Band ready for its mighty moment

They've played for the queen. They've played for four presidents.

And Monday, the "Mighty Sound of Maryland" will add President Barack Obama to their list of famous fans.

Led by the sounds of booming drum lines and trombones, the University of Maryland marching band will serenade Pennsylvania Avenue during the 57th Inaugural Presidential Parade.

The band is one of 60 acts chosen to perform from a pool of more than 2,800 applicants.

L. Richmond Sparks, associate professor, conducting and director of bands, says he submitted video and audio tapes of the band during the application.

"There were many halftime shows and other performances of ours to choose from," said Sparks. "I didn't believe that we weren't going to be chosen. This has been the best band that I've had in my 29-year tenure."

Sparks says he was notified of the band's acceptance on Dec. 18, and the news spread quickly.

"The message went viral," Sparks said. "The students were ecstatic because every one of them knows they can tell their folks to watch them on television during an internationally aired event."

The appearance will mark the fifth time in the school's 105-year history that its band has played the parade. Prior inaugural performances by the University of Maryland marching band were for Woodrow Wilson in 1917, Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, John F. Kennedy in 1961 and Ronald Reagan in 1985 — in an inauguration that was moved indoors due to inclement weather.

The marching band also played for Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 when she attended a football game on campus.

"We were very hopeful that we'd be accepted," said Ashley Trendell, saxophone section leader. "There were so many other groups that were applying. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The Mighty Sound of Maryland will perform the "Washington Post March" and the "Maryland Victory Song."

Trendell, who has been playing saxophone for about 10 years, says Sparks will have the 255 band members ready to perform.

"He has a good temperament," the junior said. "He's pushy when he needs to be and always drives us to be better.

"We're like one big family. Everyone has their own role, but we get on each other when it's necessary to make sure we're at our best."

Sparks doesn't doubt that his band possesses the ability to give their best and hold one another accountable.

"These folks pick it up very quickly to meet the standards," he said.

Adding to the excitement of their inaugural appearance, the Mighty Sound of Maryland will debut new uniforms for the first time in 15 years.

The uniforms were bought after the university won a 2010 "Hawaii Five-O Marching Band Mania" contest in which bands countrywide competed to give the best performance of the Hawaii Five-O theme song. First prize yielded $25,000.

"The uniforms traditionally have been in the same vein as the cadet military coats. The first band at the University of Maryland was a ROTC cadet band that wore the colors of the American flag. That tradition hasn't changed," Sparks said. "The one thing I really like about the uniform in its most contemporary state is that the gold of the Maryland colors dissolves into a pure white at the top."

Expected start time for the parade is 2:30 p.m., following the administration of the oath of office and an inaugural luncheon with congressional leaders.

Trendell says she and her fellow band mates are eager to perform for the nation and the people of Washington.

"This performance has to be at the very top of the list as far as my accomplishments during my time with the marching band," Trendell said. "To perform for our nation and the president is something not many people could say they have done.

"It's a great opportunity to show our school pride and pride for the state of Maryland," she added. "Every member of the band will stand a little taller that day because of what we're representing."

More marchers

Also marching during the Inaugural Parade will be a nonprofit organization called Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), which provides highly trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities: 132 marchers and 57 dogs from 14 states will represent CCI in the parade.

Volunteers called "Puppy Raisers" train the puppies for nearly two years before they're ready for CCI training and eventually servicing the needy. Only about 40 percent of dogs graduate after their advanced training.

Volunteers pay for the costs of raising the dogs so the disabled receive their service companions without charge.

"Being chosen to walk in the parade is a great honor for CCI," said JoAnn Rogers, a volunteer who is raising 11-month-old puppy Zoltan with the help of her family. "By being in the parade we are able to bring awareness to people across the world that will become familiar with this amazing organization."

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