The former Lord Mayor of the city of Westminster in London, Catherine Longworth (in ceremonial red cloak), visited campus on November 14, 2016, to officially invite the Marching 97 to perform. Marching 97 student manager Rob Hillman ’17 holds the invitation and is surrounded by enthusiastic band members. Robert Bone, London parade and festival founder and director (in tie), said about the group, “They are really going to thrill the crowds in England. I am sure of it.”
First formed more than 100 years ago, the Marching 97 has had an abundance of performance opportunities throughout its history, including playing at Carnegie Hall, the New York World’s Fair, and Yankee Stadium.
Now, “the finest band east of all points west” – as it was once dubbed by a Harvard newspaper – has been invited to perform on its biggest stage yet – London’s 2018 New Year’s Day parade and festival, which will be broadcast by 550 television stations to hundreds of millions of viewers all over the world. According to visitlondon.com, the parade attracts more than 650,000 spectators who line the streets from Piccadilly Circus to Parliament Square.
“The members of the band get to add another jewel to the crown by performing in London,” said Al Neumeyer, adjunct professor of music who has been serving as the band’s faculty director since 1993.
While in London, the band will also play at a gala concert and learn about the historic city through a series of educational tours. This is a wonderful opportunity for the band that has a long reputation of bringing its high spirit and good-natured hijinks wherever it goes.
The Marching 97 was officially invited to participate in the parade by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Catherine Longworth, at an on-campus ceremony held November 14 at the President’s house. Marching bands from the United States are specifically chosen for their excellence and spirit.
“The band has a reputation for its outstanding performance abilities,” the Lord Mayor said, adding that she takes great pleasure in inviting the student-run group to perform in the more than three-hour parade.
One could argue there is no other single entity on campus that better embodies the Lehigh spirit than the Marching 97. Be it by spending countless hours every week at rehearsal, traveling long distances to cheer on Lehigh sports teams, or performing at recruitment events to get prospective students excited about South Mountain, the band has proven to be a dedicated and passionate staple of the campus community.
“This offer is unlike anything the Marching 97 has ever done before,” said Rob Hillman, the band’s manager. “The opportunity to display our pride for Lehigh and our musical expertise is an amazing opportunity for us as students and musicians.”
An Abroad Opportunity
The Marching 97 includes undergraduate and graduate students from the arts and sciences, business and economics, and engineering colleges, many of whom are very active in the Lehigh community. Their busy schedules can make it difficult for these students to squeeze a study abroad experience into their time at Lehigh.
During the invitation ceremony, the Lord Mayor asked the band how many of them had ever traveled to London and very few students raised their hands. This opportunity may be their only chance at incorporating an international experience into their curriculum, and the benefits of such a trip are undeniable. Students who travel abroad increase their intellectual and social engagement and gain global competencies that will serve them in their future careers.
Band member Veronica McKinney ’18 traveled to Japan last summer as part of the Lee Iacocca International Internship Program.
“The impact of the cultural experiences and personal growth that come with international travel cannot be overstated,” McKinny said, “especially when that travel includes somethings so personal as participating in an important cultural event.”
McKinny was also fortunate enough to perform in the 2011 London New Year’s Day Parade with her high school band.
“I have performed in many interesting places – Japan, Yankee Stadium, the Lincoln Memorial, to name a few – but marching in London was unrivaled,” she said. “To be allowed to add to the culture of such a historic city through musical performance with the city’s people is something that promotes growth, increases passion, heightens drive, and creates lifelong memories.”
Daniel Beadle ’18, the band’s publicity manager, also attested to the value of an international experience. He visited Prague last summer through a Lehigh study abroad program and spoke highly of the value of being immersed in such a historically and culturally rich experience.
A Learning Experience
The educational experience of such a trip begins long before the band members step off the plane in London. To prepare for a performance on such a grand scale, the entirety of the 97 must come together to help organize the trip and plan the logistics – not to mention write the show and rehearse the music.
“The executive board of the Marching 97 will have a busy year, collaborating with the university and our hosts in London to come up with a travel itinerary that includes many opportunities while in England,” Hillman said. “We want to create an exciting trip for the band while also including the fans and alumni of Lehigh in Europe that could reconnect with Lehigh by seeing us perform.”
When they’re not performing throughout the city, the students will also have the opportunity to explore London and learn about its rich history.
‘We have been offered many learning opportunities including historic tours and chances to see all kinds of landmarks and performances,” Hillman said. “It would be nice to also include some time for students to experience the city for themselves, walk around it and enjoy this travel abroad experience in their own way that can make it unforgettable for everyone.”
— Photo by Samuel Henry ’20, The Brown and White