Rose Parade Performance Trip Leaves Lasting Impression

Rose Parade Performance Trip Leaves Lasting Impression

The cancellation of the Tournament of Roses Parade in 2021, left many students waiting to experience a once in a lifetime moment. March along on the journey of MTC Trip Journalist Traye Geissler and his adventures during a week in Southern California with the Bands of America Honor Band on a Rose Parade Performance Trip.

A BOA Rose Parade Journal

Day 1 (December 26) – The Journey Begins

Today was the first day of my foray into the unknown. Like a kid on Christmas (although it was, in fact, the day after Christmas), I was awake far earlier than I should have been. Around 7:30 a.m. Eastern, I dragged myself out of bed, promptly shaved, got dressed and headed out the door. I was on my way to the Pittsburgh International Airport and the adventure was about to begin.

The following few hours were filled with excitement, relaxing flights, killing time at two airports and writing extensively about ordering fast food (this was literally two pages of content, so I cut it). After a long day of travel, I finally made it to the Long Beach airport.

I arrived at the hotel after being picked up from the airport around 10 p.m. Pacific. I treated myself to some hotel ice cream and snacks, took a hot shower, and got ready for bed. Tomorrow would be the true beginning of the most chaotic but fun week I’ve had in a while.

Day 2 (December 27) – We Meet At Last

Day two of my trip was off to a very good start when I woke up at 8 a.m. Pacific Time, which felt like 11 a.m. to me. I barely get to sleep in at home anyway, so this was a huge bonus.

After waking up, I was on my way to get my uniform fitted. I checked out of my room and deposited my luggage in my friend’s parents’ room. The Fred J Miller (FJM) volunteers were very helpful in getting me a uniform that fit well. The process went smoothly and although I waited in line for a little while, the check-in process was as streamlined as possible. Now properly outfitted with all my equipment, it was time to go grab a bite to eat. I met up with my roommates and we roamed the streets of Long Beach for a little while, looking for some food.

At 3 p.m., we were all to be in the ballroom for orientation, the first in a series of “Mega Meetings.” A horde of students unlike any that has existed before piled into the room, eager to hear what the chaperones had to say about what comes next. The orientation went smoothly and we were off to our sectional rooms.

The alto saxophone sectional was my first official rehearsal and it was great! Our instructor worked through our music with us efficiently and we were able to pull quite a bit of it together. Following sectionals, we had a tasty dinner and a full ensemble rehearsal that proceeded in a similar fashion to the sectionals. Wrapping up our night, we piled onto the crowded elevators, excited equally for the following day and to get some sleep.

Day 3 (December 28) – Getting Down to Business

At long last, here it was: the first full day with the entire band! After a good night’s sleep, my roommates and I were rested and ready to take on the day. We ate our first hotel breakfast of many and boarded our buses, embarking on what came to be known as the “Parking Lot Tour of Los Angeles,” as our rehearsals were held in various parking lots all throughout the LA area.

We pulled into the parking lot of Costa Mesa High School, my peers and I feeling excited and a little nervous about what was to come. It was, after all, our first real rehearsal after all the introductory information the night before. Thankfully, it turned out to be very enjoyable! The morning rehearsal was entirely visual-focused. We spent most of our time marching in our parade block and working out how we would turn on the streets of Pasadena. Before we knew it, it was time to go eat lunch.

We had an extremely carb-and-protein-heavy lunch at Buca di Beppo that day. Since it was family style, many of us may have overdone it a little bit and jumped back onto the buses completely stuffed. That was the moment jet lag caught up with most of us. The following bus ride was probably the relative lowest point of the trip for everyone because we were all exhausted beyond belief- but thankfully, the staff anticipated this and knew exactly how to combat it: motivational speaking!

A man named Mr. Horton held a leadership seminar that not only woke all of us up, but instilled confidence and a new level of excitement for what was to come. He was so energetic and genuine, in fact, that his speech directly inspired a trombone player to have a chocolate fountain delivered to our hotel. (I’ll spare you the fine details.) While very brief, Mr. Horton’s speech was a turning point in the trip. Things just got better from there.

That night, we had our second outdoor rehearsal in the parking lot of Angel Stadium. It was surreal to be doing normal marching band rehearsal with a baseball field on one side of us and towering mountains on the other. There’s not much to be said after that- it was a similar rehearsal to the morning, but we worked on adding music. When practice was over we loaded the buses, went back to the hotel and went to bed. Day three was a success!

