Lafayette Band prepares for trip to Tournament of Roses Parade

November 28, 2012

Saxophone players, left to right, Jacob Slone, Nick Michl, Horace Hunter Jr., Clinton Hamilton, Chase Harberson and Jonathan Greene rehearse making a 110-degree turn on the route of the Tournament of Roses Parade. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Lafayette High School Band members, parents and staff usually can catch their breath this time of year, between the end of marching band competition and the start of concert band season.

Not this time.

The band, whose championship tradition goes back more than half a century, is preparing for its biggest, longest and most complicated trip ever: to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

Lafayette, which has twice been the featured band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, is the first Lexington band to be chosen for the Tournament of Roses. Lafayette was selected in October 2011 in its third application over the past eight years, said Chuck Smith, the director since 1996.

As part of the application, uniformed band members met at the school one Saturday morning in April 2011 to make a video of them marching a flawless 110- degree turn. Television cameras show each band making a turn like that onto Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

“We try to find opportunities that are unique for our students,” Smith said. “And this will be an action-packed adventure.”

The band’s large instruments and equipment will leave for California by truck on Dec. 21. Seven days later, the band’s 212 members, plus about 500 parents and fans, will fly out for the seven-day, six-night trip.

“There are a lot of logistics,” Smith said. “It has been quite a process, and I have had a lot of help. It truly has been a group effort.”

Mellophone players McKenxzy Boateng, left, and Michael Railey rehearse with the Lafayette High School Marching Band.

Lafayette will be one of a dozen high school bands from around the country in the parade. The band also will appear Dec. 30 in the Tournament of Roses Bandfest, performing the field show that won Lafayette its 17th state championship this year.

After a modest New Year’s Eve celebration on “Kentucky time” — 9 p.m. California time — it will be lights out until 3 a.m., when band members must rise to make the hour-long trip from their hotel in Anaheim to Pasadena to line up for the parade.

While in California, band members will get to go to Disneyland, visit Universal Studios, tour Hollywood, play on a Pacific Ocean beach and have dinner aboard the Queen Mary steamship, now a hotel docked at Long Beach.

“It’s going to be a really memorable, life-changing trip for many of these kids,” said Joey Maggard, who with his wife, Sara, was president of the band parents’ group last year and stayed on after their son’s graduation to coordinate this trip. “For some of them, it will be the first time they’ve ever been on an airplane.”

Until they leave for California, band members will be practicing that 110-degree turn and building up stamina for the 5.5-mile parade, which is twice as long as the Macy’s parade. Smith said the students will march many miles around the school’s track over the next four weeks.

The band will play My Old Kentucky Home during the parade, the 1981 Journey hit Don’t Stop Believin’ and John Philip Sousa’s U.S. Field Artillery March, which includes Lafayette’s school fight song.

You can get a preview of the performance on the evening of Dec. 6, when Lafayette marches in the annual Lexington Christmas Parade downtown.

Lafayette’s band parents organization has raised money all year to help reduce students’ $1,525 all-inclusive trip fee, and to cover part or all of the cost for students whose families can’t afford to send them.

Beth Potter, who with her husband, Jack, is president of the parents’ group this year, said the band has received cash and in-kind donations from business sponsors and residents who contacted them after hearing about the trip. Donations are still being accepted on the band’s website, Lafayetteband.org.

“We couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Potter said. “It has been a huge group effort from a committed group of parents and kids who will be mighty proud on New Year’s Day.”

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Marching band about more than winning contests

October 31, 2008

I’m attending the state high school marching band championships Saturday in Louisville, so I thought I would get ready by stopping by a Lafayette Band rehearsal earlier this week.

It didn’t take long to feel as if I were in a time warp. It was a cold, crisp afternoon, and the setting sun cast long shadows across the school’s blacktop practice field where I had spent countless hours as a teenager.

The equipment, drill and music were more sophisticated than I remembered. The show featured themes from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen and Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. What looked familiar was the sight of 200 teenagers intensely focused on achieving perfection.

Like a handful of other states — Texas, Indiana and Georgia, among them — Kentucky has long had some of the nation’s best high school marching bands. Lafayette has been a dominant player for decades, and it gave birth to its strongest rival, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

When Dunbar opened in 1990, its district was carved from Lafayette territory. Many Dunbar band parents are Lafayette alumni, and the band’s first director was my Lafayette classmate Craig Cornish. (He is now the director at Middle Tennessee State University, whose 300-member band rocked Commonwealth Stadium during the Sept. 13 halftime show.) For the past dozen years, Dunbar’s program has thrived under director Jeff Hood.

Since 1990, the state championship trophy for the largest high schools has gone either to Lafayette (13 times) or Dunbar (five times). Among their competitors Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium will be Lexington’s Tates Creek and Bryan Station. Lexington Christian Academy is competing in the smallest-school category.

Kentucky schools of all sizes have had a tradition of excellent marching bands — Adair, Clark, Harrison and Bourbon counties among them. Why is that? “There was a perfect storm of some really great teachers who set high standards and expectations,” said Charles M. Smith, Lafayette’s director for the past 13 years.

Lafayette’s dynasty began in the 1960s with Walter Hall and then Leslie Anderson, who went on to build Tates Creek’s band. J. Larry Moore laid the foundation of success in modern drum and bugle corps-style shows that was built upon by his son, Steve Moore (now director at Colorado State University), Pat Dunnigan (now director at Florida State University), Smith and his longtime assistant, Terry Magee.

“And, of course, the parents are the ones who really make the program go,” Smith said. “They raise the money and provide so much support. We couldn’t do it without them.”

To understand the significance of marching band competitions, you must understand this: While it’s about music, and it’s about winning, it’s not really about either.

“Band, more than anything, teaches you to be a self-starter,” said Larry Moore, the former Lafayette director who remains one of the most inspirational people in my life.

“It teaches teamwork, sacrifice, the discipline of cooperation and responsibility,” he said. “I used to say that, if you missed English class, you hurt yourself; if you missed band, you hurt everybody.”

Moore’s former students are now his doctor, dentist and accountant. “All you have to do is look around our community and see how many people have prospered because of the self-discipline they learned in band,” he said.

While every band wants to win first prize, Smith points out that contest judging is inherently subjective.

On the tall, metal tower beside Lafayette’s practice field that gives Smith a judge’s-eye view of rehearsals, there’s a big sign: “It’s easier to be better than somebody else than to be the best we can be.”

Students memorize music and complex drills and hone them to perfection over months of daily practice. That teamwork forms bonds that often last a lifetime. Success provides a shared sense of accomplishment that’s hard for outsiders to fully appreciate.

As I was shooting pictures during Lafayette’s rehearsal, I heard someone call my name. I turned around, and before I could make out the backlit figure walking toward me, I knew it was David Cole. I’ve seen him maybe three or four times since we graduated from Lafayette 32 years ago.

“You only recognized my voice because we’re here,” he laughed. “Anywhere else ….”

David said he had done volunteer audio-visual work for the band for years, and that both of his daughters had been band members. The younger one graduated last June. “I can’t stop coming back,” he said.

We talked for a few minutes about how marching band had influenced our lives, and the lives of his daughters. We searched for words to adequately explain it.

“Just say this,” he said as we parted. “It’s a way of life.”