East Lake High School band director John Fulton directs as part of his marching band rehearses for the upcoming performance in the Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
PALM HARBOR – East Lake High School senior Kelli Yeazell had been promised a trip since her freshman year of high school.
The drum major heard stories of other high school marching bands traveling the country for performances and competitions, but East Lake’s band had stayed close to home while she’d been performing. Until May, that is, when the 78 members of the marching band will travel to Washington, D.C., to perform in the National Memorial Day Parade Monday, May 26 on historic Constitution Avenue.
Last January, East Lake marching band director John Fulton was invited to apply with Music Celebrations International, based on their straight superior ranking at a recent marching band festival. He sent in the application along with references and a DVD of a performance, and in July, received an official invitation to represent the state of Florida in the Memorial Day Parade.
“It’s validation that we’re doing the right thing,” Fulton said. “We’re growing in the right direction.”
In just his third year teaching at East Lake High School, Fulton said he’s worked to offer an environment for his students to grow musically.
“It’s a family environment in here,” Fulton said. “Even students who transfer in during the middle of the year become part of the family almost immediately.”
But before Fulton and his students can spend four days exploring Washington, D.C. and performing for the nation’s veterans, they first have to raise about $62,000, nearly $800 per student for transportation, hotels and food. So between All-County performances and after Music Performance Assessments, students are selling candles and ornaments to their neighbors, hot dogs and pretzels to their classmates during football games and holding tag days outside Publix.
Once in the capital, Fulton has planned for his students to “get in touch with their patriotic side.” The marching band will visit the Marine Barracks, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ford’s Theater and some of the Smithsonian Institution Museums, as well as participate in tours of Arlington National Cemetery, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln, Korean, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam and National World War II Memorials.
Junior Daniel Jones, who plays the trumpet in the marching band, said that he’s grown as a musician alongside Fulton, who began teaching at East Lake High School the same year Jones began attending there.
“I’ve learned so much from him, and I think he’s learned a lot from teaching us too,” Jones said. “It’s just such an honor to be chosen to perform on Memorial Day.”
Now, the East Lake High School marching band has almost three months to prepare for the Memorial Day Parade, and Fulton and his students are still trying to comprehend the honor bestowed upon them.
“This is going to be the last big thing I do in high school,” Yeazell said, “and I couldn’t be more excited.”
For more information on the band’s journey to Washington, D.C., updates on local performances or to donate to their travel fund, go to www.eastlakeband.com.