Day 4 (December 29) – Putting It Together, So To Speak

The majority of day four was really nothing new, and that’s exactly what was so great about it. We spent the whole day practicing and practicing, really cracking down on music and visual alike. Our rehearsal took place at Colony High School, a huge school with open courtyards everywhere. Pennsylvania school architects, take note of this! The whole day was largely uneventful but an extremely necessary occurrence. We left that school feeling more prepared than ever for our preview performance that night.

Putting our uniforms on for the first time felt amazing. There was something so energizing about seeing everyone, students from all over the country, wearing the same uniform for the same purpose. By the time we had gathered for our pre-performance debrief, we were all looking and feeling confident and ready to take on the performance… and what a performance it was.

While far from our best performance, the preview performance of any ensemble is always an important one. It gives the band a chance to run through everything without the full pressure of a real performance, but with more stakes than just an average rehearsal. That night, for the first time, all four pieces were played in their entirety from memory: the three parade tunes “Putting It Together/Children Will Listen,” “California Dreamin’,” and “New Year’s Day,” as well as “For Good,” our piece for stand-still performances only. There were some bumps along the way, but we made it through and ultimately did fairly well for our first live performance. It was certainly enough to get our parents and Mr. Saucedo very excited for what was to come. What more could you ask for when you have a preview performance?

Day 5 (December 30) – I Bless The Rains Down In California

On every trip, there is always, without fail, a day where everything goes wrong. These days are chaotic, uncertain and sometimes, downright bonkers. But they don’t have to be miserable. If you make the most of a bad situation, at its best the day will be fun and memorable, and at its worst the day will at least make for a good story. Thankfully, day five was both! Our staff and chaperones worked tirelessly to make sure The Day We Got Rained Out in Southern California was still a blast, and they knocked it out of the park.

On our way to breakfast, we knew something was up. It had been pouring all night, and the rain did not seem to be letting up. Our band kid senses told us we would not be going to Bandfest like we had initially planned, so we anxiously anticipated what the plan was instead.

At the Mega Meeting in the morning, we found out that we were, indeed, not attending Bandfest, which had turned into Mudfest at that point. Seeing as it would have been very difficult to clean the mud out of 350+ white uniforms, the staff certainly made the right call. We learned that we would be having a morning rehearsal indoors then figuring it out from there.

What a rehearsal that was. Something had changed in all of us overnight, and for the first time that week it really sounded like we knew what we were doing and were proud of it. Mr. Saucedo knew this too. By the time we had finished performing “For Good,” we had brought him and the rest of the staff to tears.

The rest of the day was, in my opinion, the most important bonding experience we would have as an ensemble. With the relative insanity of the unprecedented amount of rain, we were forced to spend a lot of time getting to know each other. On Bus 4, for example, our chaperones became known simply as “Mom” and “Dad.” The students started a recurring trend of bursting into less-than-stellar renditions of popular songs and many more shenanigans. Some of the highlights of the day were drinking coffee in the rain at the Farmer’s Market, seeing the ocean at the Santa Monica Pier, and, of course, our private showing of Spider-Man: No Way Home.

As we all headed to bed that night, I think there was a sense of genuine friendship between all of us that hadn’t been there before. Sure, there were people I talked to more than others, but after that day I started to consider them friends. The best, most memorable days are often the ones where the strangest things happen, and day five was no exception.

Day 6 (December 31) – The Calm Before the Storm

On the dawn of the sixth day, there was newfound energy shared by every member of the ensemble that would last until the evening of January 2. It was warranted, too; after all, after the cancellation of Bandfest, our Disneyland stand-still would be our official debut. What a way to come on the scene! Our sleep was low but our spirits were high as we ventured forth into Anaheim.

While our time there was brief, performing at Disneyland was such a cool experience! We got to see what it’s like to be on the backstage side of things (although we weren’t allowed to take pictures). Once we were there, we had a quick rehearsal and we were off to the train station, right at the entrance of the park. Talk about a venue!

Our performance that day was night and day compared to the last time we’d run through everything in uniform. We sounded and felt like a completely different band, which was a very pleasant surprise. A very large crowd had gathered to see us and being applauded by random people who happened to be at Disneyland that day was such a satisfying feeling. Many of these people weren’t parents or had any idea who we were, they were just there to see a good performance and I do believe we were able to give them one.

The rest of the day was fairly standard: another rehearsal in the Angel Stadium parking lot followed by dinner and an early bedtime. That isn’t to say the day didn’t have its moments, though; playing “For Good” for the last time in the parking lot was bittersweet and the New Year’s Eve party, complete with chocolate fountain, was a great time. The fun didn’t last forever, though. Before we knew it, it was time to go to bed . . . and wake up at 3 a.m. That’s right, parade day was approaching rapidly. It’s all been leading to this.

