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Mercer Island High School marching band is off to London

In what seems like a project of epic proportion, 200 teenagers, 14 chaperones and one band leader are on their way to London to march in the New Year's Day Parade.

Band leader Parker Bixby said equipment logistics is the single biggest piece of the equation; everything from a saxophone and larger is being shipped via UPS — 165 pieces total. Bixby estimates that 2,000 pounds of equipment is being shipped.

Every piece of gear was photographed, serial numbers for each piece of equipment were recorded, and Bixby and the kids loaded the container themselves. They have people on the London end standing by to receive the shipment.

The kids and adults leave Dec. 28, on three separate flights on three different airlines — British, American and Air Canada. Each group on each flight has a "flight captain," or one of the adults to keep everyone together. The students and their parents have all met their flight captains; throughout the trip they will be paired up with their captain as chaperone.

Bixby said the three flights arrive at scattered times throughout the day on Dec. 29. He and the other chaperones plan to keep the students up and moving to get them acclimated to London time immediately.

Nice accommodations will be waiting to take the weary travelers.

"We're staying at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge," Bixby said. "We are on the river with Big Ben and Parliament just outside the window."

The cost per student for the trip is about $3,000, inclusive of meals, shipping, two concert performances, a tour of Oxford, a New Year's Eve party on the Thames and tickets for all of the kids to see the hit play "Wicked" among other perks. Bixby said the school was able to raise $80,000 in scholarships to allow everyone to go.

"We had community members who were absolutely wonderful," he said.

Band parent Betsy Rosenman said they had an anonymous donation of $60,000, which gave them a huge boost.

But there will be challenges.

Europe is having a very wild winter, and with 80 flights cancelled one day recently at London's Heathrow Airport, getting there could be a challenge.

"All projections say the weather is improving," said an optimistic Bixby before the group left. "Everyone has trip cancellation insurance. On the other side, we have to be flexible."

Parent Sandy Yolin said she attended the parent's meeting on Dec. 12 and left very relieved. This isn't the first time that Bixby has taken a large group of the band on a trip.

"I'm thankful for their experience — they've been on quite a few trips," Yolin said.

Her son, Charles, 15, is a sophomore, the youngest grade that can go on the trip. Yolin said he has been to London before, but he was too young to remember much. She feels this is good for him to go with a group of his peers and not his family.

Bixby said there were many challenges, including but not limited to gear, fundraising, preparing and teaching and looking and sounding good in terms of performance — but they look great, he said of his musicians. Any additional challenges now will be part of the experience.

"If we have to spend a night in an airport, so be it," Bixby said.

He has no fear. The hard work is done. Tons of paperwork and planning have all led up to this one perfect moment.

Bixby said these trips give him a fresh look at travel.

"Going with the flow is what makes it so fun to travel with teenagers," he said.

The MIHS marching band has also been invited to march in the 2012 Rose Bowl Parade.

To see the band march in London, you can watch live at around 3:30 a.m., Jan. 1 on www.bbc.co.uk/london, with additional postings at www.information.tv on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 starting at noon, and at 9 a.m. on Jan. 3. The students will be blogging via the MISD Web site during the entire trip.

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