Inaugural Parade Meets Battle of the Bands
Having Clinched Coveted Spots, Student Musicians Aim for Bragging Rights
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; Page A01
Dunbar Senior High School's Crimson Tide Marching Pride band was outside yesterday afternoon, stepping through its routines in the cold, when Rodney Chambers's cellphone vibrated.
The band leader hesitated. In recent days, whenever he got a call, he thought it would be the Presidential Inaugural Committee, giving the Northwest Washington school a highly coveted spot in Barack Obama's parade. It never was. This time, he let the phone buzz a few times before taking the call.
Moments later, he halted the practice, right in the middle of N Street. "Guys, I have big news," he announced. "We have been accepted to the inaugural parade!"
The band is among dozens across the country winning a chance to march in the Jan. 20 event. They include the JROTC band at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where the 56 members greeted the news with elation, and Howard University's band, which also celebrated yesterday.
Meanwhile, Walter Harley, music director at Oxon Hill High School, was still waiting by the phone. "No, I'm not nervous at all," he said, as if reassuring himself.
The 2009 parade might have been the toughest competition in inaugural history, sparking jumpiness and jubilation that began Friday when groups began getting the calls inviting them to march along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The parade can only be so long, and the interest was especially high to join in the history of welcoming the nation's first African American president. There were 1,382 applicants, initially whittled to 780 deemed appropriate for a parade. Compare that with 73 groups plucked from 343 applications in 2005. The last time there was such a feverish pitch was during Bill Clinton's first inauguration, when about 500 groups applied.
Even apparent shoo-ins, such as Obama's alma mater, were on edge.
"We were as excited as everyone else," said Carlyn Tani, external relations director of Punahou School in Hawaii. "Our school has never been in an inaugural parade."
Punahou will bring 135 band members, 22 JROTC cadets and six cheerleaders, Tani said.
The winning groups had to impress two reviewing panels -- the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which collected and winnowed down the applications, and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which made the final choices.
The judges reviewed DVDs, heartfelt essays and photographs from marching bands, tumbling teams, mounted horse patrols and Boy Scout troops. The Presidential Inaugural Committee emphasized diversity in the picks, wanting every state represented, although Illinois and Delaware, home states of Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., appear to have received a bit of favoritism, based on the numbers so far.