Park City High School’s marching band set to play in France to mark 75th anniversary of D-Day

The Park City High School Marching Band come down Main Street, following the school's color guard, during the annual 4th of July Parade on Tuesday.
Park Record file photo

In a couple of weeks, a small town in the Normandy region of France will watch marching bands parade down its streets to commemorate the soldiers who lost their lives on the nearby beaches 75 years ago. Dozens of Park City High School students will be among them.

The high school’s marching band is participating in the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The school is one of 17 bands and choirs from the U.S. selected to perform during the memorial parade. The band is also playing at two cemeteries in honor of U.S. soldiers who died in France during World War II. The band is set to perform its numbers for the Park City community May 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Dozier Field.

Bret Hughes, the director of percussion, said the school was selected to play in Normandy after the band performed in Hawaii in 2016 at the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He said the group that organized the musical performances at Pearl Harbor was impressed by the students’ behavior and skills. The group called Hughes two weeks after the students returned from Hawaii asking if the program wanted to perform in Normandy.

By June of 2017, the marching band trip to Normandy was cemented.

Liam Hanrahan, a junior and the band’s drum major, remembers hearing about the Normandy trip for the first time. He immediately knew he wanted to go. He played at Pearl Harbor and said it was impactful. He is eager to have a similar experience in France.

“Knowing the history of what happened there and being able to play and represent the U.S. is just a very cool experience,” he said.

Owen Nagel, a junior who plays the snare drum in the drumline, also went on the Pearl Harbor trip. He said he remembers looking up to the older band members during that time. Now, he is excited to be a leader to younger classmates.

The students began practicing for the Normandy events in mid-April and has 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 pitched in to pay for their travel expenses.

Valeny Valles, a junior who plays the flute, says she has been working the past couple years to raise money for the trip. She is excited to travel overseas and perform at a historic venue.

The marching band’s first stops during its tour will be at the cemeteries for fallen U.S. soldiers. The band will join the other 17 bands and choirs, including New York Police Department Pipes and Drums, for a mass band 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 gave permission to the bands to rearrange the song and play it for this sole occasion.

The band is set to play in Normandy on June 8 in the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where airborne operations took place during the battle. The bands will play in a parade and at the town square.

Hughes said the band plans to perform a mix of popular songs, such as “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder and “Carry on Wayward Son” by Kansas. He said because it is a global event, they wanted to play music people around the world would recognize.

“No matter where you’re from in the world, you’ve probably heard the tune and can probably enjoy it,” he said. “We’re trying to instill the environment of let’s have a good time, let’s celebrate each other and hang out and enjoy what we have.”

He said the parade is more “a celebration of freedom,” as compared to the performances at the cemeteries, which are more reverent.

Hughes said he is thrilled 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 primary subject is music, world history is a real thing that kids need to know.”

He said the students who went on 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 not yet determined where it will play.


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