After a year of fundraising, practicing and planning, the Middletown High School Cavalier marching band will finally head across the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday to represent Delaware at the London New Year's Day Parade.
Their six-day trip – the first-ever overseas voyage for the marching band – will take them to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and a performance at Cadogan Hall, all before they join 8,500 other performers for the 28th running of the largest New Year's Day event in the world.
"I don't think I could have imagined what an undertaking this would be when we first received the invitation," band director Brian Endlein said last week. "But for all the gray hairs it's given me, it will worth it when I get to see the kids represent the community as they march past the Parliament building, knowing that it's being broadcast for the whole world to see."
While about 60 students and 30 family members will depart from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey around 9 p.m. on Saturday, their journey actually began two summers ago when Endlein received an unexpected call in his office at the school.
"The person on the other end asked if we would be interested in performing in London during the world's largest New Year's Day parade," Endlein said. "At first, I thought it was a practical joke, but the more they talked, the more I realized they were serious."
That initial phone call led to Angela Harvey, the lord mayor of Westminster, visiting the high school in February to extend a formal invitation for the marching band and color guard to perform in London on Jan. 1.
Since then, the Cavaliers have raised nearly $35,000 through fundraisers and donations from community organizations to help offset the $270,000 cost of the trip, or about $3,000 for each of the 90 people making the voyage.
"Everyone who is going made payments over several months and the students were able to cover some of those payments by participating in the fundraisers," Endlein said. "The fundraising also allowed us to set up scholarships to help cover the cost for students who otherwise would not have been able to go."
After months of preparation, several band members said they could hardly believe the big moment is almost upon them.
"This trip is Christmas for me because I've been looking forward to it for so long," said junior Lexie Marcinkewicz, whose mother, Tanya, will be watching from the streets of London as she plays the bass drum during the parade. "I'm anxious, but at the same time, I know this is such a great opportunity for us, especially performing a premier piece originally written for strings at Cadogan Hall on Dec. 30."
Classmate Christopher Gillie, who plays the melophone, said he doesn't think the trip will sink in until he steps off the plane.
Page 2 of 3 - "A few of my friends have said they're jealous because they wish they were going to London," he said. "But most of my friends are in the band, so I'm really excited to spend the holiday with my band family."
Gillie also will get to spend the holiday with his actual family. His parents, two sisters and his grandfather will be making the trip, as well.
"We haven't done a big trip as a family before and since we're all big supporters of music and the arts, this seemed like a perfect opportunity," said his father Kevin Gillie, president of the MHS Cavalier Band Boosters. "About 10 years ago, the marching band made a decision to step up its performance character, and to me, this trip is recognition of all the work prior and current students, faculty, staff and parents have put in over the years. There's no way we were going to miss that."
Endlein, who visited London last summer to prepare for next week's performance, said the trip really began to sink in for him earlier this month, when he shipped 1,200 pounds of instruments and other equipment to England.
"When the trip was first announced, it seemed like we had all the time in the world," he said. "Now that it's finally here, I'm stressing about students leaving mouthpieces behind, getting them to look in the opposite direction before crossing the street and getting them used to stores closing earlier."
But one thing Endlein said he's not worried about is how his marching band will perform once the parade steps off at noon on Jan. 1 – 7 a.m. local time.
"These kids have put in a lot of work and couldn't be more ready to perform," he said. "The community has been so supportive us from Day One. I can't wait for us to get out there and represent the Middletown, Odessa and Townsend community in a really positive way on the world stage."
The following is an abbreviated itinerary of the Middletown High School Cavaliers Marching Band's six-day trip to London:
Saturday, Dec. 28
(Eastern Standard Time)
4 p.m. – Board coach buses at Middletown High School and depart for Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey
9:05 p.m. – Take off for London
Sunday, Dec. 29
9 a.m. – Arrive at London Heathrow Airport
10:30 a.m. – Arrive at the Hilton Olympia Hotel
6:30 p.m. – Join teacher, composer and former collegiate-level band director Tim Lautzenheiser at the Hilton Metropole Hotel for his lecture, "Building Tomorrow's Leaders Today"
Page 3 of 3 - 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. – Rehearse with the marching band from Park Hill South High School of Kansas City, Mo.
Monday, Dec. 30
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. – "Princes, Palaces and Power" walking tour of past Big Ben, the Palace at Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Clarence House, Buckingham Palace, among other sites.
2:30 to 3:30 p.m. – Concert rehearsal at Cadogan Hall
7:30 to 10 p.m. – Joint concert performance with Park Hill South High School at Cadogan Hall, a 900-seat venue in Chelsea best known as the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Tuesday, Dec. 31
8:30 a.m. – Tours of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London, among other sites.
12:30 p.m. – Tour of Windsor, including Windsor Castle, the Royal Apartments, St. George's Chapel, among other sites.
8:30 p.m. – A special New Year's Eve Party at the Hilton Olympia Hotel with other parade participants
12 a.m. – Bedtime
Wednesday, Jan. 1
9:05 a.m. – Leave for Millbank to take official group photo next to the Palace at Westminster, before assembling at Berkeley Square
12 p.m. – London New Year's Day Parade begins
7 to 10 p.m. – Free time
Thursday, Jan. 2
8:30 a.m. – Board a Thames River boat for a cruise to Greenwich for a tour of the Royal Observatory and the Royal Navy College
1:45 p.m. – Tour the Tower of London
Friday, Jan. 3
9 a.m. – Take either the "Harry Potter's London" or "London Rocks!" walking tours, followed by unguided tours
Saturday, Jan. 4
12:30 p.m. – Depart for London Heathrow Airport
4 p.m. (Greenwich Meantime) – Flight takes off for Newark Liberty International Airport
8 p.m. – (Eastern Standard Time) Arrive in New Jersey