19 marching bands rock the 127th Rose Parade

The US Marine Corps West Coast Composite Band, a military band that participates every year, was the first marching band down the street at the 127th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day.

As with most out-of-state or out-of-country travel, band members who participate in the parade are required to carry on their person a signed release, to be used in the event they need medical attention along the parade route. So, as we describe the thousands of high school students who participated in this year’s festivities, we can’t help but notice the overwhelming levels of support from their communities and high regard for students’ personal well-being from the Tournament of Roses.

The second marching band in the 2016 parade came from Allen High School in Allen, Texas. They are the Allen Eagle Escadrille, which started out as a 26-member band and drill team in 1967-68 under the direction of Earl Haberkamp Jr. The band, from about 30 miles north of Dallas and in the metroplex, now has 30 students in just the color guard and is directed by Blane Hinton. With hundreds of students in the band, the trip has pulled in massive levels of support from the community—the Allen Eagle Escadrille lists close to 50 individual and corporate sponsors for this event alone.

Many of the best high school musicians in Wyoming, coming from 27 different high school programs in the state, took the 13th time they’ve been together as a band to march down Orange Grove Boulevard, Colorado Street, and Sierra Madre Boulevard Friday. Based in the state capital, Cheyenne, the Wyoming All-State Marching Band is under the leadership of Dan Holroyd, its executive director for the last three years. “It’s not really hard to transition,” the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle quoted Victoria Vigus, one of the band’s drum majors, as saying about her role, referring to her year-round leadership at South High School in Cheyenne. “It’s the same principle, just different musicians and a lot more of them—from 60 kids with, like, three of each instrument to at least 10 of each instrument.”

Albany State University’s marching band in Georgia was the next band down the street, coming right after the Royal Court float. The historically black institution of higher learning offers several degree programs and has catalyzed change in Southwest Georgia since 1903, when it originated as the Albany Bible and Manual Training Institute.

The Virginia Military Institute is a college-level military training center in Lexington, Virginia. To the parade, the institution sent its Regimental Band and Pipes. VMI limits the scope of academic programs for students in order to ensure curricular and extracurricular offerings of the highest quality. In addition to 14 majors offering 18 degrees, VMI offers a number of enrichment programs. The Band Company, as it is designated, is one of nine companies for cadets. Rank structure, academic major, class structure, and athletic structure are identical to the rest of the corps, and any cadet is welcome to participate in the band. Trips, including the one to Pasadena, are funded by VMI, and the school provides instruments for the cadets.

Toho High School, established in 1923 in Nagoya, Japan, brings a marching band, one of the Japanese “Green Bands” that come every year, to the 2016 Tournament of Roses Parade. In addition to the parade, the band will perform a free concert at Kennedy High School in La Palma, California, at 6 PM, Sunday, January 3. All proceeds donated through the Green Band Association, which ordinarily sends donations to victims of natural disasters, will be sent this year to those who suffered in the San Bernardino terrorist shooting. Several Japanese bands stand united in a mission to increase green plants on Earth, but the group “decided the donations should go to the families of victims and survivors, especially for the children going through this really hard time,” the Pasadena Star-News quoted Emiko Christensen, program director for the Green Band Association, as saying. “We can support and help them and I’m pretty sure that lots of the audience coming to the concert feel the same way.”

The marching band from the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park in Canton, Michigan, directed by David Armbruster, became the seventh marching band to grace the streets of Pasadena this New Year’s Day. The “educational park” is actually made up of three high schools: Canton, Plymouth, and Salem high schools. The marching band is completely extracurricular and has won more than 500 awards over the last 16 years, in addition to, before that, being named Grand National Champion in the Bands of America circuit three times: 1990, 1991, and 1999. The marching band has also earned the state championship from the Michigan Competing Bands Association 23 times, most recently in 2012.

This year’s parade marked the 97th 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. In 1920, the brass band of The Salvation Army had about 40 members; this year it numbers about 230.

Hawkeyes in the University of Iowa’s marching band received an automatic invitation to the parade by virtue of the football team’s selection to play in the Rose Bowl football game. The University of Iowa is in the Big Ten conference.

The “Tournament of Roses Honor Band” from Pasadena City College in California 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. The Tournament of Roses Honor Band has a long-standing tradition of musical excellence and is 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.

