The Ooltewah High School band was the only high school band in the country selected to march in Disney’s 2011 Christmas Day Parade taped at Disney World last weekend.

All 90 members of the band, select faculty and about 50 family members flew to Orlando, Fla., for the Saturday rehearsal and taping.

Portions of the show taped at Disneyland in California will be edited together with the Disney World taping for one ABC television special airing Dec. 25.


Band leader Joel Denton has taken the band to the heights of national television before. It was only four years ago the band’s current senior class members were marching as 8th graders in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on the streets of New York City.

But Terry Valentine, who has helped Disney select the featured high school band for the Disney Christmas Day parade for the past eight years, says Ooltewah has something she has never seen from any high schools she’s worked with.

“I have never seen a band go to that level. The people at ABC Television and Disney were thrilled. They looked beautiful on camera,” Valentine said.

Valentine said instead of just wearing regular band uniforms like other bands typically do, Ooltewah High School took the extra energy and expense to perform in full holiday costumes.

Everything happened sew fast

The band was notified in September-about two months later than is usual for Disney-that they were selected as this year’s featured high school band. That left less than 90 days to raise $85,000 for the all inclusive trip to Florida.

“We sold a lot of Yankee candles and fruit,” Denton said.

Trips for band members from families with financial hardships were paid for through a generous private donation, according to Denton. Band members mailed sponsorship letters to family and friends, with additional support coming from the business community.

The 90 costumes didn’t arrive until 17 days before their scheduled departure, so parents and band boosters got busy working quickly to adapt each of the one-size-fits-all Santa, reindeer, elves and Mrs. Clause costumes to fit each band member.

Disney approved the routine and the look of the band with one exception.

“We had blinking red noses on the percussion section who were dressed as reindeer. But since Disney doesn’t own the rights to record images of ‘Rudolph’ we had to take off the flashing red noses,” Denton said.

Multiple cameras and multiple takes allowed the crew to get many different shots of each section of the band’s performance.

“They told the kids to perform to any camera that was pointed at them,” Denton.

Supporters and family members who traveled to Orlando for the taping quickly shared videos on YouTube to show off Ooltewah’s performance with friends back home. While Disney representatives haven’t put any restrictions on such activity, Denton said he requested the parents remove the videos until after the program airs. Booster club photos from the taping are posted on the group’s Facebook page.

“I just felt like we shouldn’t share it until Disney broadcasts the show. That was just my ruling. We want to continue to do these kinds of events so we present ourselves as first class, and are very respectful of the chance they have given us,” he said.

National exposure is fun, not free

Denton said he hopes the band can return to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2013 when they are eligible again. They were invited to perform in Hawaii for the 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor and have a standing invitation to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland. But being invited doesn’t mean a trip can happen.  

“One other invitation that we have received is a cultural exchange to China. We again have not pursued this due to our current economy,” he said. 

According to Denton, the 12-day China trip would cost nearly $2,500 per person.

While these are exciting, and expensive, opportunities for the kids, especially the televised invitations, Denton said he has to be fair to everyone-not just the families who can afford trips.

“My first loyalty and priority is to ensure the kids in our band program have a quality musical experience here. It’s not about being on television.”