Lehigh University Marching 97
The Marching 97 in London as part of the city's New Year's Day festivities.

While many people spend New Year’s Day celebrating and making resolutions, the members of Lehigh’s Marching 97 were proceeding through the streets of London. The trip, which included performing in the parade and an accompanying concert, was headed by David Diggs, director of bands. 

The London New Year’s Day parade features outstanding American marching bands and attracts more than 650,000 spectators and an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide. On New Year’s Day, the band marched through the streets of London, starting in Picadilly and finishing in Westminster at Parliament Square, near the base of Big Ben. The band also performed Dec. 29 in Cardogan Hall, home of the internationally acclaimed Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 

“I put together a program that I thought would highlight the university’s connections to composers in London and would have historic value as part of a concert,” says Diggs, lecturer of music. “There were a number of Lehigh premieres in the program. Prior of the 97 was written by Richard Goldman and attended by Graham Jones, the retired senior music director for the queen. Graham is a good friend of mine and composed Lehigh for the spring 2017 concert of the wind ensemble, and the 97 gave the UK premiere. Fanfare: Salute to Lehigh University was composed by Sir Arthur Bliss for his friend Jonathan Elkus.”

Bliss visited Lehigh in 1968 and wrote the piece at the encouragement of Elkus. Elkus, then director of Lehigh’s concert band, discovered that Bliss and his wife were in the United States for a performance of Bliss’ work and invited the couple to Lehigh to hear the fanfare and attend the Lehigh-Lafayette football game.

Also included in the London program was Centennial Song (Lehigh, Hail!), written by Joseph Godfrey ’68 as a tribute to Lehigh’s 100th year. Elkus, who was director from 1957 to 1973, orchestrated the song, and although Godfrey was never a bandsman (he sang in the Glee Club), his composition has become a standard of the Marching 97 repertoire. 

Moving 101 band members, six staff and the instruments required two planes. Logistics were handled by the parade committee, allowing Diggs time to focus on the performances. While in London, students were provided mp4 players pre-loaded with walking tours of the neighborhoods that comprise Olde London. Students also visited Oxford University, Windsor Castle and Greenwich.

Founded in 1906, the Marching 97 has a long and celebrated history. The band played at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and 1969, at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and at Yankee Stadium for the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette football game in 2014.

As director of bands, Diggs oversees the Marching 97, the wind ensemble and the symphonic band. 

“It’s great to be part of this because many students are performing in more one group,” he says. “Some students play in all three, others play in the 97 and either wind ensemble or symphonic band. Now, we can make sure that all three of these entities are working together and that the students are being challenged appropriately in each of the groups. The standards for the groups are now very high.”