The members of Dulaney High School's marching band tromped around the parking lot on a chilly afternoon three days before Christmas, their fingers dancing across phantom horns and drums.
They played nothing but air because their instruments had already begun a trek across the Atlantic Ocean that will culminate on New Year's Day, when the band from Timonium will play before hundreds of thousands of revelers in the heart of London. Seventy-nine of the band's 108 members planned to follow their instruments across the pond Dec. 27 for the biggest performance of their lives.
"We've been playing for this trip for a long time," said Josh Wilson, a senior drum major. "Not many high school bands even leave their home states. So this is a big deal."
The Dulaney musicians have known they were headed for London since May 2009, when they learned their band, known as the Lion's Roar, was one of a handful selected from a pool of about 150 U.S. nominees. The two-mile parade features 10,000 participants, generally attracts a live crowd of a half-million and is watched by more than 200 million people around the world on television.
Those numbers sound a little nuts to the Dulaney kids, who have never played farther away than Disney World.
"It's an honor, but it's also a little nerve-racking," said Jon Anderson, a sophomore tenor drummer who has never traveled farther than Nebraska. "But I'm sure that once we get in the parade, all the nerves will go away."
He said some band members joined specifically because they wanted to make the London trip, and director Barry Chesky said eighth-graders were buzzing about the trip when they expressed early interest in joining this year's group.
"This is really a culmination of everything we've done," said Chesky, who has led the band for seven years.
The band has played its planned two-minute selection from Chuck Mangione so many times that the musicians hear the notes and cadences in their sleep.
"I don't even really have to think about it," Anderson said. "It's second nature."
The week-long trip will cost more than $2,000 for each member, and the band raised tens of thousands of dollars to finance it through bake sales, car washes and pizza parties. Besides playing the parade, students will tour Oxford University, Windsor Castle and other London sites.
Streaming video of the performance will be viewable on http://www.bbc.com, with the parade expected to begin about 7 a.m. Eastern time.