Marching in the Eternal City: Catholic Central band performs in Rome's New Year's Day parade

Members of the Detroit Catholic Central High School marching band get ready to perform in Frascati, Italy, during a weeklong visit to Rome to celebrate the new year. Capping the band's trip was an invitation to perform in the city of Rome's New Year's Day parade, which was attended by a record 250,000 people on Jan. 1. (Courtesy of the Rome Parade)

ROME — Performing on a football field is par for the course for a marching band, but marching on a narrow cobblestone street was a first for most members of the Detroit Catholic Central High School ensemble. 

On Jan. 1, sixty-two members of the Novi school's band marched in the 2019 New Year’s Day Parade in Rome, Italy. They were the only group from Michigan to perform in the event, held annually since 2008.

The Rome Parade is the city of Rome’s official New Year’s celebration. This year, parade officials reported a record audience of 250,000 people.

The Catholic Central band performed in the same parade in 2013. After applying to participate in the event and submitting music samples, they received an official invitation from the mayor of Rome to be in the parade.  

Greg Normandin, the school’s band director, takes the group on an international trip every two years. After the band's trip to Rome in 2013, he knew before their plane touched down in Detroit that he wanted to return.

The Detroit Catholic Central High School marching band weaves through the streets of Rome during the Rome Parade on New Year’s Day. (Courtesy of Dawn Brownell-Adie)

“Rome itself is an experience, with the history and the culture – particularly for a Catholic high school student,” Normandin told Detroit Catholic. “I believe it’s important for everyone to get to the Vatican at least once in their lifetime.”

The Catholic Central group attended Pope Francis’ New Year’s address at noon in St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 1, then lined up for the parade. The band marched for two and a half hours before reaching the end of the parade route at Piazza del Popolo, or People’s Square.

Catholic Central senior Erik Maahs plays the trombone and is one of band’s drum majors.

“This is a very good way to end my high school career,” Maahs said. “Getting to see other groups from around the world and marching through the streets of Rome was surreal.”

The parade was part of a weeklong trip for the band, along with their chaperones and many of their family members.

Maahs went with the Catholic Central band to Paris when he was a sophomore in 2017. The band also traveled to Madrid in 2015.

“I try to balance the destination with the music offering so that it’s a cultural experience along with the opportunity to perform and grow musically,” Normandin said. “Also, there’s no bonding that happens with a band like the kind of bonding when you travel together.”

At St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, members of Detroit Catholic Central High School’s marching band pose after a private Mass for their group celebrated by Catholic Central science teacher Fr. James O’Neill, CSB. (Courtesy of Dawn Brownell-Adie)

In addition to their appearance in the parade, the Catholic Central ensemble performed in the nearby village of Frascati, toured sites around Rome, and spent a day in Pompei. They attended Sunday Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the diocese of Rome and the official episcopal seat of the Holy Father. As a highlight of the week, Fr. James O’Neill, CSB, a science teacher at the school, celebrated a private Mass for the group at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

It was the first trip abroad for sophomore tuba player James Lindenberg, a parishioner of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Highland. 

“There’s so much to see and so little time,” Lindenberg said during a phone interview while still in Rome. “Our itinerary is packed but it’s so worth it to see one of the coolest places on the planet.”  

Normandin says that of a list of the 25 best things to do in Rome, “we probably (did) about 25 of them.”

Dawn Brownell-Adie went with the group to see her son and trumpet player, Conor, perform with the band.

“It has been fantastic to see our son experience another culture with his fellow bandmates, and even more so, to see how much the people of Rome and Frascati appreciated the band and all their performances. We couldn’t be more proud of the band,” said Brownell-Adie, who points to the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica as a special memory.

Normandin has not yet selected the destination for the 2021 trip, but Lindenberg says that after his experience in Rome, he’ll be happy to take his tuba wherever his director decides.