Portsmouth band scrambles to fund inaugural trip

Flutist Carly Peckham marches with the Portsmouth High School band during practice last week. Flutist Carly Peckham marches with the Portsmouth High School band during practice last week.

Flutist Carly Peckham marches with the Portsmouth High School band during practice last week.

Flutist Carly Peckham marches with the Portsmouth High School band during practice last week.

PORTSMOUTH — Emily Post said if you’d like someone to come to your cocktail party, you should send the invitation out one to four weeks in advance. Her rule for a bar mitzvah was one month and for a charity ball, six weeks to three months.

Unfortunately, she never considered the rules of etiquette when inviting 190 people to a presidential inauguration. If she had, one can only assume Ms. Post would have given the Portsmouth High School band, which is marching in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade Monday, more than three weeks’ notice.

Band director Ted Rausch was home playing Xbox hockey with his son Dec. 28 when he received the e-mailed invitation from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “It said they needed a decision by 6 p.m. that night,” said Mr. Rausch, adding the news came as a complete surprise because he never even sent in an application for the band to appear in the parade. (More than 1,000 applications came in from all over the country.)

“I remember calling and asking, ‘Did someone drop the ball?’ and she said no.”

The reason Portsmouth was chosen, he was told, was because several members of the inaugural committee were impressed with the band’s performance at the Cherry Blossom Festival last April. “I always tell the students that you never know who might be watching you at any time, and what kind of impact it can have,” said Mr. Rausch.

After contacting school officials and the Portsmouth Music Boosters, Mr. Rausch decided to accept the invite. Then came the hard part — raising the estimated $60,000 or more needed to fund the trip and finding a place for band members and chaperones to stay. The group is leaving Portsmouth Sunday morning, Jan. 20, and will return late Tuesday, Jan. 22.

After several calls to hotels went nowhere, the band settled on the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., where students will be sleeping in bunk beds. Finding a place to take band members out to dinner was even harder.

“We ask for reservations for 190 people — on inaugural weekend — and they laugh at us,” said Mr. Rausch. The Great American Buffet ultimately agreed to accommodate the request.

The biggest challenge has been trying to raise over $60,000 in three weeks. As of Monday, just over $20,000 had been raised in third-party donations, according to Jim Wilkinson, president of the Portsmouth Music Boosters. On Jan. 8, the School Committee voted to appropriate up to $25,000 to cover any shortfalls.

(By contrast, a story in the Jan. 15, 1981 Sakonnet Times — just a few days before the PHS band played in Ronald Reagan’s inaugural parade —  quoted then-band director Ray Ainsworth saying that nearly $4,000 in donations had been raised for the trip.)

Parents are also being asked to chip in, but the band is trying to keep their contribution to a minimum. The per-student cost to families is $100 — “not a penny more,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

Mr. Rausch pointed out that the band visited D.C. last year and had already planned a trip to Bermuda later in 2013. “I’m very conscientious when it comes to having parents pay more money for another trip,” he said, adding that the inaugural jaunt will be bare bones with little or no sightseeing.

Despite the challenge of planning a trip for a large group with such little notice, Mr. Rausch said he’s excited for the opportunity. “Of all the trips we’ve planned, this is the most unplanned by far,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind for me. We’ve been going 90 miles per hour.”

Mr. Wilkinson, meanwhile, seems to be thriving on the chaos and is confident it will all come together. “It’s like that line in ‘Apollo 13.’ It’s not going to be a disaster; it’s going to be our finest hour,” he said.

Donations toward the band’s trip can be sent to PHS Music Boosters, PO Box 21, Portsmouth, RI 02871. You can also donate through the Music Boosters website at www.portsmouthmusicboosters.org.

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