Billed as “The World’s Largest Alumni Band,” 643 alumni of West Genesee High School in Camillus, New York, gathered for the local Memorial Day parade to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. Together with the current high school and middle school bands, more than 1,000 performers filled the street playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The length of the band stretched almost a quarter mile.
“It was a spectacle; it was stunning. There’s really no other way to describe it,” says Bill Davern, West Genesee High School director of fine arts, its former band director and an alumnus. “Even people that had nothing to do with any of the bands had tears in their eyes because it was just so incredible to see that many people come back to relive a mutual experience.”
For Davern, marching with his two sons who had gone through the award-winning program was the best part of the event. More than 40 pairings of parents and students participated.
“We always call the marching band the biggest family you’re ever going to have, so I think the showing of alumni just sings volumes to that mantra,” Davern says.
Since 1981, the West Genesee High School Band has held a reunion every five years. This year the Memorial Day weekend event included two days of rehearsals for the alumni, a golf tournament, a gathering at an alumni-owned bar and restaurant with band memorabilia, and a “Memories Dinner” with dancing on an ice rink attended by more than 500 people.
“The community for 50 years has really rallied around the marching and music program at West Genesee,” Davern says. “The well over-capacity crowd at the parade I think was just evidence of the support that we have in our little suburb of Syracuse for the marching band and the entire music program.”
The high school band lined the street at the end of the parade as the alumni marched through. According to Davern, the volume of sound and the quality of their marching amazed current members.
“I often tell the kids that, ‘You don’t realize what you’re a part of, but you will,’” Davern says. “They were pretty awed by the whole experience.”