Tuesday morning, Jan. 1, Westfield High marching band members and their parents watched the 124th annual Tournament of Roses Parade on a big screen in the school auditorium. Next year, they’ll be in it.
Held each New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif., it’s viewed live by more than 1 million people and televised to more than 50 million people in the U.S. and 100 million worldwide. And Westfield will be only the third Virginia public high school to ever march in this pre-Rose Bowl parade.
“We found out at one of our football games in October,” said sophomore Erin Robson, who plays piccolo. “They announced it at halftime over the loud speaker and the band went crazy. Everybody was hugging each other and crying.”
“There hasn’t been a band from Virginia in this parade since the early 1960s, and never one from Fairfax County,” said Pleasant Valley’s Becky Anderson, publicity chair of Westfield’s Tournament of Roses Committee. “Out of 120 applicants, only 18 bands total — and just 12 from high schools — were selected.”
The marching band has more than 200 members and has earned Virginia Honor Band status nine times since the school opened in 2000, plus numerous championships at local, state and national competitions.
“THE APPLICATION process started last spring, with the details in a binder two inches thick,” said Anderson. “They submitted a video of them performing on the football field; letters of recommendation from politicians — Sully District Supervisor Michael Frey, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Del. Tim Hugo, Rep. Frank Wolf and Sen. Mark Warner; award and championship information through the years; our fundraising plan and Band Director Stephen Panoff’s resume.”
Tuesday, while the young musicians watched the parade at school, Panoff was in Pasadena, walking the parade route and seeing the festivities in person. But he was able to talk to the students briefly, saying, “It is unbelievable here; it’s 100-percent Rose Parade fever.”
Junior Joe Beddoes plays percussion and will be on Westfield’s drumline next year. “It’s an amazing chance for us; our marching band will be on national television,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the practices we’ll have for this. The band will spend more time together and it’ll be lots of hard work, but it’s worth it.”
Rachel Seldowitz, a sophomore piccolo player, is looking forward to “seeing everybody lining up to see the parade. And the floats will look cool because they’re so intricate.” She said the band members must be able to march the nearly 6-mile parade route and play their instruments at the same time, so she’s glad she chose the piccolo. “It’s light and easy to march with,” she said. “And it’s easy to hear it over the other instruments.”
Robson said Panoff gave them all a recommended exercise plan to make sure they can all hold their instruments and walk at the 2.5-mph clip required of the parade participants. In addition, there’s nearly a 2-mile walk to reach the parade and another 2 miles or so at the end; so all together, the students will be walking almost 10 miles that day.
THEY’LL ALSO do a field show, like at football halftimes, on another day while in Pasadena. And, said Anderson, “All the music our band will perform is being written by local musicians specifically for Westfield, so our field show will be all original.”
Sophomore Alissa Yoder is in the color guard, which marches ahead of the band. “I’m really excited because this is huge,” she said. “I don’t think it’s even hit me, yet. We’ll try to take 30 color guard members, plus some dancers. We’ll have to practice a lot, but it’s going to pay off.” Watching the parade on TV, she added, “It’s really cool to think, ‘Next year, I’m going to be there.’”
Trombone player Yonathan Dessalene, a freshman, plays baritone in the marching band. When Panoff announced they were going to the Rose Parade, said Dessalene, “I was really happy — I was cheering. I’m also going to put it on my college application, saying I marched in the 125th annual Tournament of Roses Parade.”
His baritone weighs about 6 pounds so, he said, “It’s kind of heavy. But I’ll practice holding it while walking as long as I can, until I reach 6 miles. It’s an honor watching the parade on TV and knowing that we’ll be in it next year — it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Freshman trumpet player Joseph Aversa is glad he’s an underclassman and will still be in the band next year. Being in the parade, he said, will be challenging because of the long parade route, but fun because it’s something he and his bandmates are passionate about. “I’m looking forward to the experience,” he said. “I never thought of doing anything like this.”
Junior Nick Serbu also plays trumpet and is excited about the parade. But he knows it won’t be easy. “Part of the road has a 90- or 100-degree turn which is really tight,” he said. “Most bands just do an awkward turn there, but we do a synchronized turn that’s different from everybody else.”
He said each line of marchers will stop at a certain point, and “it will look like the edge of a blade. Then when the final line is finished stopping, the first line will start turning. It’s a really hard concept, especially for high-school students, but it looks excellent.”
Still, said Serbu, next year’s new band members will have to learn it from scratch. So next spring, the rising freshmen will start marching with Westfield’s band to learn this special turn, plus all the other marching routines. In addition, said Serbu, “We’ll all be changing our marching formation to make room for the new people, so we’ll all have to learn everything again; we’ll work over the summer, too.”
But he’s thrilled to take part in a national tradition. “Everyone watches the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day,” he said. “Over 100 bands applied and only 12 high schools got in; so for us to be accepted our first time is a huge honor.”