College of Visual and Performing Arts

A Recap of Rome: MRDs Take to the Streets for New Year's Day Parade


MRDs in uniform

The James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes (MRDs) have performed in some of the world’s most prestigious parades, including the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade® in 2013, 2008 and 2001. Every three or four years, the MRDs travel internationally, where they often march in a New Year’s Day parade, shares Scott Rikkers, director of the MRDs and assistant director of bands at JMU.

“We have marched in the London New Year’s Day Parade and the Dublin New Year’s Parade twice. Rome’s New Year’s Day Parade is pretty well known, and Italy has always been an interest to us,” exclaims Rikkers. So, three years ago, after applying and being invited to march, Rikkers began planning for Rome.

Preparing for Rome

Planning is no small undertaking, and the students play a major role. “It’s a student-centered program, so students help with the packing of the instruments and uniforms, as well as managing flights and busses,” says Rikkers.

As for the staff’s part in the planning process, Rikkers reveals, “When we plan, it’s two-fold.” “There’s the performance and acting as ambassadors to JMU and to the USA, as well as making sure students have the opportunity to explore the culture.”

MRDs sightseeing

Exploring Italy: Pre-Parade

Two-hundred fifty of the 465 MRDs, plus 100 parents, family, friends and alumni, made the trip overseas, which included a couple of days in Florence, a day in Siena, and a few days in Rome. The two days in Florence included guided tours of the City Center, cultural highlights like the Basilica and the statue of David, as well as time to explore the numerous shops and eateries.

On the way to Rome, the MRDs, traveling on seven different busses, stopped in Siena, a “nice, little town with a famous town square, great shopping and two beautiful cathedrals,” claims Rikkers. Despite above-average temperatures the rest of the trip, the MRDs experienced the coldest day in Siena in 60 years! Rikkers says the weather didn’t stop them from enjoying some excellent gelato, however!

Upon their arrival to Rome on New Year’s Eve, the MRDs were treated to a six-course Italian dinner that would serve as fuel for their marching bodies the next day.

MRDs marching in Rome

Marching and Connecting with the Culture

The traditional, European-style parade (a focal point of the World Day of Peace) began at Castle St. Angelo for the MRDs, where they were met by 5-10 thousand people on the streets. Unlike American-style parades, the crowd traveled with the MRDs to St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to hear the Pope’s New Year’s Day address and blessing.   

Students and Rikkers were incredibly moved by the place and experience. According to junior Leonard Grasso, “One of the biggest highlights was definitely the Vatican. As a Catholic, I was very grateful for the opportunity to visit such a sacred place.” Recent grad Lindsey Martin admits that she “had very little idea as to what Pope Francis was saying (it was in Italian), but ‘still felt his blessing.’”

Following the blessing, the MRDs played a concert to a crowd as large as 80-thousand people, performing Italian-themed music including Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Billy Joel’s “Themes from an Italian Restaurant.” Rikkers noted that the MRDs playing Pines of Rome while standing under the Pines of Rome was a special moment. The MRDs then marched out of the Vatican while Italians took pictures and “selfies” with band members.

In short, Rikkers is proud of his MRDs. “We connected with the Italian public in a way that what we did could almost be considered an exchange. We engaged in the culture, said ‘Happy New Year’ in Italian—which showed me that students really understood the ambassador part of what we were doing.”

Photos courtesy of the MRDs.

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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