Since its inception in 1906, the Marching 97 has performed at the New York World’s Fair, Carnegie Hall and stage concerts around the country. Never before, however, has the 97 traveled abroad to march in an event of such magnitude as the London New Year’s Day Parade.
On Dec. 27, 104 band members will fly across the pond for an event that attracts 500,000 spectators to the streets of central London and draws a TV viewership of over 300 million.
One of just two American university marching bands to play in the parade, the 97 will high-step the 2-mile route from Piccadilly Circus to Parliament Square alongside 8,500 performers from around the world.
“What I’m hoping for is more recognition from the university that the Marching 97 can be a great force promoting Lehigh, national and worldwide,” band manager Daniel Beadle, ’18, said.
Beadle said out of the 20 bands expected to attend the parade, the 97 will be the only student-run band present.
Marching bands cannot apply to attend the parade — they must receive an invitation.
Last November, Lord Mayor Catherine Longworth from the City of Westminster, along with three parade committee members, visited Lehigh to officially invite the band to play in the New Year’s Day Parade.
“It was very surprising,” said Joey Rompallo, ’19, the Marching 97’s publicity manager. “We just had no idea that people all the way in London were watching our videos. It’s great to know that people from across the world are watching us and think that we’re fun and want us to bring our fun.”
The band’s trip will span from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, 2018, and include a concert performance on Dec. 29 at Cadogan Hall, a 950-seat venue home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Marching 97 director Darin Lewis, who led Lehigh’s symphonic band in the spring and joined the marching band this semester after the departure of longtime director Albert Neumeyer, said the 97 has been trying to rehearse for the concert and practice for the parade in the midst of its regular season.
Rompallo said the band has transitioned well under Lewis’s new leadership, even with a larger band than in previous years. She said this year, the 97 welcomed 40 first-year students, when typically the band enrolls around 25 members per class.
Lewis, who has participated in 19 international tours with a number of bands, said the 97 has never before experienced anything like the London New Year’s Day Parade.
“There will be thousands of people watching,” Lewis said. “You can’t really describe what that feels like until you’ve done it, so I think they’re going to be blown away when they finally get to experience this in person.”
Lewis said as of this week, the band’s trip is paid in full. The total cost of sending the band abroad came to $309,000.
Ben Landis, one of Lehigh’s major gifts officers, said the band received more than 250 donations worth a total of $200,000. He said oftentimes former band members make donations in increments of $97.
Alumni Robert Haines, ’79, and Nadine Caputo, ’82, together made a substantial gift of $97,000 to support the band’s trip to preform in the parade.
Dwight Stein, ’84, who played saxophone for the marching band during his four years at Lehigh, contributed $48,500, or $500 for each its 97 members.
Landis said the generous donations brought the trip cost down to $1,000 per student, and 27 band members received additional financial assistance.
“Alumni have been massively supportive,” Landis said. “I hope that people who have supported this trip will continue to support the band, whatever their needs are (in the future).”
On Jan. 2, 2018, the band will have a chance to meet some of these alumni at a celebratory event, which is also open to Lehigh parents and supporters.
Beadle said in their free time, band members will have the opportunity to visit Oxford and Windsor, as well as the Greenwich Observatory in London.
While the band is excited for the trip, Lewis said right now, the 97’s primary focus is to prepare for the 153rd Lehigh-Lafayette game.
In fact, Rampallo said the Marching 97’s Eco-Flame tradition, in which the musicians interrupt classes with their fight songs the day before the Le-Laf game, is what attracted the parade committee to invite the band.
After Thanksgiving break, the 97 will have two more weeks of practice before the instruments are shipped to London.
Lewis said the band has received incredible support from the Lehigh administration, alumni and the community.
“We just want to represent ourselves as best we can,” Lewis said. “This could be the start of many new, exciting things for the band.”
Beadle said a certain level of prestige comes with this New Year’s Day Parade performance.
“(The parade) is one of the highest visibility opportunities for the band,” Beadle said. “We’re excited to bring the name and sound of Lehigh to Europe.”