Band manager Rob Hillman ’17, right, accepts an invitation from Lord Mayor Catherine Longworth for the Marching 97 to perform in 2018 London New Year’s Day Parade on Nov 14. The parade has been running since 1987 and attracts millions of spectators all over the world. (Samuel Henry/B&W Staff)

Marching across the pond: Lehigh band invited to perform in London New Year’s Day Parade

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Lehigh’s Marching 97 performed for the Lord Mayor of Westminster as part of the band’s official invitation to the 2018 London New Year’s Day Parade.

Lord Mayor Catherine Longsworth, alongside parade committee members Joe Bone, Bill Northern and Robert Bone, met with the band at the president’s house Monday as part of their trip to officially invite bands from the U.S. to play in the parade.

“In the past, we’ve played at Carnegie Hall,” said Daniel Beadle, ‘18, the Marching 97’s publicity manager. “I think we’ve played at a couple bowl games, but that was a long time ago. This is huge.”

The Marching 97 is a student-run organization led by a 12-member executive board and advised by music professor Al Neumeyer.

Beadle said the band was not expecting the invitation to perform in a parade watched by 300 million people around the world. The board found out about the invitation two weeks before the start of the semester.

“We were selected by the London New Year’s Day Parade Association,” Rob Hillman, ‘17, said. “This is sort of the important part to know: There’s no application process. They heard about us, or looked us up and said, ‘Hey, we want to invite them.’ No friends, fans or alumni did anything to promote us to them.”

Band historian Rachel Swope, ‘19, said she thinks the band was selected because of its spirit.

“Somebody out there must’ve noticed us, and I think we’re just a pretty unique brand of school spirit,” Swope said. “I think it’s going to be a really awesome opportunity for us to go across the ocean for the first time.”

The London New Year’s Day Parade first took place in 1987 and has become the largest New Year’s parade in the world. About 650,000 spectators gather along the 2-mile parade route to watch roughly 8,500 people march in the parade.

All of London’s boroughs are represented, as well as 20 different countries.

“The stars of the show are the marching bands from the USA,” Robert Bone said. “Except for a very, very small segment of the audience — the uneducated British male — who are very keen on the cheerleaders.”

During their week-long trip, the band will also be performing symphonic pieces at a gala concert held at one of three historic locations in the city that have yet to be determined. Hillman said they will also be performing at a promotional event for Lehigh.

The band will spend the next two semesters fundraising for the trip. Hillman said between travel, rooms, food and instrument care, the total cost will be around $310,000. Funding the trip will be one of the largest fundraising efforts any Lehigh student organization has ever had to do.

“I’ve been told that for the time frame we have to do it, some people think it’s unreasonable,” Hillman said. “I’ve been working with the university and a lot of really optimistic people, including President (John) Simon, who are all on board with this.”

Because the parade is more than a year away, most senior band members — including five exec board members, who are heavily involved in planning the trip — will have graduated.

“I think as a whole, they’re really excited about it,” Swope said. “I would guess it’s hard for the seniors, since they might not get the chance to be involved in this.”

As a way to get those seniors involved, Hillman said the band is looking at the possibility of inviting members back to travel with them and possibly perform in the parade.

“I’m excited to give the band members themselves an opportunity to go abroad with this group,” Hillman said. “The fact that 96 of my best friends are going to be able to travel to London together is really an incredible opportunity for everybody, and I’m really happy that I get to be a part of it.”

The band is in the process of planning the specifics of the trip, including selecting songs to perform and working out the logistics of traveling to London. Beadle said once the new exec board is elected in January, it will take over much of the planning.

Beadle said the current junior members of the band performed at Yankee Stadium during their freshman year and will get to end their Marching 97 careers by performing in London.

“Start with the 150th in Yankee Stadium, end with the London New Year’s Day Parade,” Beadle said. “Man, life is good.”

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