Nashville In Harmony Pride Band returns marching band spirit to the city’s Pride parade

Listen to an immersive audio feature on the new Nashville In Harmony Pride Band

Music has a starring role in Pride festivals, from the drag queens and pop divas on the main stages to the DJs spinning at afterparties. Still, notes band director Jacob Campos, there are other parts of the festivities that call for performances that aren’t always as closely associated with Pride: “I think you can’t really have a parade without a marching band.”

He first became convinced that a marching unit would be a welcome presence in Nashville’s Pride parade in the late 2010s, while leading a high school band program that regularly won state championships.

“I’ve always taught in pretty conservative areas,” Campos explains, “and I never wanted people to care about my personal life. I only wanted them to care about [the quality of] the job that I did. As I’ve become more comfortable with myself, I thought about how can I use my gifts to give back. I heard a friend say, ‘Well, you don’t have to always be marching down the street with a sign in protest. You have strengths that you can use to give back to the [LGBTQIA+] community and brighten the world too, through music. And so I thought about that, and then I happened to be at a bar and I heard someone talking about marching band and Pride. That’s how the first band got started.”

Campos directing the Nashville In Harmony Pride Band at rehearsal; photo credit: LaTonya Turner

Campos and the other members of the nonprofit band’s tiny governing board kept it going for a few years, until the pandemic brought everything to a halt and the rest of the board moved away. He was able to launch a new version of the band this year, now called Nashville In Harmony Pride Band, with the institutional support he needed from the long-established LGBTQIA+ musical organization Nashville In Harmony, and its artistic director Wesley King. The new ensemble will make its debut at the Nashville Pride parade on June 24.

Recalls Campos, “I really had just come to a place where I said, ‘If some people are passionate about this and they come to me and say, “We’re going to put in the effort with you,” then I’m willing to pick up the helm again.’ But I really needed a group of people. And Nashville In Harmony with Wesley King, they have been amazing. They’ve been around for 30 years, and they were able to take up a lot of that logistical work so that I could focus on getting members and getting the music right.”

Campos put the word out about the new band through forums for instrumentalists and drum corps, and through his connections on the Nashville Symphony staff, where he currently works in corporate fundraising. Among the 45 musicians who responded, volunteering their talents, are people who hail from other regions of Tennessee, and even as far away as Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, who’d already planned to attend Nashville Pride and found the idea of marching in the parade appealing.

“We were all kids who loved band,” ventures Campos. “At some point, we were just trying to find a place where we belonged. Now you’re working as an accountant, you’re working at the bank, you’re doing whatever at the symphony. And you realize that you can still have that same experience in music now, being yourself, with people of a like mind and heart. And so I think that’s what brought us together.”

“Our Pride band is made of every background you can imagine, from folks who graduated from high school this last May all the way to folks who graduated from high school probably 25 years ago. We have all ability levels too. Some folks haven’t touched their instrument in years, and some folks just two years ago were playing in the world championship drum corps. So it’s a really eclectic group of people who are just really passionate about playing.”

When Campos asks the band members to introduce themselves one by one at rehearsal, a saxophone player named Nathan expresses a mixture of embarrassment, enthusiasm and amusement. “I haven’t played this in 15 years,” he confesses with a laugh, “but here we are. Let’s do it!”

On the other side of the room, a baritone player named Beth says that she, too, is dusting off her high school chops. Her mother, a former music teacher, helped her borrow an instrument, a fairly ancient-looking horn, and rig it up with a makeshift strap enabling her to play on the move.

Nashville In Harmony band member Ace; photo credit: LaTonya Turner

After the rehearsal moves outside, one of the younger band members, a mellophone player named Ace, reflects on the group’s multigenerational makeup: “Normally in high school – I just graduated – we’re all the same age-ish. So the fact that I’m seeing people who have already done what I want to do, like teach band and stuff, it’s pretty cool watching all walks of life. I come from West Tennessee, in the middle of nowhere, where most people there are homophobic. So being able to be around people where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to be myself,’ that’s a pretty cool experience.”

An avid educator, Campos has happily met each musician where they are skill-wise, whipping out his pencil to simplify daunting passages in the sheet music, and leading everyone through exercises designed to help them reacclimate to playing loud enough to be heard over a raucous parade crowd, while moving their feet in sync.

Nashville In Harmony band member Jayvon Treadway, center; photo credit: LaTonya Turner

He also selected three recognizable pop numbers for them to learn, one a peak disco-era ABBA number, another a blockbuster of early 2010s, electropop from Lady Gaga, and the third a theatrical piece from the 2017 film musical “The Greatest Showman.”

“Of course, I wanted things that I thought were in theme in some way,” says Campos. “But I also wanted to pick music that I thought people would enjoy of all backgrounds and ages. So ‘Born This Way’ felt pretty modern, and ‘Dancing Queen,’ I thought people who might be older in the group will also really like it. I feel attached to it because I just love ‘Mamma Mia!’ And then ‘This Is Me,’ the tune itself stands for being yourself. That is what Pride is.”

Snare drummer Jayvon Treadway applies that sentiment to the whole Pride band experience: “I enjoy just the getting together, making music aspect of it. That’s always the number one thing. They’re focused much more [on] inclusion. I just appreciate how this ensemble allows members to be themselves, in their most authentic selves, while doing stuff that we love, making music because it’s not always appreciated in a time, you know, like now.” 

Nashville In Harmony Pride Band rehearsing outdoors; photo credit: Jewly Hight

Even though getting the band going this year was a matter of the right partners stepping forward, Campos also sees significance in the timing, given how much of the legislation targeting LGBTQIA+ people in 2023 plays on fears of difference.

“What I hope people will get from seeing our band at the parade is marching band is a staple of patriotic America,” he says. “I know that sounds cheesy, but people like to think that people who are in our community, whether they’re queer or trans or anything, are not patriotic. They also assume that we haven’t always been here, that we haven’t been in the military and we haven’t had a presence. It’s good for people to see that these things are not separate.”