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Busy Bee Band Ready for Rose Parade

Article by Debra Minor Wilson (12/19/99) - Times-West Virginian

FAIRMONT - A taste of honey in a bed of roses.  In less than two weeks, the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees of East Fairmont High School will treat the world to its sweet, award-winning sound in the 111th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day.

On Saturday, the 240-member ensemble gave a sample of its parade and field show routines to more than 150 relatives and well-wishers, who packed the school gym to support and applaud their band.

The band demonstrated its powerful sound as only woodwinds and Sousaphones played "Georgy Girl."  When the brass joined in - the sound filling the gym and ricocheting off the walls - the band blew the audience away.  The historic news of the band's selection to be in the parade was announced last December by Ken Burrows, president of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

"It's hard to believe it's been a year," said Earl McConnell, band director.  "Those 360-plus days have flown.  But we've done a lot of growing.  We had more than 70 freshmen this year.  They were included as eighth graders in the preparation for this parade."

To a teenager, a year is forever.  But last year's forever is almost today.


"The students are becoming very excited.  They're realizing that in two weeks, we'll be performing in the Rose Bowl Parade," McConnell said.  The two-hour parade will be televised from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. EST by ABC, CBS and NBC, and by satellite to five continents, to more than 100 countries and to more than 450 million people.


You don't have to watch the entire parade to see these hometown favorites.  The Marion County band is the 28th unit out of 110 - right up front.  "This has been a tremendous experience for the students, me, the school and community," McConnell said.  As the band entertains the more than 1 million people along the 6 1/2 mile parade route, it will be marching into history.  Of the 25 bands in the parade, the EFHS band will be one of only 15 high school bands, chosen from 220 applicants.  It will also be the third band from West Virginia to march in the parade, and the first from North Central West Virginia.


Being one of the chosen 15 is an honor not only for the East High band, but for all of West Virginia.  "People will know of Fairmont," he said.  "And the support of everyone will be on the right shoulder of each band member during that parade."


The band will take four commercial flights from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, and use seven buses a day for ground transportation - at a cost of $160,000.  But don't worry; the band is "financially set and ready" to go, McConnell said.  The generous support from "all of Marion County" has helped make this a dream come true for the young musicians.  Other support has come from fund raisers; corporate individual and anonymous donations, and money from the city of Fairmont. EFHS alumni "from California and Oregon and back to the East Coast" have been amazingly generous in their financial support, he added.


Marion Countians can share the band's exciting adventures in Pasadena through a daily column that week in the Times-West Virginian, along with photos from the site.  More information is also found on the band's website:


The parade will not be judged.  But that's OK, McConnell said.  "We've already been judged.  The fact that we're in the Tournament of Roses Parade has elevated our program on a national and worldwide level," he said.  The EFHS band was the only band chosen from its geographical region representing Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.  Bands needed to have at least 200 members to be eligible for the 2000 Tournament of Roses parade.  Return to Roses Coverage


Busy Bees Humming

East Fairmont band ready for Pasadena

Article by Jenni Vincent (12/19/99) - The Dominion Post


FAIRMONT - Dreams do come true, but not without a lot of hard work.  Perhaps no one knows that better than Earl W. McConnell, director of the East Fairmont High School Busy Bee Band and Honeybees.  After more than a year of preparation, McConnell, choreographer Tracey Linn and his 240 band members are counting the days until they appear in the 111th Tournament of Roses Parade, in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day.


"Two weeks from today, the young men and women you see in front of you will have completed the Tournament of Roses Parade," McConnell said to an audience of nearly 150 well-wishers at Saturday's media day.  "So many people are responsible for our success," McConnell said.  "Band students and their families, band alumni and booster members, as well as local residents and businesses have really gotten behind us to make this trip possible."


Saturday was a time to show some appreciation; to give something back to the community, he said.  It featured the parade numbers and field show that band members and Honeybees will be presenting in California.  Excited friends and family members crowded around a table featuring everything from newly printed EFHS Busy Bee Band bumper stickers to lapel pins before moving to the gym for the performance.  Many people in the audience wore "Everything's coming up roses" t-shirts in support of the band program.


"Everything is selling really well, but especially the bumper stickers," said EFHS tech JoAnn Nuzum, mother of Queen Bee Blaire Nuzum.  "I'm telling you, in a couple of days we'll be seeing these on cars all over Fairmont."


