Ola High band gets royal invitation

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Jason A. Smith


One hundred forty-two students in the marching band at Ola High School have received an invitation of royal proportions.

The band will perform for the queen of England, during the 2012 New Year's Day Parade and Festival, in London. The students received a formal invitation to the event during a ceremony Thursday held at the school.

In addition to ringing in 2012 -- during the parade -- the City of London will celebrate the coming of the 2012 Olympics to the city, and the London Cultural Olympiad.

Todd Manson is one of two band directors at Ola High (Bo Sodders is the other), and has led the band since the school opened in 2006. He said he is excited his students will be able to participate in an event that will be viewed by "tens of millions of people" around the world. "About 700,000 people line the streets every year, to see this parade," Manson said.

The invitation is the high point of an "amazing five years" for his students, he added. "The community has been so supportive of everything that we've ever done. The kids have been absolutely wonderful. For us to be honored in such a way, by going to London, England ... This is an incredibly huge event for these kids. It's something they will remember for a lifetime."

Manson said his students were recommended for the parade by a band director at Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett County, whose group took part in last year's royal event. Parade organizers seek out "competitive" marching bands from across the country, Manson said.

"They look for, at least, one representative [band] from each state, but they don't always get that," he said. "So, it's kind of regional now -- a couple from the Southeast, a couple from the North, a couple from the West."

Ola High School Principal Ross Iddings called the invitation "very significant for the band and for the school. "It's the first thing that our band has done on what appears to be a national or international stage," Iddings said. "This is an invitational performance, which means that they had to submit an audition tape -- video and audio. They have to send in all kinds of supporting documents regarding their finances, regarding community support, which is something that this band has always truly enjoyed."

A former school band director himself, Iddings said he is acutely familiar with the prestigious nature of the parade. The occasion, he said, is "on the same plane" with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Iddings added that the 2012 event will be particularly significant in England, because of what the year will represent for the British people. Queen Elizabeth II will kick off a year-long celebration of her Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne.

Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Greater London Roger Bramble represented the queen when he came to Ola High to hear the school's marching band. He listened to arrangements of two songs before formally inviting the students to participate in the parade. "I'm quite convinced. They are stunningly good," he said. "There are marching bands in other countries, but it is essentially an American activity, and it is absolutely the background for this parade."

Bob Bone, executive director of London's New Year's Day Parade and Festival, accompanied Bramble. The 12 to 13 marching bands that will perform, Bone said, will be part of an event that carries a great deal of significance for the British people. "They're the favorite thing," he said, "with the possible exception of the hundreds and hundreds of cheerleaders that come along, and do their dance routines. The marching bands really are the core and basis of the parade, and what the people come to see."

Angela Bowen, publicity coordinator for the marching band's booster club at Ola High, said the students were notified in May they would be appearing in the event.

"[When] it was announced to the kids ... they just went nuts." Bowen said.

Bowen's 17-year-old daughter, Allison, plays the mellophone. The mother said her daughter is "beyond excited" about performing in the parade.

"Trying to keep her feet on the ground for this event, has been a job," Angela Bowen said. "I can't imagine, as we get closer to the trip, what it's going to be like for her."

She added that the booster club is working to ensure, as many students as possible can make the trip to England. "There's some concern about cost, and how many kids are going to be able to go," she said. "But, we're hoping to do a lot of fund-raising to make it a little bit easier. In these times, it's tough for everybody, but this is a once-in a-lifetime opportunity."