March on Washington: Norwich band ready to play for presidentNorwich University Photo
The Norwich University Regimental Band will travel to Washington, D.C., next weekend to represent Vermont in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade Jan. 21.
Most college students back from Christmas break are anything but eager to step into line. Then again, most don’t play in the Norwich University Regimental Band, set to return to the central Vermont campus Monday, only to board buses next weekend to represent the state at President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade Jan. 21.
Think back to what you’ve done since Dec. 19 and you may recall last-minute shopping or a long winter’s nap. But in the month since the Norwich band received its invitation to march down Washington, D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, it has booked two buses, readied three songs, raised $40,000 and scheduled its departure for Saturday at 5 a.m.
What’s its secret? The 55-member Northfield-based unit points to both precedent and practice.
The oldest collegiate band in the country, the Regimental Band — founded in 1823 — has traveled to the inaugurations of presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
A record 2,800 groups applied for entrance in this year’s parade, which will feature one unit from each of the 50 states. Norwich submitted a performance video and required letter of recommendation from a government officeholder — in its case, from Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Although the university boasts the long history of its band — formed four years after the founding of the country’s first private military college in 1819 — and its presidential performances, neither its current director, Lt. Col. Todd Edwards, nor any of its student musicians has played at an inauguration.
“There’s no music major here at Norwich,” Edwards says. “We have band students in architecture, criminal justice, engineering, English, history, math, nursing — probably all of the 30-plus majors we have at the university — who are doing this because they love it.”
Edwards first contemplated submitting a parade application last summer and compiled it before the election last fall. The band had to send members’ names, birth dates and Social Security numbers to the Secret Service, as well as raise travel money with the help of the university and its alumni.
“We proceeded as if we were going to get invited,” Edwards says.
The band will depart Saturday before dawn and arrive at the nation’s capital after dusk.
“My students are masters are fitting themselves and a full set of equipment into two buses.”
That said, they’ll sleep four to a room at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md.
Although students won’t perform until after Obama’s noon oath-taking ceremony — scheduled for Jan. 21 so not to land on a Sunday — they’ll wake early that morning for security screening at the Pentagon before lining up near the U.S. Capitol. The band, slotted in the fourth of five divisions, will march the 1.6-mile route before reaching the president’s reviewing stand at the White House.
“They are quite particular that you’re not supposed to stop,” Edwards says.
Staring is also discouraged. Instead, the band’s director and drum major will salute the commander in chief as students — eyes on the street — and play the “National Emblem March,” composed a century ago by Vermonter E.E. Bagley. Then it’s back to 4-H bunk beds for a good night’s sleep before heading home the next day.
The 57th inaugural parade, a staple since George Washington’s 1789 swearing-in, usually kicks off between 2 and 2:30 p.m. C-SPAN is promising live commercial-free coverage, with most other television networks set to mix periodic glimpses with political commentary.
It’s not the only potential for interruption. Winter weather is known for freezing fingers, lips, and brass and wind instruments — as well as canceling the parade when Norwich traveled there to perform in 1985. The band, however, is well rehearsed on all fronts.
“We’re from Vermont, so we’re used to snow and cold,” Edwards says. “We’re more than honored to represent the state and university in front of a national audience. Even though the school has done it before, we don’t take it for granted. We’re going to put our best foot forward.”
Norwich Goes to Washington
Jan. 21, 1961: Band and 90-man unit march for John F. Kennedy
Jan. 20, 1969: Band and unit march for Richard Nixon
Jan. 20, 1977: Band, color guard, regimental staff, drill team and banner carriers (100 total) march for Jimmy Carter
Jan. 21, 1985: Band and unit invited to march for Ronald Reagan (parade canceled by subzero cold)
Jan. 20, 1989: Band, regimental staff and color guard march for George H.W. Bush
Jan. 20, 2005: Band marches for George W. Bush
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