Jim Wilson said it is amazing that his daughter, Ashley - a junior and Honeybee - along with other band members will soon be seen by both millions of people in the United States and internationally.  More than a million parade watchers are expected to line the 6 1/2-mile parade route which starts on South Orange Grove Boulevard and then turns onto Colorado Boulevard.  Three major networks - NBC, CBS and ABC - will be televising the 11 a.m. parade on Jan. 1.


"It is estimated that there will be a worldwide audience of over 425 million people, with an international network using 15 satellites delivering the parade to five continents and more than 100 countries," McConnell told the crowd, which gave the band several standing ovations during their performance.  McConnell said efforts to secure an invitation to the Tournament of Roses Parade began two years ago.  "I got together with the administrative board of our band boosters and asked if they would grant me some funds to travel out to Pasadena to watch the parade and see what goes on behind the scenes," he said.


Band Booster President Don Humphrey smiled as he recalled that early meeting when McConnell first suggested aiming for the Tournament of Roses Parade.  "He was confident that we could do it and, of course, knowing him we never had any doubt that our band program was up to this level of performing," Humphrey said proudly.  "Now that the time is almost here, it's exciting but a lot of us know that this trip has been in the making ever since Earl first suggested it years ago," he said.


That initial fact-finding trip was important for several reasons.  "I had to see if we could handle something like this logistically.  Plus, I also wanted to see the quality of groups that they had out there, because I wanted to be sure we could represent ourselves well," McConnell said.  Even applying for the parade isn't easy, he said.  "We had to have our application in a year and a half before we'd ever know if we'd get to go," McConnell said, still vividly able to recall the thick binder, color photos and even a video that had been sent to he parade officials.  Bands are reviewed by regions and the top two choices for each of the country's eight regions are selected.  But that figure is eventually whittled down to 12, McConnell said.

"The toughest part is from April when you apply, until December when they announce their choices," he said with a knowing smile.  "So it was actually last December that we found out we were going.  That gives the bands a complete year to get organized, raise funds and get ready."

McConnell made a second trip to Pasadena for last year's parade.  That's when he began "shadowing" other bands to see how they functioned and also signed a housing contract with the Hilton Burbank for band members' hotel accommodations, he said.

Since then, reservations have been made on four different United Airlines flights for band members and those who will be accompanying the students, McConnell said.  "Just making  these kinds of arrangements are tough enough," he said.  "Now we're down to the point where we'll actually have students flying in and out of several major national airports, such as Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Burbank and Los Angeles."


Students and band chaperones will leave Pittsburgh on Dec. 29 and return Jan. 3.  Return to Roses Coverage


"The Event of a Lifetime"

EFHS band prepares for performance in the Tournament of Roses Parade

Article by Debra Minor Wilson (12/26/99) - Times-West Virginian
Veterans Day Parade

How do you get ready for the event of a lifetime?  Well, you could daydream bout the fun you'll have.  Or you could put your excitement on the back burner and keep on working hard to make sure you'll get the most out of your trip.  That's exactly what the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees of East Fairmont High School is doing as it prepares for the undoubtedly highest honor ever bestowed upon this award-winning band; marching in the prestigious New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade.


This 240-member band is one of only 15 high school bands nationwide and one of only 25 bands worldwide chosen to march in the parade's special millennium edition.  The Jan. 1 extravaganza in Pasadena, Calif., will usher in the new year, the new century, and the new millennium.  And only special bands were eligible to participate - those with 200 members or more, with 220 bands applying.


The Jan. 1 extravaganza in Pasadena, Calif., will usher in the new year, the new century, and the new millennium.  And only special bands were eligible to participate - those with 200 members or more, with 220 bands applying.  After band director Earl McConnell saw an invitation for the parade on the Internet and submitted a video of the band, he found out in December 1998 his band was chosen to march.

The parade will be telecast on NBC, CBS and ABC, and shown by satellite to a worldwide audience of millions, elevating the schools' band program "to a national and worldwide level," McConnell says.


This is quite "as high an honor as you can get," McConnell says...a "tremendous experience" not only for East Fairmont High School, Fairmont and Marion County, but also as a testament to the excellence of band programs in the state of West Virginia.

