WHS Band Goes To London

WHS Band Goes To London Trip Of A Lifetime As Mighty Wolverine Sound Marches In The New Year’s Day Parade

By Deborah Welky

Wolverines disappeared from the British Isles ages ago, but a band of them invaded London in late December and early January, traversing in orderly fashion to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, and completing their two-mile march at Parliament Square.

It was the award-winning Mighty Wolverine Sound, of course, Wellington High School’s marching band.

First invited to participate in the London New Year’s Day Parade (LNYDP) in early 2020, the band had to wait nearly three years before they were actually able to participate due to pandemic cancellations. Then, with a live audience of more than 600,000, and approximately 500 million more watching on TV, the group quickly became the pride of Wellington.

Musically and logistically, it was a lot of work.

“We began practicing in early November, twice a week, working on our performance music — a Beatles medley and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen — as well as our parade marching formations,” WHS Band Director Mary Oser said. “Once in London, we spent the five days prior to the parade seeing many of the most famous historical sites in London and the surrounding areas, including Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Oxford University, Abbey Road, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. After having had to postpone the trip twice, the high point was performing in front of such a huge, warm, receptive and welcoming audience.”

Michelle De Armas, mother of 15-year-old Wolverine trumpeter Christopher De Armas, served as the London trip coordinator. “The band director, band students and band parents at Wellington High School worked very hard to get this special recognition and gave a spectacular performance at the parade,” she said.

While Oser handled communication between the band and LNYDP representatives, as well as anything involving the student/parent communication, students’ instruments and uniforms, De Armas handled rooming logistics, passport and plane information, and handbook information. She also created numerous rosters to keep track of the 75 students and 33 chaperones at the hotel, on planes, on buses, during daily tours, at meals and during afternoon sightseeing times.

“Planning was key,” De Armas said. “Early on, I created a hierarchy structure in order to chart out everyone for board members and chaperones, so we could organize the groups. This allowed chaperones to verify attendance and get everyone safely on the planes and buses to each destination. I designated various board members as passport, bus and plane coordinators to handle the overall tasks of checking in at the airports and daily tours, so it wasn’t just me.”

This included room accommodations and assigning a handful of students to each chaperone, whom they would monitor and be responsible for during the entire trip. De Armas created a “pod” system labeled by color and letter.

“This made it easier to group our six pods on the planes and buses, and allowed everyone to easily determine where they would go each day,” she said. “I also identified two captains per pod to verify the attendance at any event and maintain curfew.”

De Armas was also in charge of what she called “endless forms.”

“I input and verified all the passport information for the airlines, checked and double-checked to make sure the names, numbers and dates matched exactly. I worked with Ms. Oser and other board members to create a roommate list based on student preferences, then collated the lists and updated them if someone needed to switch rooms,” she said. “I then provided all rooming info to the tour company.”

The logistics were so complex that a handbook was created to streamline the process. De Armas worked with Wolverine Band Booster Association Public Relations Chair Pepper Adair to write the “Wolverine Band London 2023 Trip Handbook,” meeting with students and chaperones and using What’s App to disseminate information, answer questions and plan itineraries.

“This worked out well, especially for giving out info and updates to students, as well as tracking students and chaperones,” De Armas said. “I had been to London twice, but this was the first time I coordinated an overseas trip for 108 people, so there was a lot of stress. All of us chaperones were counting all the time!”

It certainly was stressful headed to another country, in a big city, dealing with large crowds visiting for the holidays, but, in the end, it was a picture-perfect success.

“Once we arrived at the airport and got everyone checked in, I knew things would be fine, and all of our chaperones could handle whatever would come our way in London,” De Armas said.

Once the entourage arrived in London, LNYDP representative Olivia Konieczka helped with logistics related to daily tours and buses, hotel rooms, banquet rooms, equipment rooms, hotel meals and the parade. She also helped De Armas find places to sightsee, eat and figure out how to get around town.

It was quite an experience, particularly for the students.

Adriana Takvorian is the band’s head drum major and a tenor saxophone player.

“The most exciting part for me was being able to travel outside of the U.S. and see all of the historic sites in London,” she said. “I also enjoyed the environment of the parade. It was one of the best experiences someone could have.”

Trombone player Sydney Nembhard loved the sightseeing as well.

“The most exciting part of the trip for me was being inside Windsor Castle and sharing that experience with my favorite people,” she said. “This trip is something I will never forget.”

It was a trip flute player Anden Toale will also never forget.

“I never thought I would be marching in an internationally renowned parade, one that is broadcast live to millions across the world,” he said. “The excitement and joy that filled me while marching down the streets of London was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I also enjoyed exploring new places and seeing so many new yet famous places I’ve heard so much about, such as Windsor and Oxford. Being able to take in all these new sights with all my best friends is an experience I will forever treasure.”

Aside from the logistics, the trip took years of fundraising to accomplish. Over the last several years, the Mighty Wolverine Sound received donations from its boosters’ GoFundMe page, as well as from Wellington International, the Royal Foundation, the Wellington Rotary Club, former WBBA President Janell Leatherman, and, of course, band parents themselves. In addition, Good Greek Moving & Storage donated wardrobe boxes to ship all 75 uniforms.

“We could never have accomplished this performance without the support of our administration, especially Principal Cara Hayden, and the community of Wellington,” Oser said.

The high point of the trip for De Armas was still the parade itself.

“After all these years trying to attend, I’m so glad the students were finally able to participate in this amazing experience,” she said. “My older son, Alexander, who plays snare drum, was supposed to go two years ago. However, like many previous band students, he graduated during the pandemic shutdown. My younger son, Christopher, was there. For me, walking in the parade with the band, taking photos of them to preserve this special moment, seeing the excitement in their eyes and hearing them play so well was the highlight of the trip.”

Learn more about the Wellington High School Mighty Wolverine Sound marching band at www.whsband.com.