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Article by John Veasey (01/06/00) - Times-West Virginian

Earl W. McConnell, director of the East Fairmont High School Busy Bee Band and Honeybees, was reflecting on his band's whirlwind trip to California and taking part in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.

"I'm a little bit tired," he said, "but extremely pleased. It was a great trip and quite an experience for these kids for what they participated in and what they got to see. I hope it will be a lifelong memory for them."

McConnell said he had already received some notes and letters from students and parents about the impact this trip has had on their lives. "They are pleased that this happened during their time here," he said.

Earl said that "most everything went as we had it planned. The itinerary was well packaged and allowed the students time to see the various areas and attractions."

Earl was pleased with the network television coverage the band received.

He was especially pleased with the high overhead NBC coverage of his 245-piece band making the turn onto Colorado Boulevard and the excellent comments made by the parade announcers on how well this turn was being maneuvered.

"We worked hours on that turn and I was pleased that the commentators liked it. It's a tough one and generally speaking, the camera often can catch you on things you haven't really worked on. But we spent a lot of time on that turn during our practices at East-West Stadium and it paid off."

The Busy Bee Band had friends in California it didn't know about until it got there.

"There was a gal who used to be here named Nancy Brown and she was in school in the Fairmont Senior High School band in the mid-50s when my parents were working with that band," he said.

"She is married to a Tom Geiling and when she found out we were coming and a McConnell was director of the band, she initially thought it was my late father," he said.

But he noted that Nancy's husband was in the production truck during the parade working of the Tournament of Roses satellite network.

"He told me that our coverage of our band went to 70 foreign countries and our band was on camera by that network for 2 solid minutes. . . It pays to have friends in high places."

The trip to Pasadena and back was made via United Airlines. And Earl said the airline crews could not have been any nicer.

The 300-member traveling party made the trip on four planes. "This made it a little more manageable, especially in the airports," Earl said. "We had about 70 to 75 students and adults per flight. And they announced on each of the flights that the airlines was proud to be carrying the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees from Fairmont, W.Va. En route to the Rose Bowl. . . Several flight attendants told us that we could be really proud of the behavior of the youngsters on the planes."

The weather for the Rose Bowl parade on Saturday was much like it was here - temperatures in the mid-50s and cloudy.

"The weather was ideal for our kids because it wasn't too hot," the director said. "And every student who marched made the entire 6 mile parade route. . . We didn't run into any heat or exhaustion problems and our kids were playing just as strong at the end of the parade as when they started out."

The band led a parade at Disneyland on Jan. 2 when the mercury rose into the 70s. "And at each venue as we marched by, there would be this big announcement that this was the Busy Bee Band that had performed in the Tournament of Roses parade on the previous day."

Earl said that a number of spectators at Disneyland had seen the band the previous day. "You could tell by their positive reaction. This was very rewarding."

One of the most enjoyable experiences - and biggest surprises - for the students was their New Year's Eve party.

"Unbeknownst to the students," Earl said, "we planned a terrific New Year's Eve party in the ballroom of the Hilton. And while we were going through one final rehearsal outside the hotel between 4 and 6, the parents were preparing the ballroom for the party. . . We had an anonymous benefactor pay for the entire party and the ballroom looked like it had been professionally decorated." He said that it was "kind of a formal event. . . coats and ties and party dresses. . . The seniors came into the ballroom first and they literally froze there. Some even started to cry."

He said that everything was done on Eastern Standard Time so when they dropped the ball in Times Square, "then our kids went to bed," even though it was only 9 p.m. in California.

A buffet supper was held for the group and "we watched CNN and the networks do the coverage of the changeover for the millenniums in the different parts of the world."

He described it as "just a wonderful, wonderful evening."

"What a neat way to bring on the millennium," he said.

All of the band uniforms and instruments and other equipment were driven to Pittsburgh by W.S. Thomas Transfer. "That was part of the donation of W.S. Thomas," he said, "to transport all our instruments and equipment to and from Pittsburgh."

Then United Airlines drove them to Washington where they were flown out by jumbo cargo jet to Los Angeles.

Last Friday the young musicians had an "unusual" practice.

"We took the kids down to Santa Monica to the pier," he said. "Everyone visualizes what Santa Monica is like by what they see on 'Baywatch.' A lot of them wanted to dip their toes into the ocean. I was still up on the pier and watching the kids. Our graduate assistant, Michael Swisher, was there. I told him to march the band up the beach and some of them had their feet in the water as they marched. The people there on the beach gave us a nice ovation."

Band leaders kept the people back home in Fairmont abreast of what was going on via the Busy Bee Band website.

"We averaged more than 800 hits a day on the website," he said.

In looking back over the entire week, the Busy Bee Band director had one overriding though.

"I just hope we did Fairmont proud," he said.

They did!

  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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