And so, after a year "that has flown by," the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees - and chaperones and instruments and uniforms and many, many pieces of luggage - will depart from Pittsburgh International Airport on four separate flights this Wednesday.  They will return Jan. 3.

Only after arriving in sunny California will the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors see this dream undeterred become a reality.

It's been just a little over a year since Ken Burrows, president of the Tournament of Roses Parade, announced that this Marion County band would be in this annual extravaganza Jan. 1.

But it's not Jan. 1 yet and the band is still in Fairmont.

There's a lot of work left to be done.  And that hard work won't be over until, well, all the big bands have played.

This has been a year of determined work and never-ending practice, practice, practice for the largest high school band in Marion County.  On countless Saturdays, the students have marched 26 nonstop laps around East-West Stadium to condition themselves for the 6.5 mile-long parade.  They've also learned to play their four-song routine non-stop for the first mile and a half of the parade.  ("You never know when the TV cameras will be on you," McConnell says.)


The band has a plum position in the parade: 28th out of 110 units.


Repetition has helped the band members hone the field show and marching routines to a sharp perfection.  In fact, they've played "California, Here We Come" so many times, you could even say it's become their unofficial anthem.  The bouncy tune has undoubtedly become ingrained in their memories forever, like their school song, their favorite rock song or the song playing when they met their first love.


It's also been a year of selling, selling, selling to raise the $160,000 needed for the band's expenses.  But due to the "tremendous generosity" of the community, the band netted $20,000 from selling more than 98,000 pounds of fruit, raised more than $7,000 in a one-day tag day, and sold many plates and other parade-related items.  Fellow students have donated countless pennies.  The City of Fairmont and the Governor's Office each donated $5,000.  There have been many corporate, private and individual contributions - many from EFHS alumni from across the country.  On Dec. 1, McConnell says the band become "financially set" for the excursion.


With everything working out so well, it would be a well-worn cliche to say that everything is "coming up roses" for the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees.  But even in McConnell's office there is a beautiful vase of (could it be anything else) deep red roses.


And now, there are just a few days left.  The band could relax, take it easy for once.


No.  They continue to work hard for perfection.  Even on a 28 degree finger-numbing morning, the teens give it their all.  More than one player probably yearned to be inside the toasty warm school.  The sky is a dreary gray and bitter wind howls across the school's parking lot, high atop a treeless hill.  Normal for this time of year, the cold sky is a far cry from the sunny skies and warm temps that Pasadena promises.  (Rumor has it that the roses are in bloom there.)


Perhaps the warmest of the 240 member troupe are the 20 Honeybees, who in their dance routines are always in motion.  Despite the cold morning, the band is so loud that "I want them to hear this at East Dale!" McConnell urges.  (They probably did hear them.)


The band polishes its routines, the music seeming to echo off the buildings in downtown Fairmont miles away.  During the field show practice, McConnell is everywhere, helping one student adjust a trombone, making sure the lines are straight, the feet are in step, giving encouragement over this bullhorn.


The field show will include international bands and will be performed several days before the parade before an audience of 13,000.  The Bee show will have the audience "buzzing" with delight.  It's highlight is a high-stepping, foot snapping, 100-yard kickline of all 240 members..."from goal line to goal line," McConnell boasts, featuring two rousing Big Band-era songs, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" and "Riffin' the Blues."

From freshman to senior, members of this band are just beginning to realize this thrill of a lifetime is almost at hand.  Anticipation is starting to build.


"I'm really excited.  It's overwhelming at times," says Joshua Staley, senior sousaphone player.

He's been in the Busy Bee Band program since eight grade, so he performed at Walt Disney World with the band and played for the Pittsburgh Steelers half-time shows.



"This is the event of a lifetime.  But it's scary, too.  Everything building up to this one parade," he says.

"We're carrying a tradition and that's a heavy weight.  Past band members are expecting us to do our best.  Bust most of us are ready to live up to this reputation."


His father, Glen Staley (a civil law enforcement officer with the United Nations Peacekeepers), has flown in from Kosovo, Yugoslavia, to go to Pasadena with his wife Cynthia to see the parade.

As exciting as going to the Tournament of Roses Parade is, Joshua says when he was a sophomore, the band kind of knew something like this would happen.  "We were told before that it was a 'possibility' that we might go," he says.  "Mr. McConnell just mentioned, but nobody paid much attention.  It was too far in the future.  But we knew he might be applying."


