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Commerce Township — Marching band members at Walled Lake Northern High School were “high-stepping” Tuesday after receiving an invitation to perform at London’s New Year’s Day Parade in January 2018.

A delegation of British parade officials visited the 1,685-student school to personally extend the prestigious invitation, one of only 16 high school marching bands asked to take part in the 31/2 hour event. This year, more than 640,000 people lined the 21/2-mile parade route. About 8,000 people from 20 counties participate in the parade, which is broadcast to millions globally.

“You are the most popular part of the parade,” said Robert Bone, the parade’s executive director. “You are fantastic and we don’t have anything like you in Britain. Our bands are either military or boring.”

The 240-member band greeted the Londoners with a sample of what they can expect, beginning with a brassy version of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” and Blondie’s “Call Me.” Seniors wore gray T-shirts with “Walled Lake Northern Class of 2017” on them and underclassmen dressed in snappy black and red T-shirts with “Walled Lake Northern Marching Knights” on the back.

It was not an audition, but the Brits made no secret they were impressed.

“We knew they were good — we have ‘spies’ here that have checked them out for us — and we had previous experience with (band director) Mary Hulliberger a few years ago,” Bone said. “But I was blown away, they were great.”

Bone and others, including Roger Bramble, the senior patron and former lord mayor of the city of Westminster, said they were impressed by the young musician’s talent and enthusiasm.

“You look as if you really enjoy what you are playing,” Bone told the band. “And if you are enjoying, anyone hearing you is bound to enjoy it as well.”

He told the band they can look forward to a week of “music, culture and history” on the trip.

Hulliberger, now in her eighth year as the school’s band director, credited the Walled Lake school district with encouraging music in grades K-12.

“They (district) recognize the contributions that music makes in young lives and there are payoffs in so many ways, this is just one of them,” she said.

Among those playing gleaming, polished trumpets were freshman Peyton Piontkowski and Hunter Velphoven, a sophomore.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Piontkowski said. “But I am definitely planning on going and so are my parents and my brother, who is also in the band.”

Hulliberger said she has extended an invitation to graduating seniors to return and participate in the trip.

“They’ve earned the right,” she said, noting band members practice more than eight hours a week, twice a week from 5-9 p.m. after classes.

Each student will be responsible for their own travel expenses, estimated at $3,300. School officials, such as principal Gregory Diamond, said Tuesday he expects a “lot of fundraisers” over the next year.

“We couldn’t be prouder of them,” he said.

Samantha Vader, a senior who plays clarinet, called the invitation “the coolest thing to ever happen to our band.”

“To have them (parade officials) come here and express their appreciation is incredible,” said Vader, who hopes to attend either Grand Valley State or Michigan State University after graduation, and participate in marching band.

“I hope to go along on the trip,” she said. “It will be quite an experience.”

The marching band has gone on the road before: in 2014 they flew to Hawaii and performed at Pearl Harbor and have twice been featured performers at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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