The New York City Marathon boasts more than 130 bands along the marathon route. Runners experience a flurry of different sounds and styles as diverse as the city itself.
Playing the marathon is also endurance event. It’s not as tough on your quads or joints but playing in cold weather in particular can be excruciating on the fingertips. Depending on where you are on the course, musicians will end up playing anywhere from 2 hours to 6. Despite challenges, just like competing in the event, it’s exhilarating and rewarding to play for around 50K runners. The New York Times blog covered the experience in an article called, “There’s a Music Marathon, Too.”
The tradition of music at marathons has evolved dramatically over the last few years into something races are now organized around. Decades before the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series was conceived, there was one band playing the NYC Marathon.
The marching band from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School first set up on Lafayette and Clermont back in 1979. Their setlist is so straightforward and popular it has become a hallmark of the NY Marathon experience. Under the guidance of the school’s Music Director, Louis Maffei, BLMHS students and alumni play, “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme song from Rocky, on a loop for 4 hours straight.
Mr. Maffei serves as a model of what the music education experience should be. Over the past 3 decades he has developed the performing arts program into something that roughly half of the student body participates in.
He even makes playing the marathon a teachable moment.
“It’s not really about us, and what we’re doing,” Mr. Maffei tells his students. “It’s about what we’re doing for the people who are running.”
For Mr. Maffei, the marathon contains lessons in fortitude and empathy — important values he hopes students will absorb.
“It’s all about taking care of the people who are passing by you,” he tells the rows of assembled students. He smiles at the rhythm section: “Keep those drums going! Don’t stop!”
– excerpt from “Bishop Loughlin Music Director Inspires Students, Runners Alike“
Music education is a cause that is very close to my heart so I really wanted to write a song in homage to this band as part of my marathon concept album. The fact that they started playing in 1979 was another big reason why I set the story in that year.
In tribute to the Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School Band and music programs across the country, half of the proceeds from the song “Marching Band High School” will be donated to the Fender Music Foundation, a charity sponsored by Fender that gives instruments to music education programs.
Support this program when you download Marching Band High School here.