MMI band performs in Mardi Gras parades

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 14, 2005

Many people get nervous at the idea of performing for a few minutes in front of a crowd of fifty. For the Marion Military Institute Band, each February means having to stay calm performing for hours in front of an audience of thousands upon thousands.

That’s because every year, the MMI band travels to New Orleans to perform in the famous Mardi Gras parades. 2005 was no different, as the cadets arrived in the Big Easy on Thursday, February 3rd, and stayed for three nights while performing in the Knights of Hermes and prestigious Krewe of Endymion parades.

“We’ve been performing at Mardi Gras for 25 years now,” said Col. Deborah Street, the MMI band director. “Our students come from all over the U.S. They may never experience something like this. They might never march in front of that many people or have the opportunity to experience New Orleans. They are having the chance to perform in an event that is world-renowned. It’s a great experience for them.”

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While a great experience, the parades are also something of a test of endurance. By the time the Endymion parade finishes up late Saturday night in the parking lot of the New Orleans Superdome, cadets will have marched nearly 25 miles on the weekend. And every step is taken in perfect band formation, with instruments always either in hand or in use.

“I’m always amazed by their stamina and dedication,” said Street. “They complete the parades still in complete formation, and they’re the only [band] that does. After 25 miles they’re just the way they started. Even our prep school students, some of which are new and have not marched that distance before.”

Despite the rigors of the parade, Street says that MMI’s military discipline means that little specific preparation is needed before the trip.

“The cadets parade all the time,” she says. “They parade at drill every Monday. We spend two weeks ahead of time working on distance marching, but that’s all we do specifically for the New Orleans trip.”

MMI’s military organization also means Street has to do less chaperoning than might be expected.

“All the students are organized into companies,” she explains. “There’s a company commander, an executive officer, a sergeant…they live together, they function together as a group. This is just another activity for them to do, a follow-through for their normal activities back in Marion.”

That’s not to say, however, that the cadets are uptight or don’t have sense of humor.

“We take a vote on what music to play,” Street says. “The cadets felt that since Mardi Gras is a pretty lively place, they’d play something lively. So they voted to play the song ‘I Like the Way You Move.'”

That song, for the uninitiated, is by the Atlanta hip-hop group OutKast. It’s not exactly the first song that comes to mind when considering selections for a military band, but Street says it just shows the diverse interests the cadets pursue.

“Our cadets do everything,” Street says. “ROTC, athletics, band…a lot of people wouldn’t think about it at MMI, but they participate in a number of fine arts in addition to the band, like theater and choir.”

Those theater productions, such as “12 Angry Men” in March and “Fiddler on the Roof” in April, add a variety to the spice of cadet life, according to Street. But she adds that there’s nothing quite like Mardi Gras.

“The highlight would have to be the Endymion parade,” she says. “Just from the amount of people who see us. We go from City Park all the way down Canal St,

end up at the Superdome, and the whole way there’s never a spot when there’s no people.