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In major coup, Fergus Falls High School marching band to perform at Obama inauguration

When Fergus Falls High School band director Jim Iverson pitched the idea of performing at President-elect Barack Obama's January inauguration parade, skeptical students and colleagues deemed it a long shot.

They had a point.

A record 1,382 marching bands, musical acts and drill teams from across the nation vied for a chance to perform at the historic event, compared to the 300 to 400 that usually apply for inaugural lineups.

Still, band members found out Monday they had the outsized competition beat. On Jan. 20, they will march down Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House, performing their trademark rendition of the "Yankee Doodle." In the meantime, they're in for hours of extra early morning and weekend rehearsals.

But, as director Scott Kummrow told ecstatic students Monday, "All that hard work and sacrifice will pay off when we're approaching the White House and Barack Obama is there listening to us perform."

The 120-member band submitted an extensive application in mid-November. It included a video with snippets of past performances, including the band's first-place finish at the 2006 International Lions Parade in Boston. It also featured a recording of the piece the group looked to play at the parade, the patriotic "Yankee Doodle," which unlike most marching bands it performs with vocals.

"Then we played the sit-and-wait game," Kummrow said. "It was very nerve-wracking the past couple of weeks."

The submission went to the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, which reviewed applications and passed them on to the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman with the committee, said experienced military musicians looked for talent and a measure of geographic diversity.

The 56th inauguration parade is expected to handily beat the 1.5 million turnout record set at Lyndon Johnson's 1965 inauguration. According to media reports, tickets to the parade are fetching five-figure sums in online auctions.

On Friday evening, Fergus Falls band directors found out the marching band along with fewer than 90 other acts would land in the 1.5-mile parade. In a Presidential Inaugural Committee news release, Obama stated, "I am honored to invite these talented groups and individuals to participate in the Inaugural Parade. These organizations embody the best of our nation's history, diversity and commitment to service."

Band directors think the band's national credentials - it was once recognized in the Grammy Signature School program - might have given it an edge, along with its loyalty to patriotic music when other marching bands are branching out to show tunes and movie themes.

"We're humbled and honored and excited," said Denise Wiese, a Fergus Falls band director. "There are so many adjectives to describe it all."

At 8:30 Monday morning, band students got pulled out of class and gathered in the band room to hear the news.

"Everyone was jumping up and down," said drum major Janelle Belske, a junior. "It was a surprise to everyone."

Belske said the inauguration trip was the talk of the school the rest of the day, and band members didn't mind the early morning rehearsals starting later this week.

Students will also work to raise the $300 to $350 per musician the trip will cost. To help, contact Wiese at (218) 998-0544, ext. 2620.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529