In mid-December, as students at the University of Maryland prepared to leave campus for winter break, marching band director L. Richmond Sparks got the call he'd been waiting for. Sparks and the Mighty Sound of Maryland Marching Band had been selected as one of more than 2,800 applicants to perform in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade. Twenty-three marching bands are set to perform in the parade.
“It took a long time to find out we'd been chosen,” Sparks said. “That was the hardest part ... I got to the point where I said, 'Well, maybe they passed us up.'”
But the jury tasked with band selection for the parade apparently had been impressed by the audio and video tapes submitted by Maryland's marching band weeks earlier.
Monday will mark the fourth time in the marching band's 104-year history that the Mighty Sound of Maryland will take part in the Inaugural Parade. The band marched in the 1953 parade for Dwight Eisenhower, the 1960 parade for John F. Kennedy and, most recently, the 1985 parade for Ronald Reagan in which they were led by Sparks, then in his first year at the university.
This year, the band will play “The Washington Post March,” composed in 1889 by John Philip Sousa and now one of the most popular marches in the country.
While Sparks said his students have experience in high-pressure situations, the Inaugural Parade is an environment like no other.
“... We've done a lot of wonderful things,” Sparks said. “Major bowl games, [we've] been on television more than most regular people, done the Macy's Day Parade. [But] this is really one of those things that is for their country.”
While baritone player and section leader Jermaine Fryer said the initial excitement and adrenaline rush musicians get before a home football game typically wears off by the second or third Saturday of the season, he said the parade has everyone excited all over again.
“It feels different because there will be a lot more people,” said Fryer, a sophomore in the university's school of music. “... We want to make the U.S., the state of Maryland, proud.”
Despite the enormous honor of being invited to play the Inaugural Parade, this isn't the first time in recent years that the Maryland marching band has been recognized for its talent. In the fall of 2010, the band won the CBS Television “Hawaii Five-O Marching Band Mania” contest. In an effort to promote its remake of the popular '70s show, CBS asked marching bands from all over the world to upload videos of their bands playing the “Hawaii Five-O” theme song. Maryland's marching band was selected and received a $25,000 prize. The band used the money to buy new uniforms, replacing the ones they'd worn for the last 15 years. The Mighty Sound of Maryland sported the new threads during the 2012 football season and will wear them again Monday.
While the band usually stops practicing in December at the conclusion of the football season, students have been learning and memorizing music at rehearsals this month in preparation for the parade. For senior color guard member Christina deGraft-Johnson, the extended season means more time with her marching band family. And while the prestige of the parade and the rare opportunity to play for the president certainly is something deGraft-Johnson said she looks forward to, the Montgomery County native said she's more excited by the prospect of one last march with her fellow band members.
“Just being able to perform with the band again [is exciting],” deGraft-Johnson said. “My last performance was at the end of December, but I get to perform with the rest of my friends [again].”
Sparks said he views the parade, which will be televised internationally, as another opportunity for his students to prove their talent.
“They've been recognized as being one of the finest bands in the country and this is an opportunity to show why they were chosen,” Sparks said.
“[Sparks] always told us, 'you guys are really making this music sound good,'” added Fryer, a Prince George's County native and graduate of Oxon Hill High School.
“We know we're good, but now it's time to show the world.”