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Iroquois band marches across the country

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CRAZY HORSE, S.D. - The Iroquois Indian Band presented a little of the unexpected for tourists while the band traveled through the northern Plains.

Audiences usually come to the northern Plains to see and hear American Indians from the region perform, dance and tell stories. They aren't accustomed to hearing the traditional brass band music mostly heard at high schools and colleges during parades and sports events; but this time, the music was heard on the deck at Crazy Horse Memorial.

The Iroquois Indian Band, each member dressed in regalia of the various Iroquois Confederacy nations, turned out John Phillip Sousa marches, a little jazz number written by Chuck Mangione and an American Indian-themed piece written for brass band.

Trombones, trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, flutes and percussion instruments make up this American Indian band.

All the regalia, flags and staffs were present, but the music was a little different from the usually expected American Indian singing and drum group.

''We are a little different. Indians don't all play drums and run around in the woods,'' said Neil Patterson Sr., a Tuscarora member.

The band consists of members from each of the tribes that make up the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy: Onondaga, Tuscarora, Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk and Cayuga.

Patterson said the band was organized at the turn of the 20th century. The grandfather of one of the current band members watched wagons go through his reservation and noticed a shiny object: a trombone. From that trombone, the Iroquois Indian Band got its start.

The band has had an on-again/off-again story over the years, but the newest version began a few years ago. The band members are high school students, school teachers and tribal members who retired from professions such as iron workers, school teachers, professionals and others. Now, it's all about the music and fun.

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The students are mostly those who have taken music classes in high school and were encouraged to join the band, but that is not a requirement. All that is needed is to have some type of formal musical training.

''We do this for the love of music,'' Patterson said.

The music that is picked is music that the band can play, he said. There are some American Indian motif pieces written for bands similar to the Iroquois band, but the music is difficult, he said.

The band travels to wherever the money allows them. It takes a lot of money to send a band across the country and many fund raisers are held throughout the year.

''We sell a lot of frybread,'' Patterson said with a smile.

The band plays at parades and in many cases they are paid to play, which is another revenue stream.

Seven years ago, the band traveled through South Dakota, the northern Great Plains and to Crazy Horse Memorial where they performed.

This time around, the band stopped at Crazy Horse Mountain on their way to Cheyenne, Wyo., for Frontier Days, the largest celebration in the West. It's referred to as the ''Daddy of 'Em All.''

The band will participate in three different Frontier Days parades and will mark the band's second trip to Frontier Days, Patterson said.