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Charlottesville High School to march in Rome's New Year's Day Parade

The Charlottesville High School band is marching into 2024 along the streets of Rome as a part of the Eternal City’s New Year’s Day Parade.

It’s a happy ending to a difficult calendar year for Charlottesville High School, which has struggled with a rise in student violence that ultimately shut down the school shortly before Thanksgiving break.

This is not the first time the school’s band has taken its music international. Band director Jason Hackworth said the band attracted the attention of European parade-makers in 2017, when it was invited to play in London’s New Year’s Day Parade.

Now, 77 of the marching band’s 93 members are preparing to depart for the Italian capital on Dec. 28 for a weeklong trip, including yet another parade performance.

“On January 1 each year, tens of thousands gather in St. Peter’s Square, filling the streets with pageantry and music, to celebrate and receive the Pope’s New Year’s Day blessing,” parade organizer Gateway Music Festivals & Tours said in a statement. “A focal point of Rome’s holiday season and the World Day of Peace, the Rome New Year’s Parade celebrates life, cultural diversity and international goodwill.”

The event not only attracts a large and diverse crowd, it commissions a large and diverse selection of talent from around the world to perform. This year, that includes Charlottesville High School.

“Some of our students have never left the country or Virginia, so they’ll get to experience another country and things they are familiar with from their history textbooks; it will come to life for them,” Hackworth told The Daily Progress.

The students will be performing in more than just the parade. On Dec. 30, a medley of marching and concert band musicians will play a concert at a church in central Rome, and the next day, the marching band will perform in a pep rally in preparation for the parade, said Hackworth, who has directed the band since 2012.

The band’s repertoire includes classics typically played at football games as well as more contemporary pieces such as “Pressure” by Muse and “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy.

The trip won’t be all business. The band has a walking tour of central Rome lined up that will take members to classic landmarks such as the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. They’ll also use the opportunity to take a high-speed train for a day-trip to Florence to tour the renowned leather market, the Duomo di Firenze, the Piazza di Michelangelo and the Uffizi Gallery.

They also plan to visit a town on the outskirts of Rome called Frascati, a hilly town in the wine country which Hackworth described as an “Italian version of Charlottesville.”

Hackworth and the school wanted to ensure that all of the marching band members who wished to attend the trip were able to financially. All 77 who wanted to march in Rome are going, due in large part to the assistance of the CHS Band Boosters. A nonprofit, volunteer group composed of family members and community supporters, the boosters spent the fall fundraising and organizing events to cover flights, hotels, shipping instruments, uniforms and other trip details.

They also started a donation page where community members can contribute to the trip fund:

“We center a lot of what we do around musical excellence and community,” said Hackworth.

Hackworth is also hoping the trip will capitalize on a fundamental aspect of the band program: community.

“I think one of the things that makes the band really special is the family and community atmosphere we have within the program,” said Hackworth, who has been involved with bands for more than 30 years. “We really strive to make sure everyone feels welcome, included and challenged to grow musically. Everyone feels like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”

He said he purposely tried to emphasize leadership and unity within the band by bringing upperclassmen and section heads together as early as July to discuss how to engage younger students who appeared to be falling behind or struggling. Hackworth said he has seen his band leaders put those skills into practice and witnessed it pay off in performances.

And he expects to see it in Rome on New Year’s Day.

“We’re going to go and do this together,” said Hackworth. “We’re all going to be experiencing this together and have that family and community shared experience. Hopefully, we’ll come back and the kids will be a stronger community because of it.”


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