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Everything’s coming up roses for Westfield band

By Holly Hobbs | Fairfax County Times,

Months after the 2011-12 fall marching band season ended, Westfield High School Band Director Stephen Panoff ordered students into parade lines to run drills on roll-stepping and keeping straight lines and good posture while playing their instruments.

The wet, cold and windy nights of March often made the after-school drills an extra burden on students, who already were in the springtime (indoor) concert band mode.

But Panoff hoped for a big payoff — one that he got.

During the marching band football halftime show Sept. 28, a loudspeaker announcement told students the band would march in the 125th Rose Bowl Parade, part of the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, Calif., to take place on New Year’s Day 2014.

“We went crazy when the guy announced it on the speaker,” said Westfield junior trombonist Chandler Comer, 16. “People were running into each other, hugging.”

“It’s a really big honor. There are not that many bands that get to go to the Rose Bowl Parade. I watch it every year on TV. But I won’t in 2014, because I’ll be there,” said Glenn Turner, 16, a Westfield junior trumpeter.

To put the honor in perspective, Westfield is only the third Virginia public high school to march in the prestigious parade, staged before the Rose Bowl game. Richmond’s Hermitage High School marched in 1993, and Prince George High School was part of the parade back in the 1960s.

The application process took Panoff and a group of dedicated parents six months to complete. The marching band is one of about a dozen accepted out of about 125 that applied, Panoff said.

“You have to apply 18 months in advance,” Panoff said, adding that the gap is used to allow schools to fundraise. He estimates the trip will cost $400,000, with about half coming from the 200-plus students in the band. “We’re in dire need of corporate sponsors.”

For the application, Westfield had to produce judges’ notes and results from its past 10 competitions, band numbers (including instrumentation) Panoff’s résuméas a director and essays on what made the band unique and entertaining. There also was a two-minute video of students marching parade-style in uniform and another two-minute video of students marching a field show, as well as photos of students in uniforms or in auxiliary costumes.

“The toughest part of this is you have to show the famous 90-degree turn that you’d have to do during the parade,” Panoff said of the application. The Rose Bowl Parade is a six-mile hike.

“There’s a very famous turn in the Rose Bowl Parade at the very beginning, where the band has to make this very sharp turn [off Orange Grove onto Colorado Avenue]. It’s where the broadcasters are. Worked on that for six weeks.”

The famous Nickerson turn — named after an Ohio State University marching band member who crafted the method — was included in the audition material sent by Westfield and involves part of the band marking time, while the other half skirts alongside evenly to face the turn.

The band also was required to include national-level letters of recommendation.

“The Westfield Marching Band has historically proven itself to be comprised of talented performers,” wrote Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in his letter of recommendation. “[Westfield’s band program] is a truly remarkable program that has enjoyed a decade of success and highly regarded performances.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also wrote in favor of Westfield’s efforts. Panoff jokes the band received bipartisan support during an election year.

Joseph W. Hermann, Tennessee Tech University’s director of bands, who judged Westfield during a competition in Florida, ranked the band in the top 5 percent of high school bands in the nation.

“The Westfield High School Band is one of America’s truly great programs,” Hermann wrote. “The marching band of over 200 members has been an audience favorite year after year. I believe with all sincerity that the Westfield High School Band is a most deserving ensemble for the honor of being selected as a Rose Bowl Band.”

As a result of their work, students will march next year in front of a live audience of about 1 million people, be seen by a U.S. television audience of about 50 million and a worldwide audience of about 100 million people in 220 countries. The parade is broadcast in 25 languages, according to parade organizers.

Rose Bowl Tournament spokeswoman Leslie Unger said parade organizers do not comment on the selection of any band, but that groups are selected based on musicianship, marching skills, uniqueness and entertainment value.

From now until Jan. 1, 2014, Westfield’s marching band needs to fundraise, practice marching and prepare the music it will perform during the parade. California composer Key Poulan has volunteered to write music for the band. The band previously has performed his works during marching shows.

Panoff also will decide who will march in the Rose Bowl Parade.

“We have seniors and kids that are now freshmen in college [who put together the application],” he said. “It’s difficult because we only have so many uniforms.”

Learn more about Westfield’s marching band at www.westfieldband.org.

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