WASHINGTON (July 4) — Rain fell on the nation’s 240th birthday in the nation’s capital. But before the downpour, marching bands, fife and drum corps, floats, military and specialty units, motorcycle riders, and honor guards marched down Constitution Avenue in the National Independence Day Parade.
The first marching band in the parade was from Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, under the direction of Ron Fiorito and led down the street by drum majors Melina Papadakis and Mary Daniels. Band members found out they would be marching in the parade during a November assembly at the high school featuring Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who had written a letter of recommendation on the band’s behalf.
“Once you hear your senator say, even if it’s just in a video, that you’re going to be marching in the Fourth of July parade for your nation, you get really excited,” Ms Papadakis said.
Out of about 105 students in next year’s marching band, 68 came to Washington. Some who didn’t are rising freshmen who had just been to Washington for an eighth-grade trip, some may have had scheduling conflicts with other activities, and some may have been unable to raise the money—$766 per student—in time. But those who came, in addition to entertaining the crowds in one of the country’s most spectacular Fourth of July parades, enjoyed this historic place: They paid respects in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, dined at Georgetown University, and rocked at an evening concert.
Elizabeth McDaniel is one of about half a dozen band members who graduated a month ago but stayed with the band for this final performance. She took this one last opportunity to march with fellow band members, to share with friends the experience of being on the receiving end of applause and on the giving end of performance excellence, before going off to the University of Illinois at Urbana to pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry.
“I’m very excited, and I just love the school,” she said about starting at Illinois in a few weeks, referring to the many times she has been on the Champaign-Urbana campus, particularly when the band competed in the Marching Illini invitational festival. “For example, my junior year, we did this show that was like Alice in Wonderland. It was called ‘Insanity of an Imaginary World.’ They made me one of the characters, and I got to twirl [baton] during that show. It was really fun.”
While she’s working in a chem lab—finding her way in the deluge of college coursework that falls upon freshmen at a Big 10 flagship a lot harder than today’s rain fell on this historic city—band members who didn’t graduate earlier this year will be sharpening their field show, to be performed at home football games and at other venues that will provide important feedback from judges in the fall.
“It’s really the most visible part of our fine arts program,” Mr Fiorito said of the marching band. As at many schools, because the marching band plays during halftime at football games and acts as an ambassador for the school at sites like Washington, this marching band here today may in fact be the only fine arts program many people ever see from Elk Grove High School. As a result, people outside the education field tend to associate the quality of a school’s fine arts offerings more closely with the quality of the marching band than any other ensemble.
The field show this fall is entitled “The Coven,” and it’s based on the three witches in Macbeth. Ms Daniels, who also plays trumpet in one of the school’s orchestras, described it as “spooky,” as she gets herself ready to work with the band in the fall.
The music is very eerie and creepy. There’s a lot of very difficult parts in it, but we’re going to be able to play it really well. That’s what Melina and I work on for the entire fall season—being able to conduct that, helping the band with their music, leading the band. We’re going to be working towards three competitions.
“There’s a lot of stress involved,” added Kelly Rogers about those competitions. She’s the leader of the band’s clarinet section and one of two drum majors for the pre-game show. “We have to get freshmen ready for the first competition, and it’s a lot of stress as we’re waiting to find out if we’re going to win any awards. There’s all this tension—Who’s going to get first?—but you just know, coming off the field, that you’ve done your best show so far.”
Mr Fiorito has tried a few new tricks with the field show in his 11 years and counting as director at Elk Grove. Last year, he pulled his two drum majors off the podium for an entire section of the show, letting them play. “If I could get away with having no drum majors conducting, I would do that,” he said. “Last year I turned them into soloists. My philosophy is, I have a hard time taking my best musicians off the field and letting them conduct.”