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Lebanon Valley College’s Pride of the Valley, which is the Middle Atlantic Conference’s largest marching band, is traveling overseas to perform in London’s New Year’s Day Parade as the leading act.

Ninety-five current members of the band will be joined by about a dozen alumni on the trip.

Dr. Christopher Heffner, director of Pride of the Valley, along with Alaina Gawel and Jacob McGovern, two student leaders of the marching band, discussed the long-awaited performance.

“We were invited a few years ago, right before COVID hit,” Heffner, who has been a Lebanon County resident since accepting his position as co-chair and associate professor of music at LVC in 2007, said. “And we were supposed to go to the 2021 parade. And things got pushed back. The first year, I think, the parade was canceled. And then, the second year, we elected to still kind of wait. And so, this has been a long time coming.”

Pride of the Valley was nominated by several directors to perform in the 2022-23 by-invitation parade. Recently, the marching band learned they will be the leading act.

“We were selected to lead the parade,” Heffner said. “So, we’re going to be the very first act coming down the street, which is really exciting. We get to control the pace and be the first thing that the people watching the parade get to see.”

Many eyes will be on Pride of the Valley as the parade is projected to draw more than half a million in-person spectators and more than 600 million online.

During the trip, select students and alumni will also perform in smaller ensembles at St. John’s Smith Square. On Dec. 30, nine members of the marching band will perform as a trumpet ensemble; six vocal majors, including Gawel, will perform a song from Six the Musical; a saxophone quartet, made up of McGovern and three of his close friends, will debut a McGovern original; and three members of the percussion section will perform a chamber piece.

“For that, Dr. Heffner gave me a really long leash and the ability to write a saxophone quartet,” McGovern said. “Part of what I do at LVC is I’m a composition major. So lately, I’ve been … writing pieces and having them debuted places and everything. So, it will be my third premiered work. And, I’m really excited for it. It’s going to be a great opportunity to present my work and everything in that kind of venue, especially overseas.”

McGovern continued, “It’s a great group to work with. And, I’m excited for all four of us to be able to perform there.”

Between practicing for and performing at football games and other events, Pride of the Valley started preparing for the parade during the fall semester.

Heffner said that on Dec. 11, “we had the first meeting with the alumni and all of the members of the current Pride of the Valley that are going to go on the parade. It was raining, so we were on the indoor track in the Arnold Sports Center. And then got together and rehearsed for a little over an hour, getting ready for the parade.”

During the Dec. 11 meeting, the marching band practiced marching in blocks. For some, like Gawel, London’s New Year’s Day Parade will be their first time marching in a parade.

“We’ll also have a couple more rehearsals once we get into London,” Gawel said. “They’re scheduled in our itinerary, just so we’ll be able to get that solid and we’ll be able to look good.”

Gawel also provided insight into what the Pride of the Valley will perform at the parade.

“For our grandstand performance, the grandstand performance is when we stop and we have like two minutes to perform something of our choosing, that portion is actually taken from our marching band show for this year. It’s taken from the finale of that show,” Gawel said. “So, we kind of already had the music learned for that portion.”

Gawel continued a large portion of the music the marching band will perform as they march comes from their football game preshow, including the Star-Spangled Banner and the Fight Song.

As the date for the parade approaches, members of Pride of the Valley are feeling excited, nervous, grateful, or a combination of all three.

“For us, it’s not just the parade. I mean, we are going for the parade. But, a lot of us have not even been out of the country,” Gawel said. “I, personally, have never been out of the United States. So, this is going to be a huge experience for me. It’s the same thing for a lot of people. So, it’s very exciting.”

Members of Pride of the Valley packed uniforms, instruments, and gear for the trip. (Provided by Dr. Christopher Heffner)

Gawel said, “I think Dr. Heffner has been put through the wringer the past couple of weeks because he knows we’re getting down to it. Getting to London, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it. But, he’s done a really nice job with that, ensuring that everything is 150% taken care of and taken care of well.”

“Thanks to the school and Dr. Heffner and all of them for helping us get it together. And especially, thanks to the London New Year’s Day Parade folks for inviting us to come,” McGovern said. “It’s just going to be a great time. I know myself and everybody is just really excited to get there.”

Lebanon County residents who are interested can tune into the parade, which will be aired live at 8 a.m. Jan. 1 on WITF television or the parade’s official website.

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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.


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