London official invites Groton students to cross ocean for parade
Groton — The Fitch High School auditorium grew silent as the deputy lord mayor of Westminster, Robert Davis, walked down an aisle, followed by local officials. The school's marching band stood on the stage waiting, their instruments down.
Davis wore the attire he dons for any official duties: red robes with ermine fur, chains with badges bearing the coat of arms for the City of Westminster, and white gloves.
"The reason I wear white gloves is when I vote in meetings of the City Council, it shows that my vote has not been bought," Councilor Davis said. "They're virgin-white, which means they're clean and pure and have not been corrupted."
He made the trip from London to Groton to officially invite the Fitch marching band and chamber choir to perform in the 2019 London New Year's Day Parade and Festival.
After giving a history of the Westminster City Council and detailing the celebrities and icons he has met — Nelson Mandela, Robert De Niro, the Spice Girls and Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the largest audience reaction was to One Direction — Davis gave his request.
"After a tough and a thorough selection process, to ensure that the parade only comprises of the very best," he said, "I have with me the formal invitation to invite you all to come to London and participate in the 2019 London Parade and Festival, an honor bestowed on very few high schools in the United States, so will you accept?"
The dozens in the audience responded with a resounding, "Yes!"
Andrew Lefebvre, director of bands at Fitch, said he found out over the summer that the marching band was selected to participate in the parade, at the recommendation of Bands of America. The Groton Board of Education approved the trip soon after.
Lefebvre is just now starting to put together information for parents, and the deposits are due in December. He guesses that 75 to 100 students will go on the trip, which has an estimated cost of $3,000 per student.
"I think the element of travel is one of those things that changes people," said choir and orchestra director John Frascarelli, "so it really is one of those things that sort of broadens the educational experience to get out of your hometown and go out and see how other people live."
For the invitation ceremony, Davis arrived in Groton on Monday evening with Bob Bone, executive director of London's New Year's Day Parade and Festival.
They arrived in the United States a few days ago, Davis said, first visiting Atlanta and then Delaware. They stayed in the Mystic boutique hotel Spicer Mansion on Monday night, and after the ceremony, they were off to Wisconsin.
The other invitation ceremonies in the next week are in Wisconsin, Ohio, Oklahoma, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix and Palm Springs.
Davis said he was struck by how "quaint and beautiful" Groton is — or "Grow-ton," as Bone was tempted to pronounce it.
At the ceremony at Fitch High School, Davis presented a gift to the school: a plate made for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. He also gave sets of cuff links to Groton Town Mayor Bruce Flax, Lefebvre and Frascarelli.
Students waved miniature United Kingdom flags as a video highlighting the parade played, and the marching band and chamber choir both performed.
"I see a lot of marching bands. You are excellent," Bone said after the first performance. "If that's a work in progress, I hate to think how awesome you're going to be when the show is finished."
According to Bone, who founded the parade 32 years ago, the event draws 8,000 participants and around 630,000 spectators.
Drum major Charlina Holloway, a junior, said finding out about the invitation was surreal.
"I'm still really shocked by it, because I've always wanted to go to London since I was really little," she said. "It's just amazing that we get an opportunity to do this."
Woodwind section leader Jenny Stadnicki is graduating in the spring but said current seniors still are invited to the parade, and she plans to attend.
"I think we're going to bring a lot of energy and pride for not only our country but our school," she said, "and I think we'll bring a lot of good music."
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