Marching bands spark the 128th Rose Parade

Twenty high school students from Japan’s Pacific coast, a region destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, rode a float from the American Honda Company near the beginning of the 128th Tournament of Roses Parade this morning in Pasadena, California, symbolizing the strong ties between Japan and the US.

The US Marine Corps West Coast Composite Band, a military band made up of personnel from MCAS Miramar, MCRD San Diego, and Camp Pendleton, was the first marching unit down the street, shortly after the float from Honda. A military unit is historically the first marching band in the parade, and this year was no different.

Then other bands, selected by the Tournament of Roses based on a variety of criteria including musicianship, marching ability and entertainment or special interest value, followed them down the 5½-mile march in southern California. It’s been a long road to Pasadena for most of these bands, applications, photos, video footage, and letters of recommendation having been submitted more than a year ago.

Lithonia (Martin Luther King Jr), Ga.

The “Kings of Halftime” from Lithonia, Georgia, put on quite a show! The band is a crowd favorite, owing to their musicianship and their sheer entertainment value, which can really engage an audience, whether at a football game, a parade, or a battle of the bands:

This group hails from Martin Luther King Jr High School, and during one of those halftime shows, while the band gets into place on the field, the school’s 30-plus-member drumline rocks the crowd from the track.

At the parade, they launched their show with a game of leap frog, with the last band member jumping over four others who were on the pavement of Colorado Boulevard.

The school opened in August 2001 in the DeKalb School system and is one three International Baccalaureate World Schools in DeKalb County. The IB Program is provided for juniors and seniors—it takes two academic years—and is the most rigorous level of instruction a student can receive at the high school level.

The school serves about 1,700 students, with about 99 percent being African-American. Its location on over 100 acres in a middle-class community means that about half the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, making the school a Title I building.

Austin (Westlake), Texas

(Facebook page)

The Chaparral Band from Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, brings to the 128th Rose Parade the standing as one of only a few bands worldwide to win both the Sudler Shield and the Sudler Flag, which are international awards given annually by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.

Here they are packing up their semi-truck, bound for Pasadena, on the day after Christmas:

The band is directed by Kerry Taylor, who is in his 26th year in the Eanes Independent School District, following five that he spent in Katy, just west of Houston. The Westlake Marching Band has been a finalist in several Bands of America regional and super-regional contests and has been a finalist at the 5A State Marching Contest, placing in the top 10 on four occasions.

Indianapolis (Lawrence Township), Ind.

The Marching Pride of Lawrence Township from Indianapolis is made up of students from two high schools in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, in the northeast corner of Indianapolis: Lawrence North and Lawrence Central.


Lawrence Twp. at the 2015 Bands of America Grand National Championships (Voxitatis)

“The township knows how strong the performing arts programs are at the schools,” band director Randy Greenwell told Voxitatis, referring to a community that has grown in diversity since he came there in the early 1990s but has always enjoyed having a world-class performing ensemble.

“They’re very aware of that, and they’re very supportive. Our superintendent is terrific. We’re now doing a huge fundraising campaign, because a lot of our kids wouldn’t be able to afford to take part in the program if we didn’t.”

Serving a changing socioeconomic demographic—more than 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals—has brought new challenges, but he said he’s a firm believer that every kid can learn. The staff is “probably somewhat maniacal and crazy in that we probably challenge our kids even more so than some other groups.”

For these kids, Mr Greenwell said, the transformations kids make in the band program transcend any trophy, award, or even an appearance on the national stage here in Pasadena.

“We have kids who have come out of the color guard, and they go into the Army or Marines, and they’re leaders in their field,” he said. “It’s just really cool to see that transformation and to think of what might have been if they didn’t have this. They tell me sometimes they wouldn’t have survived boot camp if they hadn’t participated in the marching band. That transcends a trophy and an awards ceremony and all that other stuff.”

Xalapa (Tecnica Industrial #3), Veracruz, Mexico

The 200 members of the Buhos (Owls) Marching Band from Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Industrial No 3 in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, arrived at the Pasadena City College for some pre-parade activities Saturday, according to the band’s Facebook page.


The band gets ready to come to Pasadena. (school website)

And they sound excited to be in California, as this news report reveals:

Niceville, Fla.

The Eagle Pride Marching Band from Niceville High School in Florida got the word that they would be the 27th marching unit down the parade route this year.

Students and their families used several fundraisers throughout the year to help them come up with about $2,500 each that the trip to Pasadena will cost.

And after all of that, here they are just this morning, answering a 3:30 AM wake-up call:

Located in the Florida panhandle, the school brings more than 300 students to the band, which has also participated in the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the 2008 Rose Parade. The Tournament of Roses invited the marching band, known for its high-impact field shows and superior musicianship, to participate in this year’s parade back in September 2015.

Broken Arrow, Okla.

The Pride of Broken Arrow hails from the Tulsa area in Oklahoma, coming to the parade this year following several years of national recognition, including winning grand champion at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in 2015 and at the BOA super-regional competition in St Louis and at the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association championships in October of this year.

The band has marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade before—in 2009 as well as 2013—and is still under the direction of Darrin Davis. It’s the only band from outside California to be invited to the parade three times in under 10 years.

