London calling Herd of Thunder for parade

USF’s Herd of Thunder marching band had a royal surprise for the university Monday morning.

Duncan Sandys, the former Lord Mayor of Westminster and Winston Churchill’s great-grandson, flew in from England to formally invite the band to perform in the famed London New Year’s Day Parade next year. A ceremony was held Monday morning in the School of Music Concert Hall.

At the invitation-presenting ceremony, USF President Judy Genshaft, Provost Ralph Wilcox and others spoke, along with Sandys. Matthew McCutchen, associate director of Bands and director of Athletic Bands, received a crest from the mayor commemorating the achievement.

The band was selected to perform through “word of mouth” from other directors who have been chosen to perform in the parade, McCutchen said.

“Bands are simply based upon their reputation for performance excellence,” he said. “It is humbling to realize that band directors throughout the state of Florida think highly enough about this program to recommend us for this honor.”

McCutchen said the band knew it had been selected since summer 2011 but couldn’t announce it until now.

“We received the initial notification of interest from the parade organizers, and then we announced the possibility to the band in the fall to gauge interest.”

They also had to get approval from Genshaft, Wilcox, the Athletics Department, the dean of the College of the Arts and the director of the School of Music because the band would be gone from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, which could conflict with USF’s football season.

The trip costs $3,000 per student, most of which will be paid for by the students.

“The University has been tremendously gracious in allowing us to travel, and the administration wholeheartedly supports the trip,” McCutchen said. “However, the funding will come from the students and from any money that we are able to raise for this project over the next several months.”

Yet the cost does not seem to deter the marching band, he said.

“I told the marching band students that we had been cleared to proceed in January, and the excitement has been building ever since,” McCutchen said.

Aaron Campbell, a senior majoring in music education, said he does have some worries about financing the trip.

“We do not expect much money to come from fundraising itself,” he said. “It is an individual pursuit. There is a monthly payment plan set in place to help ease the burden.”

But while the costs are high, Campbell said the opportunity is “amazing.”

“There will be a lot of bands from the United States, and from all over the world, marching at this parade,” he said. “It is a great way to meet new people from different cultures and integrate new ideas into the band.”

The London parade began 26 years ago and now attracts a crowd of 3 million to 4 million and is telecast internationally to million more.

“In addition (to the actual parade), we will likely perform at a pre-parade concert, and are looking for other opportunities to perform that will benefit USF,” McCutchen said. “There will also be numerous sight-seeing and cultural exchange opportunities. We are thrilled to accept this invitation and very honored to represent the University of South Florida on this international stage.”

McCutchen said members worried about the fact that the marching band will be gone during what might be the USF bowl game, since the band plans to leave for London between Dec. 27 and 28. If the game does conflict with the trip, he said band members who do not go on the trip will go to the game and they will invite Herd of Thunder alumni to fill out the band.

“It is our hope that the bowl game occurs either before or after the trip so that we can do both,” he said.

There are 300 members in the marching band, but McCutchen said that most likely not all will go.