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Monday, January 20, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Marching Band In Place For Inaugural -- Kamiak To Play, But Yelm Choir To March

Seattle Times Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Kamiak High School Marching Show Band began working toward its dream of performing in the 1997 Presidential Inaugural Parade more than a year ago.

The band practiced hundreds of hours, performed dozens of times, and perfected videos and audio tapes for a meticulously prepared application. Leaving nothing to political chance, band members and parents tapped the connections of office-holders from hometown Mukilteo Mayor Brian Sullivan to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

But they failed to pull one powerful political string - or, rather, strings. The First Lady's heartstrings, that is. Or, as Kamiak trumpet player Matt Parker, 17, put it, "We didn't make Hillary cry."

No, the Kamiak High School Marching Show Band will not be marching in the inaugural parade today, though they beat hundreds of bands in a national competition. Instead, they will be performing this morning at the corner of 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue.

That's because the Yelm Prairie Elementary School Chorus will have what could have been their spot in the parade.

The cherubic third- and fourth-graders secured their esteemed parade position in September when President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton made a campaign stop in Thurston County and the chorus sang a song about the First Lady's book, "It Takes a Village."

The song moved the First Lady to tears. The president immediately asked them to sing at his inauguration "if my contract is renewed."

After Clinton won re-election, Yelm students sent their application. They were a shoo-in, said Patty McQueen, press secretary for the 1997 Presidential Inaugural Parade.

"They included a video of the president saying he wanted them in the inaugural parade," McQueen said. "It is sort of compelling evidence when you are on the selection committee."

Jason Ford, the inaugural's preparade director, said the selection committee liked the Kamiak "big sound" and "We would have liked to have put them in the parade, but we selected them for the preparade."

The award-winning, 4-year-old Kamiak band is taking it in stride. Members say they are happy to be a part of history and to be one of just 12 "route bands" selected to perform before the parade begins.

"It's a political game," said Kamiak band director Brian Steves. "It's a Washington (D.C.) thing. It's not surprising. When I heard our position, I tried to talk to the inaugural committee, but they weren't up for negotiations."

The Yelm story has mesmerized the media. TV camera crews trail them. Newspaper reporters flew with them on their cross-country trip. A dozen reporters covered their Saturday performance on the National Mall. An inaugural press secretary even mistakenly described the Yelm chorus as the only Washington-state representative in the festivities.

The coverage has led to other inequities.

Almost immediately after word spread about Yelm's invitation, said Yelm Principal Jim Eisenhardt, the school not only raised the necessary $75,000 from corporations and Washingtonians, but an extra $30,000 came pouring in. The students will spend it touring.

But the Kamiak students are technically $20,000 in the red, said Cynthia Nowowiejski, a parent and trip organizer. Travel bills are all paid for their $160,000 trip, but organizers had to dip into funds they planned to use for future events.

And the Kamiak students worked for their money, selling candy at ferry docks, washing cars and staffing volunteer concession stands at dozens of Seattle Sonics' basketball games.

The final indignity: The Yelm kids got a White House tour - yesterday, when the building was officially closed to the public. The Kamiak kids didn't.

"Maybe they would have if they had been a little bit younger," teased Yelm's Eisenhardt, "and a little bit cuter and from a poor, rural community like Yelm."

Tom Vessella, 18, a Kamiak trumpet and euphonium player, is not bothered. The senior, who has been accepted at Princeton University, sees a lesson in it.

"That's politics for you," Vessella said. "If Bill Clinton wants the Yelm choir to take part in the parade, then that's the way the world works. I'm just happy to be here. We'll have a super time."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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