Then came Dec. 15, 1998, when McConnell made the formal announcement.  Joshua says this time the band was astonished.


"It was like, 'wow!'  Then we thought 'Now, what do we do to prepare for this?'"  A year later, the magnitude of what's going to happen in just days has yet to hit, he says.  He adds that being in the parade "hasn't phased" his sister, Jessica, a Honeybee.  "But this will be the most exciting performance I will ever be in," he says.  "The millennium comes just once in a lifetime.  This is a heavy, heavy deal."

He's aware that on Jan. 1, the 240 students will be more than a marching high school band.  They will be representatives of West Virginia to a worldwide audience of millions.  "I'm very proud of that," Joshua says.  "We'll do our best to present the best possible West Virginia we can."

To viewers around the world, the band will also represent Fairmont and East Fairmont High School.  The language barrier among the different countries shouldn't be a problem.  "Music is always music," says Joshua.


For East freshman Crystal West, this is just one unbelievable experience.  The flute player was in the East Fairmont Junior High Band when McConnell announced he had entered his band for consideration in the Tournament of Roses Parade for 2000.  "We were all excited," says the daughter of Diane West and Sam West.  "He thought we had a good chance to get in, he told us."


Although she has never seen the parade, even on television, she admits this is a "big thing.  I'm excited.  I've never been past Ohio.  But it won't really hit me until I get ready to go."  At 14, she's about to get her first delicious taste of freedom.  This will be the first time she's been away from her parents.  But, she adds with a little sadness, it's also the first time she's been away from her parents on New Year's Eve.

But being in the parade will more than compensate for that.  "I'm glad we're doing this," she says.  "I want people to know where we are.  I'm excited to represent West Virginia and show people we're not the stereotype they might think of."


It's a great time to belong to the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees of East Fairmont High School.  "It's like we're doing everything right.  People want to hear us," Crystal says.  Return to Roses Coverage

January 6, 2000 Article by John Veasey


Article by John Veasey (01/06/00) - Times-West Virginian

Earl W. McConnell, director of the East Fairmont High School Busy Bee Band and Honeybees, was reflecting on his band's whirlwind trip to California and taking part in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.  "I'm a little bit tired," he said, "but extremely pleased. It was a great trip and quite an experience for these kids for what they participated in and what they got to see. I hope it will be a lifelong memory for them."


McConnell said he had already received some notes and letters from students and parents about the impact this trip has had on their lives. "They are pleased that this happened during their time here," he said.  Earl said that "most everything went as we had it planned. The itinerary was well packaged and allowed the students time to see the various areas and attractions."

Earl was pleased with the network television coverage the band received.  He was especially pleased with the high overhead NBC coverage of his 245-piece band making the turn onto Colorado Boulevard and the excellent comments made by the parade announcers on how well this turn was being maneuvered.


"We worked hours on that turn and I was pleased that the commentators liked it. It's a tough one and generally speaking, the camera often can catch you on things you haven't really worked on. But we spent a lot of time on that turn during our practices at East-West Stadium and it paid off."


The Busy Bee Band had friends in California it didn't know about until it got there.  "There was a gal who used to be here named Nancy Brown and she was in school in the Fairmont Senior High School band in the mid-50s when my parents were working with that band," he said.  "She is married to a Tom Geiling and when she found out we were coming and a McConnell was director of the band, she initially thought it was my late father," he said.  But he noted that Nancy's husband was in the production truck during the parade working of the Tournament of Roses satellite network.  "He told me that our coverage of our band went to 70 foreign countries and our band was on camera by that network for 2 ½ solid minutes. . . It pays to have friends in high places."


The trip to Pasadena and back was made via United Airlines. And Earl said the airline crews could not have been any nicer.  The 300-member traveling party made the trip on four planes. "This made it a little more manageable, especially in the airports," Earl said. "We had about 70 to 75 students and adults per flight. And they announced on each of the flights that the airlines was proud to be carrying the Busy Bee Band and Honeybees from Fairmont, W.Va. En route to the Rose Bowl. . . Several flight attendants told us that we could be really proud of the behavior of the youngsters on the planes."


The weather for the Rose Bowl parade on Saturday was much like it was here - temperatures in the mid-50s and cloudy.  "The weather was ideal for our kids because it wasn't too hot," the director said. "And every student who marched made the entire 6 ½ mile parade route. . . We didn't run into any heat or exhaustion problems and our kids were playing just as strong at the end of the parade as when they started out."


