- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 4, 2002

One hundred members of the Spirit of America band have a special date with Washington today.
At noon, wearing gold-trimmed uniforms, the band from Orleans, Mass., will open the Independence Day Parade with a show at the reviewing stand before marching along Constitution Avenue.
The all-volunteer band, with members who range from in age from 10 to 56, has played in Washington before. In fact, it took its name after being honored as the band "Best Representing the Spirit of America" in the 1986 Independence Day Parade, and played again in the parade in 1989.
But this year is special, members say, because of the attacks against the country.
"We have always loved coming to Washington, but never more than this year," said Peter Haig, 45, whose wife and two children are also in the band.
Kate Shannon has memories of being a majorette at the 1989 parade. She was 11 at the time. But this year, she said, is more important.
"We may not be firemen or rescue workers, but we do have something exciting to offer to the bystanders and our troops," she said.
A spirit of patriotism infuses the band that drove into town last night in big trucks painted red, white and blue. Their instruments followed in smaller trucks, with one truck lugging only percussion instruments.
In the days to come, the band will perform at Fort Belvoir and at military bases elsewhere in Virginia. "We want to let our troops know that we appreciate what they are doing, and are grateful for that," said Richard Pugsley, the bandleader.
As part of their show, titled "Freedom," the band will play original music punctuated by well-known tunes like the "Liberty Fanfare," "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "America the Beautiful," said Mr. Pugsley, 36.
Members of the Spirit of America say being with the band has changed their lives. On weekdays, they lead separate lives as students, architects, musicians and homemakers in towns scattered along Cape Cod. But on weekends, they gather in Orleans to practice together, sometimes as long as 14 hours a day.
Miss Shannon, a member of the color guard, works as a saleswoman for a publishing company in Orleans, but says she doesn't mind giving up her weekends to practice. "I make time because it is my passion," she said.
Emily Wagner, 16, has been with the band for only three months now, but says she already feels like she is with family.
"It is tough, but it's cool. I never thought I would join something so hard core and intense," she said.
Emily, who is the only woman among the band's six tuba players, said the men initially found it funny that she wanted to play the 35-pound instrument.
"But now everyone is so supportive and keeps asking me how I am doing," she said.
The band was formed in Orleans back in 1976 as a church band that marched in a small parade for the church's founding. Over the years, it has grown, putting on its own shows and playing in larger parades.
Band members also tour schools all over New England and provide students with one-on-one music instruction.
For Mr. Haig, who joined the band in his teens and then gave it up to pursue a degree in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, returning to the Spirit of America has been a journey of self-discovery and peace.
"I rejoined the band after a crisis in my life, and it helped me focus on things beyond myself," he said.
Mr. Haig, who coaches the band, left a job with a big architectural firm to join a smaller one on Cape Cod, and has never been happier. He gave up playing in the band, he says, after injuring his knee in an accident.
But he encourages his children to play. Two of them are in the band while a third child, who is 9, is "eager to get in as soon as possible," he said.
His wife, Christy, works as the band's field manager.
Mr. Haig said working in the band teaches his children life's important lessons.
"It teaches them about the rewards of hard work, the joy of giving," he said. "And it is a heck of a fun time."


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