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SHS marching band goes to DC
Group will perform in the National Independence Day Parade
Baritone player Andrew Reaves, 16, and the rest of the Statesboro High School marching band give a sneak preview to parents Thursday as they prepare to march in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to celebrate Independence Day. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Sixty-six members of the Statesboro High School Blue Devil Marching Band and 14 chaperones are scheduled to board two chartered buses tonight for just about the fullest Fourth of July experience imaginable in Washington, D.C. 
        If all goes as planned, band members will lay a wreath Tuesday at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and then cap what would seem a rich enough Fourth on Wednesday by taking in the National Symphony concert and fireworks show on the Capitol lawn.
    But of course, the centerpiece of the trip will be marching and playing in the National Independence Day Parade. Organizers of the parade, which is hosted by the National Park Service, invite high school bands from all the states based on recommendations from governors’ offices and music educators. Statesboro High’s band was one of only two from Georgia invited this year.
    “This is going to be, hopefully, a very heartwarming experience for the kids, something that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, being in our nation’s capital on the Fourth of July, in the center of everything,” new SHS Band Director Lee Collins said. “It’s going to be very impressive.”
    The invitation resulted from efforts of the previous band director, Joe Ferguson, and the Band Boosters. But after Ferguson resigned to move to Seattle, Collins was hired and introduced to the band during the last week of school.
    Taking the band to Washington will now be his first official duty, but he led the students in five June rehearsals to get ready. For the last, at 6 p.m. Thursday, parents gathered in front of the school, whose shadow provided a little shade in the 95-degree heat for a preview of the parade performance.
    “What you do tonight is what you’re going to do Wednesday in Washington,” Collins reminded band members, who then put on their game faces and stand a little straighter.
    The color guard unfurled special flags, purchased for the trip, with a profile of the Statue of Liberty superimposed on the Stars and Stripes. Then the drummers rolled the first cadences, and the band stepped forward more or less in unison.
    The horns came up and the band played “A Matter of the Red, White and Blue,” a miniature medley including snippets from “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the “National Emblem” march and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
    The whole medley lasts less than three minutes. Band members repeated the medley, interspersed with drum cadences, as they marched from near the band room, along the front drive and past the school’s main entrance, and back again, twice. People along the parade route in Washington will see them pass only once, so this is all the music that will be needed, Collins said.
    After the parade starts moving at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Blue Devil Band will repeat this little performance probably once a block through the 10-block route down Constitution Avenue, he said. The route goes past several major museums of the Smithsonian Institution and between the White House and the Washington Monument, in sight of both.
    Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to line the route, according to
    Although much less music is involved than for a fall halftime show, the band has put a lot of effort into correctly learning to march, said Conor Baker, 17 and a rising senior, tenor saxophone player and now band captain for the coming school year.
    “We’ve learned the music and practiced our parade marching because in parades you have to maintain the perfect lines and do turns a certain way around the roads, and you can’t let your lines waiver at all because then it looks unorganized,” Baker explained.
    He has been to Washington before, on a middle school trip with the Quest program for gifted students. But performing in the parade, he said, is an honor and should make for special memories.
    Clarinet section co-leader Annalycia Liston-Beck, 16 and a rising junior, has visited the nation’s capital several times.
    “This is a really big honor to get to go there with the band and perform for the president,” she said. “It’s going to be much more memorable than the other trips.”
    Unlike some of his students, Collins has not visited Washington before. It’s a trip he has always wanted to make, but never before had the opportunity. In March, he accompanied the Tattnall County High School Band to perform in Disney’s Magic Kingdom Parade before capping his tenure as Tattnall director at the 13-year mark.

Bracing for heat
    The most difficult part of preparing for Washington, Collins said, has been making sure that a lot of little details are in place. For example, he confirmed Thursday that the wreath will be at Arlington.
    Providing plenty of coolers and ice for the trip was another of his concerns. Checking forecasts, he found a heat index of 107 degrees predicted for Wednesday in Washington.
    “We’re going to put the kids on a water regimen to keep them hydrated while we’re up there,” Collins said.
    A breeze troubled the gnats and provided a little cooling during the preview march, where band members wore their trip T-shirts and jeans or shorts. But they will put on full uniforms for the parade.
    “Our uniforms are not very cool at all, so we’ll definitely be physically taxed,” Baker said.
Not the full band

    The band going to Washington this week is not exactly the band that Collins hopes to lead this fall. For one thing, those 66 students are barely half the total of about 130 who marched last year. And about 10 of those who will march in Washington actually graduated last month.
    The trip costs $650 per student.
    “It’s a real expensive trip and we had a hard time collecting money for them to go, but we’ve got a lot of the crew here and they’re really excited about going,” said Don Bridges, starting a term as a co-president of the SHS Band Boosters.
    As treasurer last fiscal year, Bridges issued a check for about $53,000 for the overall cost, he said.
    He and the boosters’ new president, Paul Reaves, noted that fundraising work helped reduce the cost per student. This included the sale of more than 1,000 chicken dinners in March and a Rotary Club gift equal to the cost for two students.

Next, uniforms
    “We’ve been working on it for two years now, for this particular trip and at the same time we were working to buy them new uniforms, which we’re not going to have for this trip but we have already picked out our uniforms and they should be here some time in the fall,” Bridges said.
    He noted that it’s the band’s first major trip since performing at the Universal Studios Orlando two years ago. Washington is a step up from that, Bridges said, and boosters now see the ultimate prize as an invitation to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Collins has told them he believes that can be achieved in eight years or less.
    Besides the parade and “A Capitol Fourth” celebration, the Washington trip will include a tour of the Capitol building Thursday and other sightseeing.
    Bridges said the trip has generated a lot of excitement for students such as his son Matthew, 17, a rising senior who plays tuba. Reaves’ son Andrew, 16, will be a junior this term and plays baritone horn.
    “He’s more excited than I’ve ever seen him get. …,” Reaves said. “He’s been talking about it, he practices his horn and he couldn’t get here fast enough to suit him. This is the center of his whole summer.”

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