Highlights of The Saline Marching Band Tour - 1990

By Justine Bykowski

If you arrived at Detroit Metro Airport on the evening of November 24, 1990 tired from a long journey, carrying a few extra pounds, souvenirs and gifts, but feeling a warm glow, then you must have been one of the Saline entourage to Brecon, Wales and London, England. The adventure to the United Kingdom started from this same point on Saturday, November 17 and brought the Saline Marching Band across the Atlantic Ocean to Brecon.

We arrived in Brecon on Sunday about 3:00 p.m. to meet our host families at the local high school. For some this meant a stay in the city, or a nearby village, or in the countryside. No matter where any Saline persons stayed, they were transported by right sided drivers taking sharp turns up and down narrow hilly streets and "roundabouts". Those staying out of town drove along roads bordered by neatly trimmed hedges, hillsides dotted with sheep, and gazed upon stately stone houses poised impressively against the landscape. Several members of the group experienced a stay at farms that were more than 400 years old. If so, you learned that the farm had no street address, but a geographical marker that indicated its location. For example, the Kwm Cly farm "address" revealed that it was at the lower end of a particular river. The pastoral beauty of the country was surpassed only by the abundance of good cheer and warmth of our host families.

Saline students, like Brecon students, went to and from school each day by foot, car or bus. Saline students observed their Brecon counterparts in school uniforms and became aware that the school parking lot was much smaller than their own. Since the legal driving age in Wales begins at 17, students do not typically drive to school. If one does drive, it means slowing down for the "sleeping policemen" or as we might say speed bumps and following the directions of the "lollipop men", that is, school crossing guards.

The rehearsals and performances took place at the high school at an outside court. This setting offered a dramatic stage since its backdrop pictured the building roof tops, the Brecon Beacons and autumn trees brilliant with color. The Saline Marching Band performed in weather that changed from sunshine to wind, cold and rain while spectators lined up along the sloping hillsides delighting in the band's showmanship. Breaks were held in the school gymnasium, which became transformed into a beehive of activity with students talking, snacking, taking pictures or trying to get a little rest. On the first day, they learned that lunch room antics were very much discouraged by the headmaster who sat above the din on a stage to observe all and maintain order.

Shopkeepers were friendly, welcoming and helpful. They extended normal business hours and had extra supplies on hand for eager shoppers. Many shopkeepers could be seen giving assistance to the perplexed among us who were having trouble in managing the currency. The Saline tourists with a sweet tooth could not resist indulging in cream filled pastry or Welsh cakes. Yet, others had a weakness for the Welsh lovespoons, some silver, some wooden, and all lively traditional symbols of love and friendship. Those who had the coming season in mind, purchased Christmas tree decorations or brought back the traditional "Christmas crackers" which promised surprises for the recipient upon opening. Books of Wales and Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales" were also among the favorites for many enthusiasts of culture.

Following morning performances, chaperones along with students were taken through the beautiful countryside to tour the Big Pit, a one time active coal mine, and to the ruins of the Raglan Castle, a once grand place devastated by the 1642 Civil War.

Marching band students played for two and sometimes three audiences a day. Among these occasions was a Tuesday evening concert with both the Saline and Brecon High School students performing in a beautiful eleventh century Gothic cathedral. The program was dedicated to the host families as one way of showing appreciation. The following day, in contrast to this magical evening, was the excitement of seeing and hearing the Saline Marching Band parade down the narrow town streets past onlookers who were brimming with pleasure and delight. Just prior to the parade we were welcomed to our sister city by a ceremony in Guild Hall by Brecon officials.

That evening, the last in Brecon, students went to a disco (dance) at the high school while the hosts, chaperones and staff had a party at the Twenty-Four Club. With all of the many wonderful experiences in Brecon, the best of all took place when there was time spent in conversation, sharing laughter and experiences with our host families and the many other good people we came to know. On Thursday morning, Thanksgiving Day, we boarded four busses to travel on to London, knowing that the great warmth and generosity of those in our sister city would always be with us. We had much to be thankful for - it was a memorable experience.