A Great Honor

One student looks back on his journey with the Honor Band of America, made up of the nation’s best high school musician-athletes.

Photo by Christine Ngeo Katzman

Every young instrumental musician has sat in front of the TV watching a major parade. The crowds are cheering for the bands as they march down the street, accompanying floats, celebrities and other performers from across the world, and that musician is thinking: “I want to do that some day.” On Jan. 1, 2009, 317 of those young people— including myself—had their wish granted as members of the Honor Band of America (HBOA) in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Auditions

The audition process began around a year ago. Being an overconfident freshman, I jumped at the chance. The materials seemed straightforward. But the problem for me was that they were all in first part, and I was last chair in my trumpet section. So I practiced hard and submitted the pieces. I was sure I had failed and spent the next few weeks bracing myself for the worst, which is why I almost had a heart attack when I found out that I had been accepted. Now I just had to wait for the trip.

Arrival and Rehearsal

Starting Dec. 27, 2008, more than 300 band members and staff flowed into Los Angeles during a 48-hour period. Right away, we faced the first of many challenges: Due to foul weather elsewhere, a sizeable piece of the band had delayed flights. Even worse, the first full-ensemble rehearsal took place in the evening on day one. But everything moved ahead, and the latecomers slipped in easily.

On day two we gathered early for our first outdoor rehearsal. It was a long day of going around in circles (literally). George Parks, our director, pointed out that we represented 200 high school bands and, therefore, a plethora of marching styles. He emphasized the importance of making sure each person in the ensemble had the same style.

And the greatest thing ever? Everyone listened. The HBOA was on the rise.


Performance Days

Our first performance took place at Bandfest on the football field of Cal State Fullerton. Then we headed straight to Disneyland, where the band performed in front of the castle. What a powerful moment when those spotlights turned on and the roll-off began. Performing at one of the most famous places on earth, with cameras flashing and people cheering, made us feel a bit like rock stars. And we hadn’t even reached the parade yet.

After one last standstill performance (for float judging) and one final rehearsal on day five, we were ready for the culmination of all our hard work. Despite a few last-minute crises (like me dropping my instrument), we were at the staging area on the morning of Jan. 1. It was a long wait until the step-off line, but when we turned the corner onto Colorado Blvd., the reality hit us like a brick wall.

Both sides of the street were lined with tall grandstands that made you feel like you were walking through a canyon of people. And stacks upon stacks of cameras from at least four different TV stations were covering the event. The roar of the crowd was deafening. It never seemed to end for that entire six-mile adventure.

At the end of the parade, we were exhausted and more tired than ever. But we had made it through together. That evening we celebrated at a banquet that showed how close we all had grown.

The parting message from Director Parks reminded us all that we must take what we learned from our adventure and apply it to our everyday lives. We have to be the ones who inspire others to make their dreams come true. As he told us: “Believe in Santa. Don’t believe in Santa. BECOME Santa.”

About author

Connor Pack

Connor Pack is a sophomore and trumpet player from Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colo.

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