Day 7 (January 1) – New Year’s Day

What? Why am I awake? Oh, right. The parade. How is it already 3:05 a.m.? I should probably wake up everyone else. These are some of the thoughts that flew through my head as I scrambled to get ready for parade day. Caffeine and adrenaline coursing through our veins, my roommates and I managed to launch ourselves out of bed and get our uniforms on just in time to head to the buses. It wasn’t long after we boarded that we all fell asleep for about an hour until it was time to get off again. The parade was finally upon us.

One thing I certainly did not expect: California is cold in the morning. Until the sun came up, we were all freezing. It also didn’t help that we were awake by sheer force of will; however, we managed to power through and make it to sunrise. Once the sun was up, it was smooth sailing from that point onward.

The parade itself was fairly straight forward (no pun intended), with a few turns here and there… but it was LONG. That said, it truly was not too difficult at all; in fact, parades a fraction of the length are more difficult here in Pennsylvania because it’s always ridiculously humid and completely uphill. Pasadena was a beautiful city to look at while we marched for five and a half miles, and being on TV was admittedly as cool as it’s made out to be. There were no majorly disastrous mistakes and I was impressed with everyone’s stamina. It was a team effort and there certainly was a lot of effort.

When we reached the end, the band erupted into celebration. We’d made it! We actually pulled it off! It was such a fun moment, but the cheering and high-fives were cut short by the realization that we would be getting In-N-Out Burger. The horde of hungry teenagers flocked to the food trucks and we enjoyed our celebratory feast.

Later that night, after a quick nap, we loaded the buses for what would be one of the last times, dressed in our best attire for the banquet. I sat down at a table with a few other students whom I’d spoken to but didn’t really know and I had a great time. The conversation flowed very easily and these people quickly became some of the better friends I’d made during my time. The closing remarks we got from the staff were very genuine and it was obvious we had truly made a difference in their lives during the short week we had been together.

We said our goodbyes, took ample pictures and went back to the buses, eager to get some real sleep because tomorrow was the other day we’d all been waiting for: The Return to Disneyland!

Day 8 (January 2) – The End of Our California Adventure

If the previous day was the culmination of all the serious, hard work we had put in during our time in Los Angeles, our Disneyland day was the result of friendships we’d been building and the general desire to let loose and have some fun while we were at it. We were awake at a normal time (which was wonderful), but it was early enough to give us time in the parks. I met up with my group, many of whom I had met at the table the night before, and we were off to experience the magic of Disneyland and all it has to offer.

It was a day packed with fun adventures and misadventures but some of the highlights are as follows: making jokes about Fortnite locations on the Disneyland map, discovering that the Space Mountain music has no right to be as good as it is, debating whether or not to buy Jedi robes, not realizing the full effect of the swinging ferris wheel cabins until we were in one, and getting drenched on Splash Mountain despite multiple warnings that it was, in fact, a bad idea. Everything that went right, as well as everything that went less than right contributed to the bond our group had, and we still communicate to this day.

Our day in Disneyland was the perfect way to end the trip, and that’s where I’m ending the journal too. The day after was a standard travel day, so I consider Disneyland day to be the real ending of my expedition to Southern California. It truly could not have ended on a better note.

Closing Remarks

It’s strange — while I was there, everything we did just felt like something I was doing. I’m at the Rose Parade? That’s something I’m doing right now, all there is to it. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It kept me grounded and in the moment. But now that it’s been a few weeks since I landed in Pittsburgh, I’m realizing what an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was. I got to do things very few music students will ever have the chance to do. I made friends from across the country. I marched five and a half miles in a parade that millions of people were watching. That does not happen every day!

I’d like to thank everyone who made this experience possible for the hundreds of students who ended up going. Mr. Saucedo, the MFA staff, the sectional teachers, the volunteer chaperones, the bus drivers and Music Travel Consultants gave one hundred and ten percent of their efforts to make this a truly amazing week. Thank you, sincerely.

I’d also like to thank my fellow band members for making my time with the ensemble worth it; I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I didn’t talk to anyone.

And to those of you reading this now who may have the chance to do this in the coming years: please participate. It was one of the highlights of my time in high school band and I will remember it for years to come. This is an opportunity you should take without hesitation.

Toward the end of the trip, the staff all echoed a similar pun on one of the pieces we played: that we have changed them, “For Good.” I thought it was cheesy, but it was the good kind of cheesy that you can’t help but start to go along with because you know it’s true. So, yes, this experience has absolutely changed me for the better—I have been changed for good. I hope everyone who has gone in the past and will go in the future feels the same way.

Music Travel Consultants offers journalistic opportunities for students in performing ensembles who have interests in both writing and music. For more information on our Trip Journalist program, click here.

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