A statement released by the band said their march in the parade this year will feature brand new uniforms and “a few other surprises.”

(Penn State University)

The marching band from Penn State University, State College, 320 members strong, was invited to participate in the Tournament of Roses Parade by virtue of the school’s football team being selected for the Rose Bowl.

Pasadena City College Honor Band, Calif.

Music from the Star Wars movies filled the air in Pasadena, as the “Tournament of Roses Honor Band” from Pasadena City College in California took the street. This official band of the Tournament of Roses has participated every year since 1930 and is a hometown favorite.

Plus, the 10-member elite Herald Trumpet Unit announces the new year, right before the Rose Queen and her court make their entrance in the parade.

In addition to playing host to several pre-parade activities for high school bands from across the country, like the tripartite Bandfest, the Tournament of Roses Honor Band has a long-standing tradition of musical excellence and is itself made up of band members from the community college and exceptional high school musicians auditioned from throughout Southern California. More than 600 high school students audition each year for about 200 spots.

(University of Southern California)

The Marching Trojans from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, were invited to participate in their 34th Tournament of Roses Parade on the basis of the school’s football team being selected to play in the Rose Bowl.

Los Angeles (Salvation Army T.O.R. Band), Calif.

This year’s parade marked the 98th appearance here for the Salvation Army Tournament of Roses Band and extended the ministry’s record as the longest continuing marching band performing in the Tournament of Roses parade.

“There are a number of floats that have more years, over 100 years involvement, but no other band that has consistently marched over the decades,” the organization quoted William Flinn, executive director of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association and a lifetime Salvationist, as saying last year.

In 1920, the brass band of The Salvation Army had about 40 members; this year it numbers about 230, including some marchers from a band in Oslo, Norway.

Arcadia, Calif.

The Arcadia Apache Marching Band, directed by Kevin Sherrill, frequently participates in marching band festivals in southern California, and consistently places in the top group.


Arcadia Apache Marching Band at home (school via Facebook)

The band marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in 1993, but this year, they’ve already experienced a downpour, as rain fell on the band’s pre-parade preparations yesterday. Volunteers gave them some ponchos, hoping at least to keep them from getting totally soaked, but they just had to get those last few hours of practice in for the Bandfest.

Gifu (Gifu Shogyo), Japan (Green Band Association)

For the last nine years, the Green Band has brought Japanese high school bands to Pasadena to perform at the Rose Parade, the Pasadena Star News reports. And it hasn’t been easy, according to Emiko Christensen, the US program director for the Green Band Association.

The international recognition the band receives for playing in Pasadena helps advance its mission of helping the environment through music, but even before that, in 1998, when the band was founded, its mission was to plant trees and vegetation, as well as perform in concerts to raise money for victims of disasters, natural and otherwise.

The group that comes to Pasadena is sometimes a band from a single high school and sometimes selected students from the band programs at a number of high schools, pulling members from high schools across Japan. This year’s 153 members all go to, or recently graduated from, Gifu Shogyo High School. The Gifu prefecture in Japan has about 75 high schools, and “Shogyo” specifies that this is a high school specializing in commercial and business programs.


(Green Band Association)

Established in 1904, Shogyo has a long history, and even with a focus on business, the arts and letters department takes pride in the strength of its programs. The school has even graduated numerous Olympic athletes, including one gold medalist, and professional athletes, including more than 30 pro baseball players.

The band is under the direction of Takaaki Wada, who came to the school in 1987 and has put together a range of concert and marching band honors ever since. For example, the marching band has appeared in the Nationwide Championships of the Japan Marching Band Contest every year since 2001 and won the “Gold Medal” award three times.

The charity picked this year will be various causes related to the wildfires in Tennessee and the recent earthquake in Fukushima. “We thought it might be good education for the kids to learn service for others,” the Star News quoted Mr Christensen as saying. “They can share their talent and at the same time, help others.”

Henderson (Foothill), Nev.

Travis Pardee, director of the Falcon Marching Band from Foothill High School in Henderson, Nevada, has been leading this award-winning program since 2002, and the school only opened in 1999.

The group performed in Dublin, Ireland, in 2009 and in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2014. The band even opened for Rascal Flatts at the Joint, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and for Marie Osmond at Carnegie Hall.

At marching band competitions, they consistently place in the top group. They got to Pasadena a few days ago, and when it came time to ring in 2017, they had quite the party, after a marching season in which their show was entitled “This Is My Wish.”

And today they became the first school in the Clark County school district to march in the Rose Parade.

Ooltewah, Tenn.

Several high school bands in this parade have made a name for themselves on the Bands of America competitive marching circuit, and Ooltewah High School from Tennessee is no exception. Since 2000, the band has claimed at least 37 trophies at BOA competitions, including a second-place finish at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 2004, and third-place finishes in 2006 and 2008. In their enrollment class, they’ve won first-place trophies four times since 2004, the most recent coming in 2015 at a contest in Powder Springs, Georgia.


(school website)

They’ve also participated in countless parades, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for the second time, in 2013. This is their very first appearance in the Tournament of Roses Parade, though. And in order to help the band get here, the community barbecued almost a thousand pounds of pot roasts for a fundraiser with a distinctive Tennessee flavor.

