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Trump committee invites Madawaska band to perform at inauguration event

MADAWASKA, Maine — Members of the Pride of Madawaska middle and high school band are preparing for a special trip to Washington D.C. later this month, where they have been invited to perform at one of the inauguration events for President-elect Donald Trump.

Being part of the inauguration will be “an experience of a lifetime” for the students, band director and music teacher Ben Meiklejohn said. “I am really excited about the opportunity.”

The Pride of Madawaska Marching band, seen here at a 2102 Memorial Day parade in Madawaska, Maine, has been invited the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. (SJVT / FhF image)

The Pride of Madawaska concert and marching band, seen here during the 2102 Memorial Day parade in Madawaska has been invited to perform in a welcoming concert on Jan. 19 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington as part of the 58th presidential inauguration celebration. (SJVT / FhF file photo)

The Presidential Inaugural Committee selected the Madawaska band to perform in a welcoming concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 19, one day before Trump takes the oath to become the 45th president of the United States.

Meiklejohn said the band, made up of 28 students, is excited about making the trip and representing Maine at the event.

Despite the divisiveness the 2016 presidential election created among Americans, Meiklejohn said the chance to perform at such a historic event is hard to pass up.

“Everybody is looking beyond the politics of the election,” Meiklejohn said last week, adding that “it’s nothing new” for a presidential election to be contentious.

Meiklejohn, who started at the Madawaska School Department in October, is no stranger to presidential inaugurations. As a member of the Kennebunk High School band, he traveled to Washington in 1989 to perform at the inauguration of President George H. W. Bush.

“As I was looking through some boxes in October, I found an old picture from my [Washington] trip,” he said. Meiklejohn decided he’d apply on behalf of the Pride of Madawaska band for the upcoming inauguration and see what would happen. “I thought it was a long shot.”

Some media reports have made note of the lack of “A-list” celebrities scheduled to perform at any of the inaugural events and whether or not that reflects a continued polarization around Trump. The official inaugural website, www.58pic2017.org, lacks specifics about what acts will be performing. Meiklejohn said he hasn’t heard any expressions of concern from students or parents regarding controversy surrounding Trump.

“It’s not a political event. It’s a tradition,” the band director said.

At least one school marching band from the Washington D.C. area has participated in the past five inaugural parades, according to a Dec. 14 report on the NBC4 News website. This year, however, none has applied to take part.

Unlike famous artists, who may be invited by an incoming administration to perform for inaugural events and who may choose to decline such an invitation to make a political statement, school bands such as Madawaska’s must apply and then be selected, Meiklejohn said.

Taking a a middle-of-the-road view, he said, “our participation is not political, it’s civic. Every four years, like clockwork, our government has this transition. It’s about democracy.”

“As educators, we should always encourage students to expand their view of the world. What a great opportunity this is for our musicians to visit Washington D.C. during an inaugural event,” Madawaska School Superintendent Gisele Dionne said. “The Maine State Society, a group of Mainers in Washington D.C., with connections to Maine and even the St. John Valley, is helping us with logistics.”

The group is expected to travel via chartered bus and will have an opportunity to visit historical sights, Dionne said.

The “Make America Great Again! Welcome Concert” at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 19 will kick off three days of scheduled inaugural events, according to Meiklejohn. The swearing-in ceremony will be held at noon Jan. 20 on the west front of the U.S. Capitol. That ceremony will be followed by an inaugural parade and several inaugural balls. An interfaith prayer service will be held on Jan. 21 at Washington’s National Cathedral.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is not providing funding for the selected bands, however, leaving the Pride of Madawaska band needing to raise an estimated $20,000 to send the band members, chaperones and their equipment to the event.

“It’s a difficult situation for them to be in,” Meiklejohn commented, referring to school administrators who are in the midst of a budget crisis.

The school was notified before Christmas that the band had been selected, but the committee asked that the announcement not be made public until after the New Year.

Since learning of the selection, however, band members, school officials and supporters have been soliciting funds.

“We have already raised a substantial portion,” Meiklejohn said. “We are focusing on donations from businesses and individuals.”

With such a short timeframe, Meiklejohn said things such as bake sales likely would be ineffective.

The school department has set up a fundraising website at myschoolbucks.com. Those interested in making a donation can go to the site and search for MMHS (Madawaska Middle High School).

So far, about $12,000 has been raised through individual and business donations, including $2,500 from United Insurance in Madawaska, Dionne said. Donations have come from as far away as California, she said.

As for the songs the Pride of Madawaska Band will play at the inauguration, Meiklejohn said final approval will come from the inaugural committee. The band director said he submitted, among other songs, Maine’s “Dirigo March” and the well-known “Main Street America March.”

“It’s a sort of a ‘Taking Leadership to the Streets of America’ theme,” Meiklejohn said.

The Madawaska band was one of 12 school bands from across the country and the only one from Maine invited to perform at the inaugural welcoming concert at the Lincoln Memorial, according to Meiklejohn.

The band director considers the selection of a band from the St. John Valley as representative of “small town America.”

“There are always lots of celebrities at these events,” Meiklejohn said. “But here we are — a small band from a small town in a small state.”

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