High school marching bands honored to perform in NYC for St. Patrick’s Day Parade

FHS and LWHS bands participate in 263rd annual celebration

Photo by Kevin McCormick / GroupPhotos.com

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Posted March 21, 2024 | By Caroline Brauchler

Two Marion County high school marching bands made a long journey last weekend, which culminated with them serenading the streets in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

On March 16, 210 students from the Forest High School and Lake Weir High School marching bands played for about 2 million spectators while marching down Fifth Avenue, playing a medley of songs.

Lake Weir High School Band Director Michael Jennings said the students worked hard fundraising money to make the trip possible.

This was a onceinalifetime experience for my students to not only get to collaborate with another school on such a significant project but to also be able to represent Marion County and the state of Florida in a national parade,” Jennings said in an email.

The NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the oldest parade for the holiday in the world, preceding even the signing of the Declaration of Independence with the inaugural parade taking place in 1762.

The two bands jointly performed the songs “Irish Spectacular,” “An Irish party in Third Class” and “Cold Hearted” on the trek down Fifth Avenue from East 44th Street to East 79th Street.

This year was the 263rd annual parade. As St. Patrick’s feast day fell on a Sunday this year, the parade was held on Saturday in respect of religious observations.

For FHS and LWHS, performing in such a renowned event is just the most recent achievement of a long list of accolades. Jennings and Forest High School Band Director David Jones both said their bands consistently perform at high levels and earn top honors for it.

“We received an invitation from the parade committee based on our recognition and successes over the last several years,” Jennings and Jones said.

The LWHS marching band, jazz band and concert band typically receive superior ratings from adjudicators at the district’s Music Performance Assessment, which evaluates and grades the groups’ performance. A superior is the highest rating an ensemble can earn, showing that the musicians perform together at a very high level.

The FHS marching band, jazz band and concert band also all received superior ratings this year. The jazz band has moved onto the state-level assessment, which they will perform at this week. The marching band has consistently placed within the top three at local marching band competitions for the past five years, said Jones in an email.

It cost about $1,025 per student for the travel costs and expenses for the trip from Marion County to New York City. The money was raised through fundraising, booster programs, sponsorships and individual contributions, Jennings said.

“My students participate in fundraisers in which they sell cheesecakes, popcorn and candy,” Jennings said. “They also participate in projects in which they provide music for the community by playing outside of Publix, Walmart and Eaton’s Beach.”

This isn’t the first time the FHS and LWHS bands have played together, but it might be the most special of circumstances.

“Having two bands combine for a national parade performance, that is not something that happens regularly within the music world,” the directors said.

Not only do the musicians work together, but their color guard counterparts, too. The bands’ teams of performers who throw flags, spin rifles and catch sabers work together annually in a county-wide color guard recital.

LWHS and FHS do have a history of combining forces for local performances since both Mr. Jennings and myself have been at our schools,” Jones said. We do have one joint performance that we do together each year, Jazz on the Square, where both jazz bands get together and perform in downtown Ocala.

After tons of fundraising, numerous rehearsals and over a thousand miles of travel, the bands finally achieved their goal and played a performance they’ll never forget.

Though it was hard work, the experiences and memories that were made on this trip will last a lifetime,” Jones said.

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