As the football team was selected to play in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game, the marching band from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, marched as the 11th marching band in this year’s parade. Stanford University plays in the Pac-12 Conference, which is sometimes called the “Conference of Champions” because the three schools with the most NCAA team championships are in the conference (UCLA, Stanford, and USC).

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.


Águilas Doradas Marching Band, from Centro Escolar José Maria Morelos y Pavón in Puebla, Mexico

The Águilas Doradas Marching Band joins the parade this year from the Centro Escolar José Maria Morelos y Pavón in Puebla, Mexico, having last marched along this route in 2009. A segment of their performance was captured on video. About this band directed by Luis Gómez, we can say only this: ¡Que emoción fue verlos y escucharlos! Son muy talentosos.

More than 200 members of the Saratoga High School Marching Band and Color Guard traveled about 350 miles from just south of San Francisco with the school’s department chair, Michael Boitz, and band director, Jonathan Pwu, who, like many others working with the band, graduated from the high school himself, for this year’s Rose Parade. The band received the invitation from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee back in October 2014, according to the student newspaper. Representatives from the parade announced the invitation at the end of the first quarter of a home football game. Invitations are generally made more than a year in advance in order to allow each band’s directors to travel to an actual parade and see the logistics firsthand. Messrs Boitz and Pwu made the trip a year ago, without more than 200 kids in tow, to the 126th incarnation of this world-famous parade.

The Trojan Pride band from Jenks High School in Jenks, Oklahoma, hit the street next, after spending about a week in Southern California. The band and various family members boarded two charter flights from Oklahoma on Sunday and plan to unload semis and a box truck during first period when they get back to school Monday. While they’re in Pasadena, though, they’ll take part in the Bandfest, a field show competition open to all marching bands in the Tournament of Roses parade, News On 6 reported from the high school last month.

The Franklin Regional High School Panther Band hails from Murrysville, Pennsylvania, and is under the direction of Kevin Pollock. The band took part in the parade four years ago, when they also made the 2,400-mile journey from about 17 miles east of Pittsburgh. “We are excited. We are proud to represent Pennsylvania in America’s New Year Celebration,” Trib Live News quoted Mr Pollock as saying. “We have a talented group of students who are looking forward to sharing their performance with the huge audience in Pasadena and the television audience around the world.”

The Punahou Marching Band from Honolulu, Hawaii, made the trip to Pasadena despite fears about the safety of students and adults after recent terrorist activity in Southern California and in foreign countries. Band parents, students, and staff were informed just before they began the journey from Hawaii “that there are no specific threats to our events. … Generally speaking, we are on high alert due to worldwide events from Paris to San Bernardino to various school districts across the country,” wrote Rich Chinen, immediate past president of the Tournament of Roses, in a letter to the band. “We have been in consistent and frequent communication with local, county, state, and federal agencies. We have spent considerable time and energy in asking questions about safety and security that everyone is asking. … We have been doing this for 126 years, but the world has changed. We have changed in our preparations as a result.”

Here’s how NBC’s Al Roker announced the marching band from William Mason High School Friday morning: “Pride, honor, and class describes the 330-member William Mason High School marching band, Mason, Ohio. … They are premiering newly designed uniforms today.” WLWT-TV (NBC affiliate) quoted one parent as saying, “It was so exciting to see them come around that corner on Colorado Boulevard. All the Mason crowd stood up and started cheering. It was very cool and exciting.”

The Mira Mesa High School Sapphire Sound Band and Color Guard from San Diego, California, came just a few slots before the end of the parade. The band’s director, Jeanne Christensen, said she believes in music “and all that it can do for a student. The arts are essential to the academic success of any student, and it is my passion to help students along through these four years of high school. Within the band and color guard, we have a comprehensive program: students … have repeated opportunities for performance, set high goals and standards, and have the opportunity to become a student leader. Accountability and teamwork are essential … the motto, ‘Never give up,’ is something we live by.” After the parade, she wrote on Facebook:

It’s January 2nd and I hope you are able to reflect today on the incredible experience we just shared in the Rose Parade. You rocked! Plain and simple. I’m so proud of you! The blue team gets the job done each and every day. The world was able to see all of your hard work and effort. CONGRATULATIONS!!! We ARE the Sapphire Sound! Love you all … students, parents, alumni, friends and family.

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.