bands himself: in San Diego and in Rochester, N.Y.
Stallman — who has relocated numerous times during his 23 years working for Xerox Capital, playing in six of the approximately 20 LGBA-member bands — moved to Dallas about a year ago, and immediately sought out the Oak Lawn Symphonic Band.
"I always hook up with the local [gay] band," he said. "It’s a good way to meet people."
It was soon after that he began hoping for the opportunity to march in Washington. But he’s especially gratified by what the event represents on a broader, human level.
"The LGBA is extremely honored to represent America and to help celebrate the election of a president who values the diversity of all people around the world," Stallman said. "After the last eight years, from a world perspective, it would be nice to bring back people again."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 16, 2009.