The Marching 97 to March in London's New Year's Day Parade

With a formal ceremony and two rousing performances, it was official: The Marching 97 will have the honor of marching in the 2018 New Year’s Day Parade (LNYDP) in London, England.

Former Lord Mayor Catherine Longworth of the City of Westminster visited campus Monday to formally invite the band to the parade. Longworth and her colleagues, Robert Bone, founder and executive director of the LNYDP; Joe Bone, director of logistics for LNYDP; and William Northen, senior director of international participation for LNYDP, were welcomed to Lehigh with a performance by the Marching 97 in front of the President’s House before beginning the official ceremony inside.

The London guests were greeted by Rob Hillman, the marching band’s manager; Albert Neumeyer, the band’s director; and Lehigh President John Simon.

“I can think of no better way to kick off Spirit Week than to celebrate this honor that’s being bestowed on the Marching 97,” said Simon. “We couldn't be more proud of the honors that you’ve earned.”

Robert Donchez, Mayor of the City of Bethlehem, presented a proclamation to Longworth, welcoming the group to Bethlehem and thanking them for their invitation to the Marching 97.

“We commend your commitment to this outstanding event and extend best wishes for a successful and exciting parade,” said Donchez. “We thank you for inviting the Lehigh University band to contribute to this event and share in the richness and diversity of your city, and for allowing us to bring the richness and diversity of our city and university to you.”

The London New Year’s Day Parade, which in 2017 will include more than 8,5000 participants from the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, has in past drawn a crowd of more than a 650,000 and a worldwide television viewership of more than 300 million. 

“They come to see you,” said Robert Bone. “There’s about 20 different countries represented. But the stars of the show are the marching bands from the USA.”

Bone introduced Longworth, who, in keeping with tradition, officially invited the band to the 2018 parade, its 32nd running. She began by divulging her own fondness for marching bands.

“When I first came over [to the U.S.] a good 10 years ago to see the marching bands, I was just blown away by what you do, how you do it, the work you put into it, the commitment you have for it. It’s just amazing, and I love to watch you. Thank you for this wonderful welcome that we’ve had today,” she said.

Longworth read and presented the official invitation to Hillman, who enthusiastically accepted “on behalf of the Marching 97 past and present, and the future members who will be joining us in this parade.”

“You will have the trip of a lifetime, an opportunity which is amazing, and the parade itself, which is a joy,” said Longworth.

‘This lot are obviously good.’

The Marching 97’s invitation was the result of the band’s reputation: the parade committee learned of them via word of mouth, discovered more about them and extended an initial invitation. The Marching 97 are a unique group, Longworth said. 

“They don’t get an invitation unless they’re good, and this lot are obviously very good,” said Longworth of the band. “I have heard them play a bit, and I recognize that they’re very good. But having met them, they are different because of their wonderful uniforms and their camaraderie and their enthusiasm. They’re bright kids.”

To commemorate Monday’s event, Longworth presented Simon with a plate featuring the coat of arms of the British royal family and the names of every king and queen of England since 1066. Simon, Donchez and Hillman also received cufflinks imprinted with the coat of arms of the City of Westminster, and other student leaders received pins with the same design. An official LNYDP umbrella was also presented in a symbolic effort to prevent rain on parade day.

“If you carry an umbrella with you at all times, it won’t rain,” said Bone with a laugh.

A reception and meet-and-greet followed the formal ceremony. Band members and guests enjoyed refreshments and mingled with the visitors before sending them off with a well-received musical farewell.

Ringing in 2018

The band’s visit to London in late 2017 through early 2018 will offer several sightseeing opportunities. In addition to their New Year’s Day parade performance, the Marching 97 will perform in a Gala concert at a historic location in London. Past Gala concert venues have included Cadogan Hall, home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Westminster Central Hall and Westminster Cathedral. The university is also planning a London alumni event during the visit.

Founded in 1906, the Marching 97 has a long and celebrated history. The band played at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and 1969, at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, and at Yankee Stadium for the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette football game in 2014. The tradition of “Eco-flame,” which features the band playing in classrooms across campus on the Friday of Spirit Week, will continue later this week.

“I’m really excited that we get to kick off Le-Laf weekend [and Spirit Week] with this,” said Hillman prior to Monday’s ceremony. “It’s incredible that we’re going to be representing our school internationally. This is a huge opportunity for Lehigh. We’re showcasing our pride for our university internationally, further than we have ever gone before.”

Video by Stephanie Veto

Photos by Christa Neu


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