After launching a major fundraising campaign during its winter concert Thursday night, the Fort Mill High School Marching Band is now Britain-bound.
The yearlong “Bridge to Britain” campaign will help fund the band’s trip to the Harrogate Music Festival in England during spring break in April 2019.
One of the oldest youth festivals in England, the Harrogate Festival invites outstanding bands from countries around the world to participate. The FMHS band will perform in the Royal Hall and in the parade. They will spend three days in England and three in Scotland, where they plan to visit iconic castles and cathedrals and learn about Fort Mill’s ancestral connection to Europe.
In addition to other countries of origin, Fort Mill has a strong connection to Ireland through Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt, regarded as the area’s first European settler. The Scots-Irish influence on the South – and the Carolinas in particular – has been well documented.
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“We are looking forward to the campaign ahead of us,” said Jason Ford, a band staff member. “Our students and parents have proven themselves as hard workers, and over the next 12 months we will build a bridge to Britain.”
Through projects like the pancake breakfast at Philadelphia United Methodist church last week, supporters of the band hope to raise $60,000 to cover shared trip expenses, including the cost of shipping instruments and uniforms, travel insurance and sibling discounts. Friends of the band will also hold yard sales, collect scrap metal and hold monthly spirit nights at local restaurants to raise money for the trip.
“We partner with many local businesses to make a trip like this possible, businesses who want to help our students represent Fort Mill and Tega Cay around the world,” Ford said.
Starting in Scotland, the itinerary includes sites in Edinburg, Stirling and destinations in central and southern Scotland, including a steamboat tour of Loch Katrine, a scenic attraction in the highlands.
Then the FMHS band will cross Hadrian’s Wall into England and visit Alnwick Castle, where an outdoor scene from Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series was filmed. Britain’s Rudyard Kipling and W.H. Auden have written about the legendary wall, a major British attraction. It has appeared in “Doomsday,” a 2008 science fiction movie.
Since the festival is close to the Manchester area of England, the FMHS band staff wants the students to learn more about the connection between the Olde English District of South Carolina – especially York, Chester and Lancaster counties – and namesake locations in England. It also wants them to learn about the Scottish immigrant settlers of the Carolinas and Fort Mill’s Col. Elliott White Springs, whose family textile manufacturing company would later become Spring Industries.
“(Col. Springs) was a flying ace and member of the 85th Aero Squadron who also flew for the British. And he was proud of his Scottish heritage,” said Ann Evans, archivist and curator of the Springs Close Family Archives.
Students will see manor houses in Yorkshire, England, which helped inspire the architecture of the White Homestead. With roots traced to southern Scotland, Springs was a member of the great riding clan of the borders, Evans said.
“It is such a tremendous honor for our students to represent South Carolina in Europe,” said Teri Tuomi, president of the band Booster Club.
Tuomi has had two children in the FMHS band—Sam, who graduated in 2014 and Peyton, who is currently a senior. While Peyton will not go on the trip next year, she traveled to France and Ireland with the group.
“Those experiences opened her eyes to a new world of opportunity and gave her a strong sense of self-dignity and responsibility,” Tuomi said. Peyton will attend University College in Dublin in the fall and will study European literature.
Not every student in the 204-member band will go on the trip, however.
“Some families might have other plans during spring break, and some band members might have scheduled athletic events which will prevent their travels,” Ford said.
The trip is not required and there will be no parent chaperones. Instead, about 10 district employees will travel with the group, including the school nurse. Usually, around 100 people—family and friends and a few school administrators—travel with the band during major trips such as this, according to Ford, who also handles travel logistics and community relations.
“The students are so deserving of this honor,” Tuomi said, “not only because of the many awards of excellence they have received, but because they are so well behaved. You will not find a more mature, well-mannered group of kids than these.”
Since the band usually takes a major trip every three or four years, its leaders have learned how to manage the large entourage for tour stops, dividing the band and adult monitors into groups of about 40 per bus. Although they visit the same places each day, rarely are they at the same place at the same time.
“We stagger our bus arrivals so that we don’t overwhelm any one venue,” Ford said. “And we don’t want the students to spend the whole day standing in line.”
In 2013 the band traveled to Dublin, Ireland, to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and most recently to France in 2016 for a commemoration at the Normandy American Cemetery.
Bessie M. Meeks is a freelance writer based in Lake Wylie.