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The road to the '08 Rose Parade begins amid rain

Aiming for the famously sunny event, youths vie for coveted spots in L.A. Unified's honor band.

September 23, 2007|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

Fifteen-year-old Joselyn Gonzalez stood at attention, her face expressionless, her petite 4-foot-9 frame eclipsed by the hefty bass drum strapped to her torso.

A judge raised his drumsticks to tap out the rhythm.

Gonzalez and the five other bass drummers behind her repeated the rhythm with military precision on their rose-emblazoned drums. The solid boom-boom-boom resounded through the breeze-swept school courtyard, kindling memories of falling leaves, cool autumn rains and high school football games. Two of the young drummers, ramrod straight, eyes straight ahead, seemed oblivious to the fact that they were standing in puddles.

As rain doused the region, 250 students auditioned Saturday for 100 slots in the All District High School Honor Band, the prestigious Los Angeles Unified School District group founded in 1973 that gets to play each year in the Rose Parade. Brass players are chosen at each high school.

For local teenage band musicians, few dreams can top marching down Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day as part of a 350-strong brass and percussion band in red, white and blue uniforms and tall white hats, the words "Los Angeles" across their chests.

"Just to know the feeling of marching and playing -- I love music!" said Gonzalez, of South Los Angeles, a Fremont High School student who waited hour after hour at the daylong auditions at El Sereno Middle School.

Gonzalez plays snare and bass drum and also sings. She is strong enough to play the biggest bass drum at her school. It strained her shoulders at first, but she got used to it. The drum she lifted Saturday felt light.

First, she performed solo for a judge.

"I think I did fairly well," she said, swiftly adding: "If I made it as an alternate, that's fine."

Just before auditions ended, she was directed to join five others in the drum line-up, straining to hear the rhythm set by the judge.

"It's confusing, because you'll listen to the beat, you're trying to count, and if someone misses a beat, it throws things off," said Gonzalez, who won't know until sometime this week if she made the band.

Students invited to join the honor band will face months of rigorous practice, rehearsals on Saturdays and over winter break, and long bus rides from their home schools to practice, said Anthony L. White, who played cymbals in the band as a high school student in the mid-1980s.

Today, White oversees the band as head director and coordinator for visual and performing arts in the district's Beyond the Bell Branch program. His office walls are covered with Rose Parade band photos from through the years. He notes that the band also plays at other events and recently performed the national anthem at Dodger Stadium. He pulls out letters and postcards from band alumni now playing at UC Berkeley and Louisiana State University.

The competition is especially keen this year for drum major, with 15 students vying for four slots. One is Alexis Lopez, 16, a Fremont senior who has played drums in the honor band but wants a new challenge.

"As drum major, you're in charge of the band," said Lopez, who wore his maroon Fremont band uniform. "You have to be able to whistle and signal clearly. You have to project your sound."

Ramon Hernandez, 17, a Wilson High School senior, looked weary but relieved as he finished his drum audition. He is thinking of majoring in music in college and longs to play in the honor band.

"They're awesome," he said. "I could look back and have good memories that I made it. That I did play in the Rose Parade."


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