NORTH ADAMS — It was the moment 54 Drury High School Marching Band members had waited for, and they made it their own.
Just before stepping off to march as part of the Independence Day parade in Washington, the young musicians broke out in song.
"Someone started to sing the Drury Alma Mater and we all started singing," said Evan O'Dell, 17, who plays the tuba. "It was a special moment."
The song concluded just as the band members took those first steps along the Constitution Avenue parade route.
"And we just started playing," he said.
This was the second time in five years the marching band performed as part of the famous parade.
The exciting trip created memories that will never fade, according to a group of band members.
Alexandra Bernard, 17, Kelsey Haley, 15, Abby Kate Caproni, 14, John Wood, 17, and O'Dell shared their thoughts and described the experience as "overwhelming."
"People came to Washington just to watch us and it made me feel really proud," said Alexandra "Alex" Bernard. The 17-year-old senior is a member of the band front, meaning she is part of the group leading the band, performing dance routines and using pom-poms.
Abby Kate Caproni, daughter of band director Christopher Caproni, also plays the bass drum. She will be a Drury freshman when school resumes.
"It made us realize how important this was to people," she said.
The band members ranged in age from 11 to 18 years old. Several musicians are the younger siblings of high school band members and Caproni said he extended an invitation to them to participate in the parade.
Marching in the hot sun wearing band uniforms and carrying instruments can be physically challenging.
"We spent three days doing two hours of just marching and playing the song," O'Dell said. "We were making sure that we had it all right. We put a lot of effort into this and it paid off."
The selection titled "Patriotic Salute" was a medley made up of several patriotic tunes. Caproni and the band members figure they believe they played the song about 25 times.
Cheers and applause were nonstop, they said. Crowds were estimated at between 200,000 to 250,000 people.
"There were places where the people watching were 10, 11 people deep," Caproni said.
Tom Bernard, the president of the band parents association, said that whenever the band marched past any spectators from Massachusetts, the groups cheered very loudly.
"They could see that we were from Massachusetts and it was incredible," he said.
Band parents purchased sunglasses for the band members to wear as they marched. The group was a real parade presence, said Wood, who plays the trombone.
"We didn't just march; we really presented ourselves," he said. "We had the sunglasses and we stood out. The way to say it is people knew we were there."
Fundraising for the trip began last summer. Band members needed to raise $50,000 and they were successful. The money paid for lodging, travel, food and incidentals.
Bernard said Christopher Caproni's absolute commitment to the band and its members is inspiring. Caproni said the band members are incredibly talented and driven to excellence.
The band's first Washington D.C. march in 2011 was the result of an invitation to participate. When Caproni inquired about a second march for the July 4 parade, organizers asked for a videotape and then "they said they'd love to have us," he said.
The honor is tremendous; only 16 high school marching bands from 16 states were included in this year's lineup, Caproni said.
A very special honor occurred when the band members visited Arlington National Cemetery. Band members Brian Christian, Leigha DeMarsico, Jordyn Therrien and Wood participated with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"It was such an honor for me to do this to honor my family and everyone's family," Wood said.
When the group found the names of city native Peter W. Foote and Peter Cook of Clarksburg on the Vietnam Memorial, they felt pride and sadness. Both young men were killed during the Vietnam War.
"Everything was a highlight," Haley said. "I've never been to D.C. and everything was breathtaking."
The contingent spent four days visiting the city. Tours included trips to the National Archives, Mount Vernon, the WWII Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
"Every moment we were learning something, every moment," O'Dell said.
Additional highlights included watching famed singer Smokey Robinson rehearse for a July 4 performance and seeing documents such as the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.
"That is America, sitting right in front of your eyes," O'Dell said.