Travel Series: Allons’y, Marching Comets

Parade Back New Years Paris

If you had told me that I would be ringing in 2016 from Paris, France when I was a college freshman, I would have told you that you were in need of a psychiatrist.

If you had told me that I would be ringing in 2016 from Paris, France in front of thousands of people along its historic streets, dressed in bright crimson and classic black — donning a shako and holding a clarinet — I, myself, would have had to debatably consult a psychiatrist too.

Well, it is now 2016. And I have to pinch myself to believe that I did ring in New Year’s Day marching in the La Grande Parade de Paris Champs-Elysees, sporting a brand new Olivet College Marching Comets uniform, playing Cab Calloway, R&B hit Soul Finger, the theme to the U.K. TV series Dr. Who, and our college fight song much to the delight of thousands of Europeans who lined the streets to witness one of the most climatic moments of our season debut.

We marched along the same cobblestone as Napoleon and his troops did hundreds of years ago before us. The two-hour route led everyone toward the Arc de Triomphe and a return trip toward the Seine River. Murmurs and shouts of Ooo-la-la and other non-native tongues buzzed through the cool air underneath the thick, booming notes of brass and cheery winds that pushed its way to the tops of the Gothic architecture hugging the parade-way, immersing everyone in a warm melting pot of a bright, powerful sound not indigenous to Europe.

Crowd View Paris Parade

Many of us, being from small communities across the state of Michigan, were not akin to the spectacular attention we received as one of seven American marching bands invited to perform in the parade; we were familiar with small parades that employed a one-cop-car-escort in a snug downtown route, we were used to farmland, we were used to rolling hills and we were used to only that first-time, child wonder of feeling small but equally fascinated when visiting a bustling city, such as Chicago, for the first time.

The fact was we were the attraction. The fact was we were making history. And the fact was that it remains to be one of our finest hours.

Nothing quite equipped us for the energy and fervor of a European parade and celebration, or attention: those who were flanked on the left and right side of our block endured endless waves of crowd goers approaching with selfie-sticks, posing inches away to nab an elusive marching band Instagram-worthy shot; parents ushering their toddler to stand next to one of us for a scrapbook picture; followers walking alongside us for several feet asking in a thick accent where we were from. You would have thought, at moments, that the event was at The Louvre and we were the priceless Mona Lisa.

The French knew no boundaries. But the French do not have American marching bands.

Paris Parade Clarinets.jpg

The fact was we were the attraction. The fact was we were making history. And the fact was that it remains to be one of our finest hours. We spent six days in France. Our marching season lasted nearly five months. But in just one Friday afternoon we made more monumental strides as a unit than what could have been made in a 50-year music career by blazing one of the most scorching 8-to-5 trails a marching band could actualize after such a lengthy hiatus.

It’s been over three decades; it’s time for a new internationally-approved tune.

We are the Marching Comets. And we’ll always have Paris.

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