When the Bald Eagle Area Marching Band practices at the high school in Wingate, director Kellie Long’s friends tell her they hear the music in Milesburg, a couple of miles away.
The group continues practicing patriotic tunes in anticipation of a performance Wednesday at this year’s National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
The band was chosen to march after Long applied for the distinction about 18 months ago, and she said BEA’s is the only Pennsylvania marching band participating.
“It’s just ... amazing,” she said, pausing to find the right word to describe the invitation. “We’re a small school in some rural community, and for us to have this honor is just unbelievable.”
The parade steps off at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday in the nation’s capital, moving along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th Street.
Performing bands apply to participate and are invited based on recommendations from each state’s governor’s office, or from other music education organizations, according to the parade web-site. Parade organizers aim to represent as many states as possible.
Long said the band, which includes students in grades seven through 12, is “very, very excited” and will perform “America on Parade,” a collection of patriotic songs the group learned specifically for this event.
Freshman Katie Snyder called the group “one big happy family” and said marching in the parade is a “huge” honor. She also is looking forward to a little sightseeing, including a trip to Arlington National Cemetery.
“I support our troops with all my heart and would just love to visit there and take in all the peacefulness,” she said. “I think I can speak for the whole band when I say, 'Washington, here we come!”
Luke Besong, a junior and drum major, called it an “amazing experience” to watch his band, nicknamed “Pride of the Valley,” prepare for the parade.
“I am very impressed with our band’s positive attitude and willingness to work,” he said.
The excitement is building on the band’s Facebook page, too, where photos showing cases of bottled water and snacks have gained numerous “likes.” The page also informs the musicians and their fans that McGruff the Crime Dog will walk behind the band, and a tall Uncle Sam balloon will float in front of it.
This isn’t the first time the marching band has received a parade invitation. Members marched in the New York City Veterans Day Parade in 2009. Long, who has directed the band for four years, said marching down Fifth Avenue will be a tough experience to beat.
“If this experience could top that for these kids, I’m not sure what could top this,” she said. “It was a really nice way to say thank you to our veterans, just by being there and performing for them.”
Long and Jeff Snyder, the president of BEA’s music booster club and Katie Snyder’s father, praised the school’s administration for supporting the music program, and other arts, at a time when many districts are struggling to balance their budgets.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Snyder, whose daughter plays flute in the band. “We feel very fortunate to have an administration that supports so strongly the need for the music department, and the arts in general.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter