UDMB and the 56th Presidential Inaugural Parade – A Retrospective

Just when you thought the season had come to a comclusion….the cell phone rings and it is Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s office congratulating the UDMB on being selected to participate in the the 56th Presidential Inaugural Parade!

Between myself and trust digital camera, and UDMB alum and videographer Brent King, the University’s Media Services put together the following podcast of our experience.

UDMB in 56th Presidential Inaugural Parade – podcast

Meanwhile, I promised to write all about the experience so grab a cup of coffee and here we go…..

While sitting in the non-peaceful environment of my home (2 basset hounds and the hour approaching dinner time) my cell phone rang.  This, in and of itself, is nothing out of the ordinary, however the phone screen saying “No Caller ID” was VERY out of the ordinary.  Like most people I rarely answer the phone when I do not recognize the number–far more important things to do in my life compared to being “talked at” by a salesperson or tele-marketer.  But something scratched at the base of my brain that indicated I should answer this particular call.  And it was a very good thing I did.

The gentleman on the phone identified himself as being from Senator Biden’s Office and immediately congratulated me on the acceptance of the University of Delaware Marching Band to the 56th Presidential Inaugural Parade.  Fortunately he was a very patient and understanding individual since my slight scream of delight was joined by the baying of the dogs and he had to endure a couple of “WOW! That’s wonderful, thank you so very much!  Sit down and be quiet! No, it’s not dinner time!”  The poor man probably thought he called the wrong number.

After taking down a couple of phone numbers and beginning an email to the band (we were already finished with the semester and most of the students had departed for the holidays) the cell phone rang a second time, and again the screen showed “No Caller ID.”  This time the caller identified herself as a member of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and did the same thing: congratulated the UDMB on its acceptance to the parade.  This call occurred approximately 45 minutes after the first call from Senator Biden’s office and I have to admit that the adrenalin rush had since waned and was replaced by the “Oh dear!  What have I gotten myself into” panic.  She was going on and on about things while I was far, far way thinking about every that needed to be done. In mid-sentence she stopped and said, “Aren’t you excited?”  I chuckled and came clean with her, telling her about the first call and how I was now in the anxiety stage.  She laughed and said, “There they go, stealing our thunder!”

The next step was filling out more forms than we do when we work with student teachers!  But while forms do not worry me, the one about gathering information on every participating member in order to secure a United States Secret Service Credential…well, that one made me a bit twitchy.  Students were gone from campus, I had 5 days in order to gather all the information, and once gathered there was no adding people to the list.  So if anyone experienced a slow down when surfing the internet between December 15-19 please accept my apologies!  Emails were flying, a secure online form was created, the chasing of non-responsive students began and somehow, someway I uploaded everything to the Inaugural Committee by the deadline.

As of December 19, 2008 everything became very quiet.  No phone calls, no emails, no communication at all.  We struggled to get buses at first but in the end Delaware Express came through.  All plans were set for a “down and back” trip for the UDMB until a lone email from the parent of a current band member hit my inbox.  It was simple–he had secured the use of WT Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia and would begin the task of finding hotel rooms for the bus drivers.  All of this simply to make the trip easier for us!  How this man got 7 hotel rooms 2.5 miles down the street from the high school I will never know.  But he did and the schedule changed from a “down and back” to a UDMB Slumber Party in a high school gym.

Everything became very quiet for the next couple of weeks.  We organized our rehearsal and travel schedule, along with doing our best to plan for all the “unknowns:” travel time from Fairfax to D.C.; the parade day itself; travel time back to D.C. to get personal items (we had to store everything non-parade related at the school due to a Homeland Security directive); travel time from Fairfax back to Newark, DE.  Approximately one week prior to the event placards for the buses were received and I took a personal trip to D.C. to “scope out” the parade route.  It’s amazing how different one’s perspective is when viewing a city you’ve visited numerous times before through a different filter.  The goal for this trip was quite specific: figure out the timing of “Stars and Stripes Forever” so that the last time through with the big low brass counter-melody line would hit right in front of the Presidential Reviewing Stand.  I suspect I appeared a bit odd marching back and forth along that stretch of parade route wearing headphones and making notes about landmarks but no one arrested me for acting suspicious.

4:00 PM:  Buses arrived; directions were reviewed; sleeping bags, suitcases, instruments, uniforms–we depart for WT Woodson High School right on time!  Traffic was light.  That in and of itself was surprising.  We had alloted 3 hours for the 2 hour trip and we arrived early!  Normally this is not a problem but with 300 incredibly hungry college students waiting for pizza to arrive it was a wonder we did not have a riot on our hands.  Fortunately the UD Alumni Club from D.C. was there to greet the band and provided TONS of snacks!  Not a crumb was left on the tables when all the band members departed from the gym area and headed to the cafeteria for a meeting and pizza.  (Thank you alumni!!!)

