Erin Go Bragh, Or At Least For One Week For Purdue Band
All American Marching Band to perform at St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland
Macy's Parades and Rose Parades are accomplishments if you are a marching band member. A trip to the motherland of St. Patrick's Day is something else altogether.
The All-American Marching Band from Purdue University leaves on Sunday for a week-long journey to Ireland, a week that will culminate with an appearance in Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Band Director Jay Gephart says the trip is an accomplishment for a lifetime, even for a band with Purdue's pedigree - the first to make a letter formation on a football field, and the first to have a band member land on the moon - Neil Armstrong, Class of '55, baritone player.
Bands apply for the Dublin St. Patrick's Day Parade in much the same way they apply for prominent parades in this country. Gephart says they were notified of their acceptance almost a year ago, and the All-American band will be the largest of the four college marching bands from the U.S. in this year's parade. Bands from Colorado State University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and the University of Louisiana-Monroe will also march in Dublin, along with several U.S. high school bands. "From what we're told, it's more of an entertainment-type parade, where you'll stop and you'll play a little bit here and there instead of just making your way through the streets in record time. The fans expect to be entertained," Gephart said.
Purdue will take 325 band members, plus staff and several university officials to Ireland, and unlike a trip to Beijing, China two years ago, Gephart says the Big Bass Drum will also fly with them. The 10-foot tall drum built in 1921 is usually the All-American band's most recognizable symbol, and Gephart says parade officials in Dublin wanted to do something that's out of Purdue's norm. "When we marched Macy's, the first thing that came across the starting line was the Big Bass Drum. The folks in Dublin want our drum to be out in front of the band. Traditionally, it's in back of the band, so there's a real fascination with our drum."
Each person making the trip had to pay his or her own way, but Gephart says knowing they were going a year out made it easier on everyone. It allowed band members and others to pay installments over several months. "The way I marketed it to our students is, 'you may go to Cancun or the Caribbean for Spring Break. You need to go to Dublin, Ireland and march in one of the great parades in the world this year for spring break.'"
Every place the Purdue band visits is special in some way, but Gephart believes Ireland, particularly on St. Patrick's Day, will stand out, both for himself and for the band, "and really see what the whole St. Patrick's Day experience is all about, more than just a big party atmosphere and a parade, what we think it is here."