Shawnee Mission West bands heading to London for New Year’s Day parade for the ninth time

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Right after Christmas, a local high school's bands will head to London to perform for the Queen.

Shawnee Mission West's marching and jazz bands, who are making quite a name for themselves on the international circuit, will be traveling across the pond as part of London's New Year's Day Parade.

But these teens didn't get to this point without some hard work.

"Practice," said junior Destiny Howell, describing how she spends her days outside the classroom.

"We're always in the band room after school and before school," said senior Haley Webb.

The group spends hours on the field, fine tuning their craft.

"It's very rare," said Howell, explaining that not many schools in the nation get this opportunity.

Howell, Webb and about 70 other band students will travel to London in just a few weeks.

Band Director Bill Thomas said Shawnee Mission West's marching band and top jazz band, known as Overland Express, have been invited to perform in London nine times over the years.

"This is actually two more than anybody else in the country, in the world, other than people who live right there in London. Pretty spectacular," Thomas said. "We were noticed 30 years ago for the excellence of the band program here and were invited for the very first time."

Thomas said only handful of bands in the U.S. are invited to perform. The last time Shawnee Mission West attended was during the 2015-16 school year. Since that time, Thomas said the group's been training for the big show.

"It's really hit high gear in the last about three months," Thomas said.

The group will perform two songs, including "Ease on Down the Road" from "The Wiz."

"Every time we've gone, we've wanted to do something that represents Kansas," Thomas said. "One of my things as a teacher is I want to help students grow up and know how to be great citizens in life, and I have no worries that they're going to represent Shawnee Mission West -- they're going to represent Kansas and the United States with just the utmost of pride and dignity."

The band flies to London on Dec. 27 and returns Jan. 3. After the marching band performs, Overland Express will play for international dignitaries at a reception.