WASHINGTON – Henry Simboli had one emphatic word following the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Incredible,” the Central Valley High School sophomore gasped.
The hourly ritual at Arlington National Cemetery, a sprawling memorial to the nation’s fallen service members across the Potomac River from the National Mall, became a first-in-a-lifetime experience for many members of Central Valley’s marching band.
The 130-student group arrived on four flights Thursday in Baltimore ahead of a performance in the presidential inaugural parade Monday.
Friday morning, huddled in overcoats and powder-blue letter jackets, the students witnessed the highly ritualized ceremony firsthand. Simboli said the experience bowled him over.
“The discipline and intensity of the guard is amazing,” said Simboli, who has relatives who have served in the military.
Junior flute players Alaina Graham, Morgan Baxter and Melissa Morgan were surprised to learn the origins of the cemetery. They hadn’t heard the story of the Union army seizing Robert E. Lee’s mansion during the Civil War and converting it into hallowed ground.
Later, students loaded onto a fleet of charter buses to head into Washington, D.C., for lunch, a U.S. Capitol tour and a meeting with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
“I’m very, very proud of you,” McMorris Rodgers told members of the band as they gathered around her and band director Eric Parker in the Caucus Room of the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill. Each section of the band, from woodwinds to brass, posed for photos with the congresswoman.
The group spent Friday night dining at the Old Post Office Pavilion along their parade route and visiting the International Spy Museum downtown, a destination many students said would be the highlight of the trip.
Focus may be difficult for the star-struck students, whose cameras constantly clicked on tours. But the group also performed Saturday in a competition in Baltimore, earning a silver rating.
Chaperone Bill DeReu, whose daughter Ellie is a sophomore trumpet player, is on his first trip with Central Valley’s band. He’s been impressed with their behavior and awareness of the experience.
“It’s amazing to me how much knowledge these kids bring,” DeReu said.
Preparations are under way throughout the district for both the inaugural address and parade set to take place Monday. Grandstands several stories tall line portions of the Mall, and banners congratulating President Barack Obama grace several buildings along the main parade route.
Andrew Peltonen, a sophomore saxophone player, said there were strict rules the band must follow, such as the four-step distance band members must maintain between each other.
But Henry Jiao, a freshman clarinet player, had some more practical concerns.
“All of us are probably going to freeze,” Jiao said, laughing.
Monday’s forecasts call for afternoon temperatures in the 30s and partly cloudy skies. It could be a repeat of 2008’s cold inauguration, in which temperatures struggled to top 30 degrees.
Those concerns weren’t on Simboli’s mind Friday.
“We’re honored to be presenting in front of the president,” Simboli said.