The band led a parade at Disneyland on Jan. 2 when the mercury rose into the 70s. "And at each venue as we marched by, there would be this big announcement that this was the Busy Bee Band that had performed in the Tournament of Roses parade on the previous day."

Earl said that a number of spectators at Disneyland had seen the band the previous day. "You could tell by their positive reaction. This was very rewarding."


One of the most enjoyable experiences - and biggest surprises - for the students was their New Year's Eve party.  "Unbeknownst to the students," Earl said, "we planned a terrific New Year's Eve party in the ballroom of the Hilton. And while we were going through one final rehearsal outside the hotel between 4 and 6, the parents were preparing the ballroom for the party. . . We had an anonymous benefactor pay for the entire party and the ballroom looked like it had been professionally decorated." He said that it was "kind of a formal event. . . coats and ties and party dresses. . . The seniors came into the ballroom first and they literally froze there. Some even started to cry."


He said that everything was done on Eastern Standard Time so when they dropped the ball in Times Square, "then our kids went to bed," even though it was only 9 p.m. in California.  A buffet supper was held for the group and "we watched CNN and the networks do the coverage of the changeover for the millenniums in the different parts of the world."  He described it as "just a wonderful, wonderful evening."  "What a neat way to bring on the millennium," he said.


All of the band uniforms and instruments and other equipment were driven to Pittsburgh by W.S. Thomas Transfer. "That was part of the donation of W.S. Thomas," he said, "to transport all our instruments and equipment to and from Pittsburgh."  Then United Airlines drove them to Washington where they were flown out by jumbo cargo jet to Los Angeles.


Last Friday the young musicians had an "unusual" practice.  "We took the kids down to Santa Monica to the pier," he said. "Everyone visualizes what Santa Monica is like by what they see on 'Baywatch.' A lot of them wanted to dip their toes into the ocean. I was still up on the pier and watching the kids. Our graduate assistant, Michael Swisher, was there. I told him to march the band up the beach and some of them had their feet in the water as they marched. The people there on the beach gave us a nice ovation."


Band leaders kept the people back home in Fairmont abreast of what was going on via the Busy Bee Band website.  "We averaged more than 800 hits a day on the website," he said.

In looking back over the entire week, the Busy Bee Band director had one overriding though.  "I just hope we did Fairmont proud," he said.

They did!  Return to Roses Coverage


Letter from Booster President, Dr. Jim Henderson


I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the East Fairmont High School Busy Bee Band & Honeybees for a job exquisitely well done in their recent participation in the 2000 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. They represented their hometown, county and state in such a fine manner.

I would also like to thank the band, Mr. McConnell and Mrs. Linn for this experience from a purely personal point of view. My wife and I are members of the group of parent chaperones that travel with the Band and I must say it has been a joy and a privilege to be associated with this group of fine youngsters and their instructors.

Having been involved with the "behind the scenes" aspect of this trip, I can testify to the fact that this event was even more impressive than the TV coverage. Mr. Mac's organization and preparation was a monumental accomplishment in and of itself.

Also, the kids had more to do than just "perform". There was the constantly changing requirements of the march to adjust to, lost buses and delayed instrument arrivals, rain and cold weather challenges (yes, rain in Southern California), jet lag, an average of 3-4 hours of sleep per night, injuries and, lest we forget, the various flu and intestinal bugs sweeping through the group.

Keep in mind as well that many of these kids had never been away from home and their parents this long let alone being close to 2500 miles away and having to experience their first plane ride to get there!

But let me tell you, this band, as it always has, stood a little taller, worked a little harder and got through it and pulled it off fantastically. You wouldn't know by their performance that the week before was a lot of work, and that is how it should be.

They didn't even grumble all that much about rehearsing after the parade for the Disneyland appearance the next day. It was all made worthwhile when we had people stopping us in Disneyland, in the airports and on the planes coming home telling us how they had enjoyed the performance.

They made quite an impression out West and made the trip enjoyable and exhilarating even though it was exhausting. In closing, I would also like to thank my fellow chaperones for their hard work and camaraderie -- a finer group of people to be associated with would be hard to find.

Dr. Jim Henderson

Return to Roses Coverage

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