January 20, 2009  3:00 AM:  There’s nothing like getting up off an auxiliary gym floor after an incredibly restful night of sleep in your sleeping bag–really, there’s NOTHING like it!  It was time to wake the UDMB and all I had to do was switch on the circuit breakers.  It is not my fault that the breakers weren’t labeled.  I just clicked them on one after the other.  If I had known that the last one was for the scoreboard buzzer I NEVER would have switched it on!

5:00 AM:  Everyone was dressed and getting their travel breakfasts.  We loaded up the buses and headed for the Pentagon.  There was zero traffic since the roads were only open for buses displaying the official placards.  We were quickly through security and back on the buses with our SECOND breakfast as well as a box lunch (courtesy of the Inaugural Committee).  And there we sat for the next 3 hours…fortunately the buses had to idle to keep the heat on for us which meant we could watch movies!  Nothing like sitting with a bunch of college students watching Wall-E.

Finally we were underway to the staging area on the Ellipse in front of the White House.  The crowds were monstrous–the photos and video the nation saw does not even begin to touch upon what it looked like in person.  The sheer number of people that surrounded the Washington Monument was beyond imagination.  If ever there was a phrase to describe the site it is “a sea of humanity.”  Literally!

Watching the Inauguration on televisions in the warming tents was an incredible experience, but it still did not feel real. After the speeches it was time to move out onto the street and prepared to move down Constitution Avenue to the parade start point.  It was cold but it was not horrible.  We moved along Constitution Avenue at a drum tap.  The streets were deserted as we passed all the historic buildings and museums we have all visited at some point in our lives.  The lack of humanity on that street and around the buildings was eerie.  And THAT was when it started to sink into everyone’s mind that we were really going to be in the Inaugural Parade.

Yes the parade was delayed and yes the temperatures were reaching a critical level.  Suddenly there was a roar–and I mean a roar!–from behind us.  President Obama had stepped out of his car and was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue.  The parade was underway and we started to creep towards the start point again.  And just like that we stepped off down Pennsylvania Avenue to the first strains of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  Yes the crowds had dissipated but those that remained were cheering wildly.  We made the turn onto 15th street where the whole band saw the lights.  The sun had set long ago and the streets were in semi-darkness but just up ahead was the most brilliantly lit section of the city–the Presidential Reviewing Stand.  We turned onto the final stretch and I turned around to give Jim Ancona the signal to go from cadence into the “Stars and Stripes” loop.  As I looked at the band I saw eyes as wide as saucers but I also saw the tallest standing group I’ve ever seen.  As we passed in review it was a thrill to see President Obama and his family.  And there was Vice President Biden and his wife Jill clapping along with the music–his smile stretched from ear to ear.

Three minutes later it was over.  Blink and you missed it.  It happened that fast.  We got back to the buses, started thawing out and within moments people were asleep.  The cold plus lack of sleep and at this point, lack of food for lunch was 7 hours ago, had taken its toll on the UDMB.  We got back to the high school, loaded up all our personal belongings and headed for Newark.

1969 marked the first appearance of the band in a Presidential Inaugural Parade.  It took 40 years but the University of Delaware Marching Band finally returned to Washington, D.C.  As crazy as it was it was worth the wait!

Student Comments:
“I just wanted to thank you for the amazing opprotunity you gave us yesterday!  It was an incredible experience that I won’t soon forget. Obviously the day had it’s ups and downs, but the fact that we practically marched through the Arctic tundra makes the memories that much more meaningful and vivid.  The hours of cold paid off when we passed the president’s box and saw not only how proud Joe Biden was of us, but also Obama smiling too!!  Being in DC for such a historical and exciting day brings me so much pride for my country, as well as myself.  I was literally moved to tears as our buses drove through the crowds of waving and cheering people surrounding the Washington Monument,all celebrating and electrifyingly excited!”  –Alex Jamison

“It was really an awesome, unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”  — Sarah Mainardi

“It really didn’t hit me until we saw all those people.  It was amazing to see millions of people.  It was a little overwhelming but it was an amazing experience.” — Ashley Santana

“For us to be there and be a part of it is something I’ll never forget.  I’m sure a lot of people will be telling their children and grandchildren they were there when Obama was inaugurated and they actually played for him.  It was exciting.  We were tired.  We were cold.  We were hungry.  But it’s my personal opinion that it was worth it.”  — Jason Angelo