Pass / Fail

So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Rose Parade marching band prepares for center stage after hours of practice

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By this time of year, most marching band students have set aside their instruments for the season. But for the student musicians at Temple City High School, this is go time for the Rose Parade

The students have been practicing since August, marching laps to build their stamina for the 5 1/2-mile trek and practicing to reach the precision required for a TV audience that topped 79 million viewers worldwide last year.

Fine details like the setting of the metronome to 120 beats per minute and large goals like an ambitious $125,000 fundraiser for uniforms and instruments involved 200 or so marching band students and a community of supporters.

Most of all, the effort required practice — and more practice.

On a recent Thursday at 7 p.m., 175 students stood around in the dark. The glow from the football field’s floodlights bounced off an array of shiny band instruments. 

Perched on a step ladder, Bert Ferntheil, the school’s band director of 26 years gets the band ready. Then on his count, the music rises and students shift their feet in the shadows, marching in place to the beat.

Their practice sessions can run to six hours, and they've been at it almost every day since school let out for winter break. Parents were relieved that Ferntheil allowed a half day of practice on Christmas Eve. 

"I love these kids. They're great. They come every day and they work hard," said Ted Chang, an alumnus and now a visual instructor at the school who leads one part of the practice. "Every time I come, it brings a smile to my face."

The students know their school was hand-picked for this year's Rose Parade, the 126th festival of flowers, floats and music that kicks off at 8 a.m. on New Year's Day in Pasadena.

Flute player Lauren West said the high school band's practices have been intense.

"It's a great activity, but it requires a lot of dedication and time and just all the energy you possibly have," West said.

At this point in the preparations, even one missed practice will get a band member kicked off the roster.

The parade is a big deal for alto sax player Diane Hwang. She has family in South Korea who will be tuning in on New Year’s Day.

"I’m pretty excited. I’m like, I kind of can’t believe that we’re doing it," Hwang said.

When the camera shines on the Temple City students, viewers from 115 countries will be watching as the marchers round the corner from Orange Grove Boulevard onto Colorado Boulevard. 

Band directors say at 105 degrees, the corner is a logistical challenge.

On the football field, Ferntheil gathers around with his staff to study a diagram of the turn. 

The students are instructed to hit their steps throughout the duration of the turn. As they march, those on the inside step too fast; those on the outside at the widest point of the turn leap along to the beat to keep up.   

Ferntheil's not worried. He said they will practice the turn again and again until they get it right.

For all their effort, the band likely will get no more than 3o seconds of screen time on any given TV network. But 30 seconds in front of millions — that's something they know few get to claim.

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