In the 2017 Presidential Inaugural Parade, marching bands performed to celebrate our democracy.
In the United States, when we think of patriotic music, we immediately think of military marches. Tunes such as the “Washington Post,” “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “Hail to the Chief” are immediately familiar to anyone with an interest in American musical history. And what better occasion for some patriotic songs than a presidential inauguration?
Since 1805, the presidential inauguration has traditionally included a parade along 1.5 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue. The 2017 Presidential Inaugural Parade took place on Jan. 20 and consisted of five divisions and included groups from each branch of the military as well as high school and university marching bands from 12 different states. After security checks near the Pentagon, the parade began, going past the White House and the presidential reviewing stand.
A total of 13 different high school and college marching bands participated in the inaugural parade, and several have performed for multiple inaugural parades in the past. For example, the Norwich University Regimental Band and Drill Team, known as the oldest collegiate band in the country, participated in the parade for the eighth time. The band first appeared in the parade in 1961 and has participated in the inaugurations of Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, both Bushes, and Obama.
“Nobody [currently] in the band had ever performed for a presidential inauguration before, so it’s a great honor for them to be able to do that,” says Todd Edwards, director of bands at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. “We were selected for the parade, and we were very honored to be able to represent the school on the national stage.”
On a slightly smaller scale, the 74-member Frankfort High School Marching Band in Ridgeley, West Virginia, has been fortunate enough to be selected for two consecutive inaugural parades, first for President Obama in 2013 and now again in 2017.
“Quite frankly it was a pretty big surprise [to be selected for a second time],” says Roger Walker, band director at Frankfort High School. “When we were selected, we were very excited, and we were very thankful for the opportunity. Their reaction made all the forthcoming work worthwhile. [We] knew that the kids would cherish the experience.”
Selection of the participants began prior to the general election in November. Bands that wished to participate assembled and submitted portfolios of photos and videos of their performances as well as letters of recommendation from their state governments. After the election, the Presidential Inaugural Committee chose the groups for the parade.
“There wasn’t any specific criteria in terms of how a band gets chosen,” Edwards says. “Normally in a college band, there aren’t many opportunities to perform for high dignitaries. But for this type of stage, we were very lucky to be chosen. When we were selected, everyone in the band was ecstatic. It was a great honor, and the chance to go down to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration was a great experience for them.”
As to be expected, the participants prepared a variety of familiar patriotic tunes for the parade. The Norwich University band performed E.E. Bagley’s “National Emblem,” “Americans We” by Henry Fillmore, and the iconic “Washington Post” by John Philip Sousa.
For an extra dose of history, the Frankfort High School band performed a medley of Civil War tunes entitled “Trooper Salute,” which included pieces such as the folk song “Shenandoah,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” by Louis Lambert (a pseudonym for Patrick Gilmore), and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with lyrics by Julia Ward Howe
Besides the parade itself, the Norwich University band performed in a concert on Jan. 21 in Alexandra, Virginia, where they performed a movement of Gustav Holst’s “Second Suite in F for Military Band” as well as part of the soundtrack from the 1985 movie “Silverado.”
Opportunity of A Lifetime
Though several bands have had the honor of participating in multiple inaugural parades, the experience was something completely new for the students. Despite the divided political climate, band members were eager to take the trip to the nation’s capital and march along the National Mall.
Once the bands were selected, rehearsals for the event were underway. Thankfully, participating bands had plenty of prior experience in parades, so the 1.5 miles of the inaugural parade were a simple matter.
“When the band was selected, we were still on winter break, and we couldn’t do much marching rehearsal due to snow,” Edwards says. “We had done all of our practice during the fall with the band and drill team. So we essentially started rehearsing for it in August.”
The Frankfort High School band had a similar experience. “We didn’t have to do much special preparation,” Walker says. “We had already performed in patriotic parades [locally], and everything went smoothly. Once the students got started, they knew it was show time. They played very well, marching very well, and I was very proud of them.”
Along with the parade itself, members of the participating bands were able to spend some time sightseeing in and around Washington, D.C. The Norwich University band was treated to a tour of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery with the U.S. Army Old Guard. The Frankfort High School band was able to meet their state senators as well as take a trip to the Smithsonian Institution.