For Regimental Band, a parade to remember

On Jan. 21 Norwich’s Regimental Band marched down Pennsylvania Avenue for the 57th Inaugural Parade after being honored for the seventh time to represent the university and the state of Vermont.

 “We started preparing for this back in September,” said Lt. Col. Todd Edwards, director of the band and provisional battalion assistant commandant. Being chosen to perform for the President of the United States was no easy process.

The electronic application package included video, recordings, and several photos of the band along with a letter of recommendation from Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. As students left for winter break, Edwards was notified of their acceptance.

Norwich University Regimental Band marches for President Barrack Obama (Associated Press Photo)

Norwich University Regimental Band marches for President Barrack Obama (Associated Press Photo)

After reviewing over 2,800 applications, a designated panel of White House personnel and senior congressional leaders selected the Norwich Regimental Band as one of the 28 bands invited to attend the parade.

“I emailed Col. Holden, Gen. Vanecek, and the president, and then also sent emails out to the band commander and the band first sergeant,” Edwards said, “And the word spread from there.”

This year marked eight years since the last time the band marched in Washington D.C.  Their last performance in the nation’s capitol was in 2005, when Norwich was invited to honor President George H. Bush. The tradition of NU’s presence began 52 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961.

On performance day, the band left their hotel at 8:15 a.m. to start marching at 5:30 p.m. Fortunately for students familiar with Northfield winter weather, they were treated to a comparatively warm day of 40 degrees.

“The initial security check was at the Pentagon,” Edwards said. “We were at the parking lots for about two to three hours and then we went by police motorcade down at the National Mall and waited a little bit more on the bus.” Once finally off the bus, the band waited another three hours outside for their turn to step off.

The experience was surreal for Scott Zerull, an18-year-old freshman history major from Winchester, Va. Zerull plays the snare drum for the marching band and had a GoPro video camera mounted onto his harness to record this event from a unique perspective.

“When you’re marching, you’re focused. Going back and being able to see some of the video was cool,” Zerull said, “seeing how many people you passed and seeing their reaction.”

In preparation for the parade, the band had to select three tunes to play for the event. They played “Washington Post,” “Bravura” and “National Emblem,” which was played when passing the reviewing stand. This piece was played for President Obama because it was composed by E.E. Bagley, a native Vermonter.

The band’s drum major admitted to experiencing nervousness among the hundred-thousands of Americans that showed up to watch the parade.

“I don’t really get nervous, then as soon as you turn the corner, there’s the White House and the president,” said Kurt Franke, a 22-year-old senior mechanical engineering major from Springfield, Va.

While passing in front of President Obama’s glass reviewing stand, the band was able to render a salute, the formal military greeting. “It was a great honor,” Edwards said.

“It’s always an honor to salute higher-ranking superiors.” he said. “It doesn’t get any higher than the President of the United States. He was talking to someone, realized that the band was there, saw us saluting, and returned the salute.”

The Director of the Sullivan Museum and History Center, Sarah Henrich, noted being in the parade is part of a long history. “(It is) a pretty important fame to claim (that) they are the first collegiate band in the nation,” she said.

Henrich reported that in 1888, 50 percent of the students participated in the band. “That says a great deal about the importance of the band to the university,” she said.

Kept in the archives, a 1960 Norwich Guidon issue printed part of a letter sent to President Harmon from Vermont Gov. F. Ray Keyser referring to the band’s first march down Pennsylvania Avenue: “Vermont’s never-wavering faith in Norwich University has been reinforced on the basis of the outstanding performance by the contingent of cadets that participated in the inaugural ceremonies in Washington.”

Not only was the band representing Norwich, but they were “selected to represent Vermont,” said the vice president of student affairs, Brig. Gen. Frank Vanecek.

The fact that this tradition continues asserts Norwich’s reputation as an institution, he said. “If we were always turned down, I’d be worried.”

The band received about 15-20 seconds of national air coverage. “Everyone in America that was watching the parade at that moment got to see Norwich University,” Edwards said.

Minutes after he boarded the bus, Edwards received a congratulatory email from Col. Jim Bennett, the last band director who led the Norwich contingent down Pennsylvania Avenue in 2005.

Edwards simply replied, “Just trying to keep up the tradition.”

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