MOORE — American marching bands are apparently quite popular in London — popular enough that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth sent delegates to invite the Southmoore High School band to march in London’s annual New Year’s Day Parade 2016.
North American marching bands from high schools and colleges are the beating heart of the parade, according to Executive Parade Director Bob Bone, who entertained band members, teachers, city officials, parents and other guests with a slice of keen British wit at an assembly Wednesday at Southmoore.
Bone and the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Greater London the Honorable Roger Bramble, along with Jonathan Whaley, senior director of international participation, presented the formal parade invitation and token gifts during the ceremony.
“You (marching bands) are the favorite thing of virtually everybody,” Bone said, then qualified that the parade also has American cheerleaders, which the “young males of London greatly appreciate.”
The Southmoore band played the “Star Spangled Banner” for the visiting dignitaries and then played a short clip of “Unchained Melody” and the school fight song.
During the visit to London in 2016, the band will have the opportunity to play a number of concerts in the London area and then march and play in the parade. For most, it is a life-changing event, Bone said.
“We have 8,500 participants drawn from 20 countries around the world,” Bone said.
Bone compared the parade to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which has 4,500 participants.
The London Street audience tops 700,000, he said, with all of those people crowded along narrow, historic streets dating back 1,000 years.
“It’s quite something,” Bone said.
Additionally, the parade is broadcast to a worldwide television audience. The parade had 280 million TV viewers this year.
“Music is my greatest passion,” said Bramble, who is also the parade’s founder. “I am deeply envious of you kids who get to play together.”
Along with the invitation to march in the parade, Bramble presented cuff links and paperweights to school officials.
“These kids have never been to London,” Southmoore band director Adam Mewhorter said. “Band kids are the hardest working kids on campus.”
Mewhorter said band students come early to practice before school and stay after school, then come in on Saturdays. It’s been a tougher year than most because of the tornado, Mewhorter said.
Traveling on a bus with the band is a very noisy affair, he said, but when the bus drives through a tornado-devastated area, the kids fall silent.
“Band has been a relief,” Mewhorter said. “It gets them away from the devastation.”
The May 20 tornado came very close to Southmoore High School and wiped out local neighborhoods.
Because Moore was hit so hard by the tornado, parade organizers decided to invite Southmoore to march in the 2016 parade rather than in the 2015 parade, as was originally intended. That will give the school two years to raise the $3,500 per student to pay for the trip.
Mewhorter has 209 band students this year, grown from 89 band members at Southmoore’s inception six years ago. Southmoore is the newest of Moore’s three high school campuses.
By the time the band marches in the parade, Mewhorter hopes for 250 members. Students said they will be washing cars, waiting on tables at local restaurants, selling candy and beef jerky, and hosting numerous other fundraisers to earn money for the trip.
Band organizers also presented four scholarships to assist students with great financial need.
“We’re proud of our kids,” Mewhorter said. “If the kids don’t work hard, we’ve got nothing.”
Bone said only the best high schools are invited to perform in the parade.
“They sought us out,” Mewhorter said.