Marching during parades and football halftime shows are annual occurrences for the Brownstown Central High School Band of Braves.
But marching down Main Street at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, happens only every four years.
During spring break this year, 27 students, including band and drill team members, made the trip with director Richard Branaman and parent chaperones. For most of the kids, it was their first time performing with the band at Disney. For some, it was their first time to Disney or even Florida.
For everyone, it was a trip to remember.
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“It was just a new scene, new set of crowds and just basically playing our heart and soul out,” senior Josh Singleton said. “It was a different feeling. It was a place you’ve never been before, first time marching there, and you’re the first band that is seen, first one to step off.”
It was special for Singleton and other seniors since it was their final opportunity to play there with the band.
“I’m just glad I got to spend time and make memories with some great friends and end on a good note,” he said.
Since the late 1980s, Brownstown’s band has gone on a trip every other year, alternating between Florida and Washington and New York. In his 15 years as band director, Branaman has gone on seven trips.
All of them have been with Taylor Tours, which was founded by former music teacher Cliff Taylor. Branaman said that once Taylor retired he started arranging bus trips for bands.
Brownstown left for this year’s trip on a Sunday afternoon and arrived in Florida early the next day. Their performance was on Wednesday that week and started behind the iconic Cinderella Castle, which is at the center of Magic Kingdom.
The Band of Braves was the first of three bands marching in the parade before Disney’s character parade, which happens a couple of times a day.
Branaman carried the banner down Main Street with the band and drill team members behind him. Disney has strict rules, including bands not being allowed to play Disney songs. So, along the route, they played “Thrift Shop,” “Teenage Dream,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “Love Me Do.”
The band’s name and hometown were announced multiple times.
“Thousands of people heard our school’s name,” Branaman said. “The crowd will start building maybe an hour before that because everybody wants to see Mickey Mouse.”
Branaman said they are treated really well and get to see parts of the park that most customers don’t get to see.
For bands performing at Disney, there are several options. Branaman said that on their first trip they did a show at Epcot because he didn’t know what to expect.
Ever since then, they have played at Magic Kingdom, which requires sending in an audition tape of a recording of a show or march, along with pictures of the band and drill team’s uniforms.
“They want everything to be very professional, very up and up,” Branaman said. “It’s something you have to work to earn. That is something for these guys. It’s like, ‘You can just be a part of the band, but you can’t be a part of this show unless you earn their acceptance.’”
Band members start as early as sixth grade raising money on their own and through fundraisers to go on a trip.
Senior Lance Hackman said he went on a trip to Washington and New York when he was a sophomore, and this year was his first trip to Disney with the band.
“It was exciting when we actually went out there to march. It wasn’t like anything we’ve done before,” he said. “All the parades we’ve done in Seymour and Fort Vallonia, Disney was probably 10 times more people and everybody loved being there, and everybody cheered for us. It was exciting to be there.”
Classmate Darrell Branaman, whose father is director, said this was his fourth trip to Disney with the band. He went from carrying the banner when he was younger to marching and playing this year.
“There’s people from all different places around the world and all different cultures and stuff,” he said. “They might not all speak the same language, but music is something they can all connect to. You can see that they get it and they like it. It’s just a different feeling. It’s unreal.”
For freshman Bailey Hughes, this was her first time performing with the band at Disney. But when she was younger, she went on one of the trips when her older sister, Emily, was in band.
“It was kind of nerve-racking, especially with playing at Disney and all those people looking at you,” Hughes said. “But it was really fun. I think the band really did bond together a lot.”
Freshman Jenny Runge said her older sister, Katie, went on the Disney trip when she was in band and told her a lot of good things about it. This was Jenny’s first trip to Florida.
She is a member of the band and drill team, and on this trip she marched with the other two members of the drill team.
“That was a really cool experience to dance on Main Street during the parade,” Runge said. “It was completely crazy. You saw all those people. I don’t even want to think about how many people were there because it was crazy.”
Sophomore Cameron Lee made his first trip to Disney, too.
“Quite a few people were there,” he said. “It was pretty fun, and we bonded a lot, too.”
Also during the trip, aside from visiting Magic Kingdom and Epcot, the band went to Animal Kingdom, DisneyQuest and Universal Studios. They also spent a day at Cocoa Beach and went to a Blue Man Group concert.
Richard Branaman said he was proud of his students for representing themselves and the school well.
“You hope that the trip will bond the kids together, and it did. There are kids that didn’t usually hang together at school that were hanging out in groups together,” he said.
“I wanted them to see that the world is a much bigger place and there’s a lot of variety in people and places,” he added. “I also wanted them to have the experience of something that they had to work for and work until they thought it was good enough.”
He said having to meet Disney’s tough standards was good for the band to learn.
“I think that that’s part of the whole concept here at the school corporation at Brownstown,” he said. “It’s not good enough to be good. We’ve got to strive to be a lot more.”
Branaman and his returning band members now look forward to the trip to Washington and New York in 2017. They typically perform near the Statue of Liberty, but the last trip was moved to Lincoln Center because of Hurricane Sandy.
He said that’s always a neat trip because by having different tour guides each time they see different things.
“You always see things that you haven’t seen before when you go to those two places,” he said. “You can learn so much. You never know what’s going to be different that you get to discover while you’re there.”