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"The Event of a Lifetime"

EFHS band prepares for performance in the Tournament of Roses Parade

The Honeybees display the flag as they lead the band up
Adams Street last month in the Veterans' Day Parade

 

Article by Debra Minor Wilson (12/26/99) - Times-West Virginian

How do you get ready for the event of a lifetime?  Well, you could daydream bout the fun you'll have.

Or you could put your excitement on the back burner and keep on working hard to make sure you'll get the most out of your trip.

That's exactly what the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees of East Fairmont High School is doing as it prepares for the undoubtedly highest honor ever bestowed upon this award-winning band; marching in the prestigious New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade.

This 240-member band is one of only 15 high school bands nationwide and one of only 25 bands worldwide chosen to march in the parade's special millennium edition.

The Jan. 1 extravaganza in Pasadena, Calif., will usher in the new year, the new century, and the new millennium.  And only special bands were eligible to participate - those with 200 members or more, with 220 bands applying.

The Jan. 1 extravaganza in Pasadena, Calif., will usher in the new year, the new century, and the new millennium.  And only special bands were eligible to participate - those with 200 members or more, with 220 bands applying.

After band director Earl McConnell saw an invitation for the parade on the Internet and submitted a video of the band, he found out in December 1998 his band was chosen to march.

The parade will be telecast on NBC, CBS and ABC, and shown by satellite to a worldwide audience of millions, elevating the schools' band program "to a national and worldwide level," McConnell says.

This is quite "as high an honor as you can get," McConnell says...a "tremendous experience" not only for East Fairmont High School, Fairmont and Marion County, but also as a testament to the excellence of band programs in the state of West Virginia.

And so, after a year "that has flown by," the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees - and chaperones and instruments and uniforms and many, many pieces of luggage - will depart from Pittsburgh International Airport on four separate flights this Wednesday.  They will return Jan. 3.

Only after arriving in sunny California will the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors see this dream undeterred become a reality.

 

It's been just a little over a year since Ken Burrows, president of the Tournament of Roses Parade, announced that this Marion County band would be in this annual extravaganza Jan. 1.

But it's not Jan. 1 yet and the band is still in Fairmont.

There's a lot of work left to be done.  And that hard work won't be over until, well, all the big bands have played.

East Fairmont band director Earl McConnell makes announcements to the band at a rehearsal.


This has been a year of determined work and never-ending practice, practice, practice for the largest high school band in Marion County.

On countless Saturdays, the students have marched 26 nonstop laps around East-West Stadium to condition themselves for the 6.5 mile-long parade.  They've also learned to play their four-song routine non-stop for the first mile and a half of the parade.  ("You never know when the TV cameras will be on you," McConnell says.)

The band has a plum position in the parade: 28th out of 110 units.

Repetition has helped the band members hone the field show and marching routines to a sharp perfection.

In fact, they've played "California, Here We Come" so many times, you could even say it's become their unofficial anthem.

The bouncy tune has undoubtedly become ingrained in their memories forever, like their school song, their favorite rock song or the song playing when they met their first love.

It's also been a year of selling, selling, selling to raise the $160,000 needed for the band's expenses.

But due to the "tremendous generosity" of the community, the band netted $20,000 from selling more than 98,000 pounds of fruit, raised more than $7,000 in a one-day tag day, and sold many plates and other parade-related items.

Fellow students have donated countless pennies.  The City of Fairmont and the Governor's Office each donated $5,000.  There have been many corporate, private and individual contributions - many from EFHS alumni from across the country.

On Dec. 1, McConnell says the band become "financially set" for the excursion.

With everything working out so well, it would be a well-worn cliche to say that everything is "coming up roses" for the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees.  But even in McConnell's office there is a beautiful vase of (could it be anything else) deep red roses.

 

Band members practice a formation outside the school
before the media day event last weekend.

 

And now, there are just a few days left.  The band could relax, take it easy for once.

No.  They continue to work hard for perfection.  Even on a 28 degree finger-numbing morning, the teens give it their all.  More than one player probably yearned to be inside the toasty warm school.

The sky is a dreary gray and bitter wind howls across the school's parking lot, high atop a treeless hill.

