The biggest question for the Northeast High School band was who else would be in attendance. They already knew they would be there.
In February, director Greg Urban found out his band would be among hundreds to attend the inauguration of the 44th president in Washington, D.C. The group will perform in the Heritage Presidential Inauguration Music Festival on Jan. 18.
Dressed in formal evening wear, they'll play three numbers including Sleep by Eric Whitacre, Fusion by Brian Balmages and Americans We by Henry Fillmore.
The trip will include many firsts for some members of the group, including first visits to the nation's capital, first gala attendance — some are even pulling for a first experience with snow.
The trip, however, will come at a huge cost during financially tough times for many. The band estimates it will cost more than $750 per student, and members are trying to raise money to cover the expense.
On Thursday they'll host a winter concert, and proceeds will help fund the trip. Band members also have sold candles and traversed the school halls hawking candy bars. They're also soliciting contributions from the community.
Back in the fall of 2007, Urban applied for them to attend the inauguration music festival. He was surprised later to learn their application had been accepted.
About a year ago in the heat of the election primaries, students began to speculate on who would be sworn in at the ceremony. Urban was delighted to see his students so engaged in politics.
"You'd come and people would be saying Obama this or McCain that," said Danielle Batchellor, 17, president of the band and a trombone player. "We definitely followed the duration of the campaign."
Now the band is gearing up for its performance, practicing tirelessly.
"I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said senior Mike Mallen, 17, a percussionist.
"I don't think the magnitude of it has hit me yet. I'll tell my children and grandchildren that I was there for the swearing-in of the first black president," he said.
The group will be in Washington from Jan. 15 through Jan. 21. They'll be on the National Mall for the inauguration.
The chance to perform in the nation's capital during the inaugural festivities is a triumph for the 80-member band, said Urban, 33. A few years ago, when he became the school band director, things weren't in the best shape.
"We might have been the worst band in Pinellas County," he said. There were about 60 fewer members of the group, and they needed to be improved "in almost every area," Urban said.
The musical selections they will perform were not picked for any particular reason, except that they were a good fit for the band, Urban said.
President-elect Obama's inauguration has generated tremendous interest from people wanting to attend. Tickets have been in high demand, and officials predict record turnout in the millions for the swearing-in. Enterprising D.C. residents have rented out their apartments and condos for thousands a night during the week. Hotels have long been sold out.
Austin Bogues can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8872.