An oversized butterfly sits comfortably on the head of Kristin Schucker, 17, a trumpet player at Langley High School in McLean. When she pulls the hat string under her chin, the fake butterfly's floppy wings flap.
Chris Cosgrove, an alto saxophone player at the school, wears an ice cream parlor hat pricked with colored pipe cleaners. It's "electric;" it's strange, he says proudly.
Funny hats have been "in" at the high school for 16 years, ever since former music teacher George Horan started wearing his white derby to football games, and suggested that the pep band do likewise.
Behold, the birth of the "Langley High School Funny Hat Band."
Its members are easy to spot. "The criteria is to come up with the most obnoxious hat possible," explains Jeffrey Fraker, successor to band leader Horan. "The students vie with each other, trying to outmatch the hats."
Says electric bass player Jim Orth: "Last year I wore a hard hat. This year, I have a tennis hat. We're always looking for new hats."
Don't they feel a little, well, ridiculous wearing these things?
"When 35 other people are out there wearing weird-looking hats, you don't feel so odd," says Cosgrove. "Also, lots of other kids wear funny hats to the games. It shows spirit. . . . It's symbolic."
Says the girl with the butterfly on her head, "I always wanted to be in this band -- I used to come to the games when I was in eighth grade and hear them play. It's a status thing."
Not just everybody shares the status; musicians have to audition for the right to wear hokey head gear, says the band leader. But "almost everyone from the jazz lab or the wind ensemble is in this band," say members.
After twice-a-week practices, the band plays at school football games and pep rallies, urging on school spirit. Langley High doesn't have a marching band.
The band also is starting to branch out into the community. Having marched in the McLean Merchants Parade recently, it is considering other parade offers. "This will give our school greater exposure," says Fraker, "and give the kids a chance to hear other bands."
Fraker believes the pep band will stack up well against other local groups. "We have a good jazz component, but we play a bit of everything -- rag, contemporary, rock, traditional marches," he says.
"We did themes from television shows last year," says sax player Cosgrove. "You know, M*A*S*H, Love Boat, The Muppets, The Flintstones."
Hats in hand, this band definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer.