Vermont band heads to Inaugural

01/19/09 5:30PM By Susan Keese
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(Host) The single most attended event this week in Washington is likely to be the Inauguration Day parade.

Among the floats and honor guards parading past the new president and vice president will be the Brattleboro Union High School Marching Band.

VPR's Susan Keese has more.

(Rice) "All right, here we go, detail ...hutt...."

(Keese) It's a frigid morning in Brattleboro - cold enough to freeze the valves and slides on the trumpets and trombones.

But the Brattleboro Union High School Band is drumming and drilling in lock-step precision down a residential street.

(Steve Rice) "Taking a right corner coming up."

(Keese) Band Director Steve Rice says it won't be this cold when they march down Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday afternoon.

But even if it were, these kids would probably find a way to play their instruments anyway.

(Rice) "Okay, let's go in..."

(Katie Cohen) "I think to say we're excited is a definite understatement."

(Keese) That's Katie Cohen plays the flute. And Brendan Shippee has to carry a 25-pound sousaphone - that's a marching tuba - the mile and a half from the capitol to the white house.

(Shippee) "I would never have dreamed of getting this opportunity at all. So I think that overcomes the weight."

(Keese) Trombonist Riley Goodemote is excited to play Vermonter E.E. Bagley's National Emblem March in front of millions of people.

(Goodemote) "The low brass gets this awesome bom-bupbombadom..."

(Keese) Brattleboro is the only band, and the only high school, representing Vermont in the parade. Band Director Rice isn't sure who applied for the honor. He says every state will be represented.

(Rice) "But it doesn't necessarily have to be a band. It could be an equestrian unit or it could be a float or some other type of marching unit."

(Keese) Rice has led the BUHS music department for 22 years. He says the marching band has always had a reputation for excellence. It's performed at two Cherry blossom Festivals and once at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

(Rice) "For many years I had entertained the idea of having a band apply to be in an inaugural parade. And at some point this year I said to myself that this was probably going to be a very historically significant election and if there was ever a time that I was going to do this it would be this year."

(Keese) Early this fall he asked his students if they were willing to commit to a huge amount of work, and he says they've come through on that score. They had to apply to the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. Rice compares the process to a college application, complete with audio and video.

Once they'd been accepted, fundraising for the band became a cause célèbre in Brattleboro and all over Vermont. The kids have sold everything from grapefruit to frozen dinners. There've been two major benefit concerts and a special day at a local fast food restaurant dedicated to raising enough to send 93 people to Washington D.C.

The students seem proud that that number includes members of the school's diversity awareness group and its anti-sweatshop coalition.
Brendan Shippee:

(Shippee) "That says a great big thing about what our community stands for and how, even though we're small we're still going to go out there and try our hardest to get stuff done."

(Keese) Shippee says he'd carry his sousaphone 10 miles to make that point at this moment in history.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese in Brattleboro.

(We Shall Overcome plays and fades...)

Photo: Deborah Lazar
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