In a few weeks, a small town in the French region of Normandy will see marching bands marching through its streets to commemorate the soldiers who lost their lives on nearby beaches 75 years ago. Dozens of students from Park City High School will be among them.
The high school brass band takes part in the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The school is one of 17 bands and choirs from across the United States selected to perform in the Memorial Parade. The band also plays in two cemeteries in honor of American soldiers who died in France during World War II. The band is scheduled to perform their numbers for the Park City community on May 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Dozier Field.
Percussion director Bret Hughes said the school was selected to play in Normandy after the band performed in Hawaii in 2016 on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He said the group that organized the musical performances at Pearl Harbor was impressed with the demeanor and skills of the students. The band called Hughes two weeks after the students returned from Hawaii to ask if the program wanted to perform in Normandy.
In June 2017, the marching band’s trip to Normandy was cemented.
Liam Hanrahan, junior and drum major of the band, remembers hearing about the trip to Normandy for the first time. He knew right away that he wanted to go. He played at Pearl Harbor and said it was impactful. He is looking forward to a similar experience in France.
“Knowing the history of what happened there and being able to play and represent the United States is just a very cool experience,” he said.
Owen Nagel, a junior who plays snare in the drum line, also made the trip to Pearl Harbor. He said he remembered admiring the older members of the group at that time. Now he is excited to be a leader for his younger classmates.
The students began training for the Normandy events in mid-April and held fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for the trip. The Park City Education Fund donated money to help pay for the band’s instruments to travel with them. The students also contributed to paying their travel expenses.
Valeny Valles, a junior who plays the flute, says she has worked for the past two years to raise money for the trip. She is excited to travel abroad and perform at a historic venue.
The band’s first stops on its tour will be at the cemeteries of fallen American soldiers. The band will join the 17 other bands and choirs, including New York Police Department Pipes and Drums, for a mass arrangement of the song “Hymn to the Fallen.” American composer John Williams wrote the song for the World War II film “Saving Private Ryan”.
Hughes said Williams allowed the bands to rearrange the song and play it for just this one occasion.
The band is due to play in Normandy on June 8 in the town of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where airborne operations took place during the battle. The bands will play in a parade and in the town square.
Hughes said the group plans to perform a mix of popular songs, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and Kansas’ “Carry on Wayward Son”. He said that because it’s a global event, they wanted to play music that people around the world would recognize.
“No matter where in the world you’re from, you’ve probably heard the melody and can probably appreciate it,” he said. “We try to instill the environment of let’s have a good time, celebrate each other and hang out and enjoy what we have.”
He said the parade is more “a celebration of freedom,” compared to performances in cemeteries, which are more respectful.
Hughes said he was delighted for the students to visit Normandy and learn more about D-Day.
“There is no better way to teach world history than to experience world history,” he said. “Even though our main subject is music, world history is a real thing for children to know.”
He said the students who participated in the Pearl Harbor trip had a better understanding of the emotional impact of the attack, and he expects the same outcome from this trip.
The marching band will also travel to Paris to perform before returning to Park City. Hughes said the band has yet to determine where they will play.