After sitting in on a Saturday morning rehearsal by Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, the president of the Tournament of Roses Association made a bold prediction about the group’s upcoming performances in Pasadena, Calif.
“I can already tell, you are going to blow everybody away. It’s just so exciting to see you and to see your style. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jeffrey Throop, who has observed more than his fair share of marching bands during his affiliation of 36 years with the Rose Parade. “I can’t wait to show you off to everyone, to the world.”
Throop met with members of the Pride of the Mountains on Saturday, Sept. 25, as part of a whirlwind tour of Western North Carolina to help raise awareness and funding for the band’s trip to participate in the 2011 Rose Parade, and he presented band director Bob Buckner with the official Rose Parade flag during halftime of Saturday’s home football game.
The WCU band is one of only 13 from across the nation to garner an invitation to march in the New Year’s Day parade, Throop said. The event will be witnessed live by more than 1 million people lining the parade route, with another 52 million television viewers in the United States alone, and millions more in 220 other countries around the world, including China and its 1.5 billion TV sets, he said.
“That’s how special you are to be picked for what you have accomplished,” Throop told the student musicians. “Your lives will be changed forever because of this experience.”
WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo joined Throop in speaking to the band at Saturday morning’s rehearsal. An alumnus of Ohio State University, where the marching band goes by the nickname “The Best Damn Band in the Land,” Bardo told WCU’s band members that they are part of “The Best Damn Band Anywhere.”
“Your selection to participate in the Rose Parade is the culmination for (wife) Deborah and me of 16 years of work to try to help Bob build this band program,” he said. “The performances are wonderful, but what we like even more is the type of people who come be a part of this band.”
During his visit to WNC, Throop also met with band supporters, community leaders and elected officials at events in Waynesville and Asheville, and toured WCU’s annual Mountain Heritage Day.
“It’s without a doubt every band director’s dream of a career to bring a band to this parade,” he told members of the Waynesville Rotary Club on Friday, Sept. 24. “There is no higher honor in the profession than to be invited to bring your band to the Rose Parade.”
Other than bands from the two universities that will play in the Rose Bowl college football game, only two university bands will participate in this year’s parade, and both are from North Carolina, he said. Joining WCU in Pasadena will be the marching band from N.C. Central University.
“We picked these bands because of their performances and their entertainment value. It is truly something to behold,” Throop said. “It is what sets them apart.”
Buckner told Rotary Club members of his visit to the parade in January 2010. “The thing that struck me about the Rose Parade is that it is not just a parade. It’s the most incredible event I have ever seen in my life,” Buckner said.
During an Asheville reception for sponsors and other supporters Friday evening, Buckner presented Throop with a photograph of the band in formation spelling his name. He also offered the band to spell in formation the name of anyone who contributes $1,000 to help pay for the trip to Pasadena. “Unless your name is Krzyzewski,” he said, referring to the Duke University basketball coach with a notoriously hard-to-spell name. “Then we might have to charge you extra.”
Buckner also offered to allow anyone who makes a $1,000 contribution to direct the band for a performance.
Joel Queen, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and a nationally acclaimed potter, presented Throop and his wife, Angel, with a traditional handcrafted Cherokee seed pot on behalf of the university. Queen, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from WCU, also contributed a piece of pottery valued at $15,000 to the band to auction off as a fundraising activity for the trip.
Amy Shuford, a junior music education major from Waynesville and a drum major for the Pride of the Mountains, thanked those who have donated to the band’s efforts and asked potential sponsors to help “make this once-in-a-lifetime experience a reality.”
“We really could use your help in getting us to Pasadena – and getting us back home when the parade is over,” Shuford said.
Band members have been seeking contributions from friends, neighbors and family members, and have been selling wristbands, T-shirts, golf shirts and lapel pins to help pay for the trip, she said.
“We all know that times are tough right now. They’re tough for us as college students, because the cost of education keeps going up. And as band members, we also buy our own marching shoes, gloves and other items. It can be expensive just being in the band. Throw in the $1,890 total cost to go on this trip, including airfare, lodging and food, and it can be a little scary. That’s a lot of money,” Shuford said. “But we know we’re going to get there, with the help of people just like you.”
Several elected officials were on hand at Friday night’s celebration event in Asheville, including Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton.
“Congratulations to the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band of Western Carolina University. They are world-renowned, certainly one of the top marching bands in the nation,” Dalton said.
Dalton said he discovered one factual error when looking over the band’s resume, which includes winning the 2009 Sudler Trophy, the highest honor a collegiate marching band can receive. “It says that they played with Keith Urban,” he said, referring to the band’s performance during the country music megastar’s concert in Greenville, S.C., in 2007. “I don’t think that’s right. Keith Urban played with them. They need to realize that they are the headliners.”
Dalton said that WCU’s band will be a wonderful representative for the state of North Carolina. “New Year’s Day is going to be a great day,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day because of this marching band. We’re so proud we can’t stand it. President Throop, you have made a wise decision. Look out, California, here we come.”
U.S. Rep. Heath Schuler, who played college football at the University of Tennessee, told the crowd that he dreamed of one day playing in the Rose Bowl as a boy growing up in Swain County.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Shuler said. “What an incredible honor it is to go to Pasadena and participate in the Rose Parade. Dreams do come true. Congratulations to everyone involved in the band, and to their parents. This is another mark, another great championship, for Western Carolina University.”
Band members circulated throughout the crowd during Saturday’s football game carrying large plastic jugs into which fans deposited bills and spare change. They had collected more than $2,300 in contributions by the end of the day.
For more information on how to contribute to the Pride to Pasadena campaign, visit give.wcu.edu or call 828-227-7124 or 800-492-8496.
By Bill Studenc