However, the school came to the attention of national news media recently as a former basketball player charged fellow students with violent hazing and said school officials did too little to stop the bullying—and tried to cover up the hazing.

Voxitatis reported in September that coach Andre Montgomery allegedly told players after an assault that found one player “lying on the floor, covered in blood, urine, and feces,” that as a team, “We’re a family, and what goes on in the family stays in the family.”

Pulaski, Wis.

The marching band from Pulaski High School, near Green Bay, Wisconsin, is well-known as an inspiring crowd favorite. Here they are at the Pulaski Polka Days Parade last summer, featuring Tournament of Roses covers on the sousaphones and T-shirts that boast about how many times the band has been invited to Pasadena, 2007 and 2012 included.

Now, the last time the Pulaski band marched in Pasadena, they slipped a fast one past the network’s commentators. They were playing “On Wisconin” just fine, and then, all of a sudden, the band breaks into a Woody Guthrie song entitled “Union Maid.” And then they broke into a rather funky dance.

It caused the blogosphere to go nuts, according to an article in Forbes, not just because the announcers seemed to have no clue what the band was doing but also because of the profound yet subtle message the band was sending, on a national stage before the 2012 election, aimed straight at Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker and his Republican minions, who were doing everything they could to bust unions, including—especially—teachers’ unions.

And that, sports fans, is how a marching band makes history. Other statements by marching bands have been going strong every since. Voxitatis reported in September that the Rice University band made a formation with the Roman number 9 (IX) on the field to tell the university’s administration just what the members thought of the way the school was handling allegations of sexual assault. It’s all set to music, but the political statements are heating up.

Los Angeles (All-District Honor Band), Calif.

The Los Angeles Unified School District All-District High School Honor Band, or “All-City” in some references, has been involved with the Tournament of Roses parade and other high-profile events since 1973.

The group has a unique sound, thanks to its use of an all “brass wind and percussion” model, which maximizes projection. Brass players are recommended by their home school teachers, while percussionists, drum majors, and auxiliary members audition.

Participation is based on the group’s educational mission of providing students with a well-rounded education. “Amidst the music and the marching, students will develop and implement important life skills such as teamwork, character development, responsibility, dedication, persistence, and collaboration,” the organization writes on its website.

Bands of America Honor Band

Band students from all 50 states auditioned for the opportunity to march with the Bands of America Honor Band, based in Indianapolis, almost a year ago, with deadlines coming in mid-January. Every four years, the honor band marches the 5½ miles in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Members pay a small audition fee and then a little more than $1,900 to participate in the trip to Pasadena. The band this year is under the direction of Bob Buckner, former director of athletic bands at Western Carolina University.

“The splendor and excitement of the Rose Parade is an experience of a lifetime for student performers,” writes Music for All, the nonprofit that runs BOA, on its website. “The national BOA Honor Band gives students from every high school band program in the country the opportunity to audition for a performance spot in this unforgettable event.”

While in California, the band will also participate in the Tournament of Roses Bandfest, a tour of Los Angeles and the Santa Monica Pier, and a parade at Disneyland.

“I spent the week of a lifetime with 299 amazing people from all over the country. I honestly wished the week could have never ended, because I made so many new friends that I didn’t want to say goodbye to,” said Ethan Thompson, a tubist from Georgia.

Travis A.F.B. (US Air Force Total Force Band), Calif.

The US Air Force Total Force Band, known as the USAF Band of the Golden West, is based at Travis AFB in Solano County, California. The Air Force marks its 70th year in 2017, and this band is ready to celebrate it.


(Facebook page)
Grove City, Ohio

There’s been a band representing Grove City High School in Ohio since 1909, according to the school’s website, when Rolla White, who gave music lessons in her home and at the Methodist church, put one together.

The marching band’s first 16 members marched in formation for the first time on November 23, 1910. It was only a two-block journey, sure—from the East Park Street School to the new high school located on Park Street—but that was enough to make this group the first marching band from a rural high school in the state.


(school website)

Today the group brings with them a long list of awards and honors, including the highest score out of 38 bands at the Ohio State Buckeye Band Invitational last year and grand championships at the Maysville Band-A-Palooza and the Meadowbrook Festival of Bands the year before.

They’ve been to Pasadena for the Rose Parade three times now—1990, 2000, and this year—and traveled from their homes just southwest of the Columbus beltway to London’s New Year’s Day Parade back in 2005. This time, though, the 16th notes sounded great.

(Santa Clara Vanguard)

Based in Santa Clara, California, the Santa Clara Vanguard is a drum and bugle corps. The organization celebrates its 50th year of performance excellence in 2017 and brought its brass sound to the final group in this year’s Rose Parade.

Members pay a small materials fee to audition and then have the opportunity to compete in drum corps shows across America. In addition to the main group, the organization provides a training opportunity, known as the Vanguard Cadets, with an average age of 17, for marchers who would like to be a part of the tradition.

This story was updated after the parade to reflect the following change: The bands were moved around to reflect the order in which they appeared in the parade.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.