'Your reputation is terrific': Normal Marching Band invited to ring in 2025 at London parade
Friday’s performance of the Normal Marching Band wasn’t at its typical venue, surrounding the audience inside the Normal West High School auditorium. And it celebrated a destination that will be even less typical.
The show was part of a ceremony inviting the band to perform at the 2025 London New Year’s Day Parade, an event that draws more than 8,000 performers from 26 countries. More than 600,000 people crowd the narrow sidewalks along the 2.2 mile route, and millions watch as it’s broadcast across the globe.
London will be the band’s first international destination since the Normal Community and Normal West bands combined in 2018. In those few years, the band has won numerous competitions, including being named the Class 6A Illinois State Marching band champions in 2022 and 2023. They were the Governor’s Grand Champion at the Illinois Marching Band Championships at the University of Illinois in 2021, and performed at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade.
And the band directors and staff received the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Those Who Excel” Award of Excellence in the team category in 2023, the highest honor for an instructional team.
“It can’t be any great surprise to you that you’re going to get this invitation tonight,” said Bob Bone, founder and chairman of the London parade, who came to Normal for the event. “Your achievements and your reputation is terrific.”
Both band directors said they’d had an eye out for an opportunity like this, and when it presented itself, they discussed it with families to make sure there was support.
The exact number of students who will make the week-long trip starting December 2024 isn’t certain, but Normal West band director Ryan Budzinski expects more than 100.
Along with a parade performance, the band may perform in one of the gala concerts that take place throughout London in conjunction with the parade. In addition, the trip includes tours, including to the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, London’s West End, and a boat trip on the River Thames.
The trip will cost $4,100 per student, including $350 marching band dues, according to the band’s web site, normalmb.org. Band members are not required to travel, but students must be in the band to be eligible for the trip.
The directors think the experience will be great for numerous reasons — both musically and for the overall experience.
“I think in terms of the experience, certainly that’s exciting. You know, a football field is a great place to make music, but the more intimate the experience can be in a closer area really brings the experience closer to the audience members,” said Budzinski, adding the energy and excitement of the crowd inspires the musicians, as well.
Paul Carter, the Normal Community director, said the band creates a unique show every year, so they haven’t determined a repertoire that would reflect the trip.
Mohnish Janagan, a sophomore in the band who plans to make the journey, said he’s excited to represent the community, and also to visit London, where he’s been once before.
“I love the monuments. It’s fantastic there, and all the arts,” he said.
As excited as the members are, the parade representatives, who also included Duncan Sandys, great-grandson of wartime leader Winston Churchill, said attendees will be excited to see them, as well.
According to Bone, “The most popular thing, the favorite thing, the number one thing in our event in London every single year are the high school, college and university marching bands from the United States of America.”
“The answer is we don’t have anything at all — nothing — like you. Nothing with the spectacle and the talent and the ability and the fantastic uniforms, etc.,” he said.
In other words, because they’re uniquely American.