Normal for this time of year, the cold sky is a far cry from the sunny skies and warm temps that Pasadena promises.  (Rumor has it that the roses are in bloom there.)

Perhaps the warmest of the 240 member troupe are the 20 Honeybees, who in their dance routines are always in motion.

Despite the cold morning, the band is so loud that "I want them to hear this at East Dale!" McConnell urges.  (They probably did hear them.)

The band polishes its routines, the music seeming to echo off the buildings in downtown Fairmont miles away.

During the field show practice, McConnell is everywhere, helping one student adjust a trombone, making sure the lines are straight, the feet are in step, giving encouragement over this bullhorn.

The field show will include international bands and will be performed several days before the parade before an audience of 13,000.

The Bee show will have the audience "buzzing" with delight.  It's highlight is a high-stepping, foot snapping, 100-yard kickline of all 240 members..."from goal line to goal line," McConnell boasts, featuring two rousing Big Band-era songs, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" and "Riffin' the Blues."

From freshman to senior, members of this band are just beginning to realize this thrill of a lifetime is almost at hand.  Anticipation is starting to build.

"I'm really excited.  It's overwhelming at times," says Joshua Staley, senior sousaphone player.

He's been in the Busy Bee Band program since eight grade, so he performed at Walt Disney World with the band and played for the Pittsburgh Steelers half-time shows.

Still...

"This is the event of a lifetime.  But it's scary, too.  Everything building up to this one parade," he says.

"We're carrying a tradition and that's a heavy weight.  Past band members are expecting us to do our best.  Bust most of us are ready to live up to this reputation."

Sousaphone player J.B. Eakle displays a Tournament of Roses parade logo on his instrument

His father, Glen Staley (a civil law enforcement officer with the United Nations Peacekeepers), has flown in from Kosovo, Yugoslavia, to go to Pasadena with his wife Cynthia to see the parade.

As exciting as going to the Tournament of Roses Parade is, Joshua says when he was a sophomore, the band kind of knew something like this would happen.

"We were told before that it was a 'possibility' that we might go," he says.  "Mr. McConnell just mentioned, but nobody paid much attention.  It was too far in the future.  But we knew he might be applying."

Then came Dec. 15, 1998, when McConnell made the formal announcement.  Joshua says this time the band was astonished.

"It was like, 'wow!'  Then we thought 'Now, what do we do to prepare for this?'"

A year later, the magnitude of what's going to happen in just days has yet to hit, he says.  He adds that being in the parade "hasn't phased" his sister, Jessica, a Honeybee.

"But this will be the most exciting performance I will ever be in," he says.

"The millennium comes just once in a lifetime.  This is a heavy, heavy deal."

He's aware that on Jan. 1, the 240 students will be more than a marching high school band.  They will be representatives of West Virginia to a worldwide audience of millions.

"I'm very proud of that," Joshua says.  "We'll do our best to present the best possible West Virginia we can."

To viewers around the world, the band will also represent Fairmont and East Fairmont High School.  The language barrier among the different countries shouldn't be a problem.

"Music is always music," says Joshua.

For East freshman Crystal West, this is just one unbelievable experience.

The flute player was in the East Fairmont Junior High Band when McConnell announced he had entered his band for consideration in the Tournament of Roses Parade for 2000.

"We were all excited," says the daughter of Diane West and Sam West.  "He thought we had a good chance to get in, he told us."

Although she has never seen the parade, even on television, she admits this is a "big thing.  I'm excited.  I've never been past Ohio.  But it won't really hit me until I get ready to go."

At 14, she's about to get her first delicious taste of freedom.  This will be the first time she's been away from her parents.  But, she adds with a little sadness, it's also the first time she's been away from her parents on New Year's Eve.

But being in the parade will more than compensate for that.

"I'm glad we're doing this," she says.  "I want people to know where we are.  I'm excited to represent West Virginia and show people we're not the stereotype they might think of."

It's a great time to belong to the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees of East Fairmont High School.

"It's like we're doing everything right.  People want to hear us," Crystal says.

  Arrival/Departure | Bandfest/Float Viewing | Hard Rock/Universal Studios | Santa Monica Pier
Rose Parade | New Year's Eve | Disney | Misc. | Legislature Presentation


2000 Tournament of Roses Coverage

 

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