The Marching Trojan Band was supposed to have its last practice before heading to the 124th Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena in the parking lot at Six Flags White Water in Marietta. But chilly rain washed that out, moving practice to Lassiter’s campus on Shallowford Road in northeast Cobb.
“It is disappointing because it would be good to get off the track and get acclimated to a new environment, but you can’t control the weather,” senior percussionist Anna Gwaltney said.
Band director Alfred L. Watkins said he wanted to practice at White Water because it is the only place close by where they can simulate marching in the television viewing area during the parade, where the band’s performance will be beamed to 235 countries.
“It’s the only place in the area with a large enough parking lot to accommodate that,” Watkins said. “It’s the only place without a lot of islands, light posts and different level terrain.”
While replicating the experience of the 5 ½-mile parade route was tough to do in the school gym, nobody was complaining. The appearance in the Jan. 1 parade will be the fourth for the 225-member Lassiter band, having also performed in 1988, 2001 and 2005.
Watkins said he doesn’t know of another high school band to play in the Rose parade four times over that span.
On top of that, the two-time national champion Trojan Band has also played the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York three times, in 1999, 2004 and 2010.
While she played in New York as a sophomore, senior drum major Jenny Edwards said the Rose Parade, which is broadcast on three over-the-air networks and the HGTV cable channel, will be an entirely new experience.
“This is a lot bigger deal than anything we’ve done so far,” she said. “I’m really excited because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for people in the band. We all feel blessed and honored to be in it.”
Lassiter’s is one of 26 bands chosen out of 475 applicants in the United States and elsewhere, Watkins said. Other bands will come from places including Japan, China, El Salvador and Mexico, and perform alongside the 43 floral-covered floats and 18 equestrian units with 400 horses.
The band’s bass drummers already have new drum heads for the event, reading, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” part of a Dr. Seuss theme.
The band, along with 30 staff members and chaperones, is scheduled to take five planes to Los Angeles on Thursday and return Jan. 2. While there, they will visit sites such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier.
Senior drum major Jessica Allomong, who will help lead the band in the parade, is one of many band members who has never been to California.
“We practice all season to reach a goal,” she said. “It makes the whole season ... really worth it. It will be a great last trip for senior year.”
Watkins said the trip will cost just under $500,000. The band has used fundraisers to pay for about 30 percent of that, including running a concession stand at the Georgia Dome and operating a Christmas tree lot. The rest, about $350,000, was paid for with corporate donations and the students themselves.
The event will also include chances to meet members of some of the other bands.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting people who appreciate music,” Edwards said. “I’m excited to meet people who are doing the same thing we’re doing but across the world.”
The current band members have never marched in a parade with a route as long as the one at the Rose Parade, said Watkins, who has been band director at Lassiter since 1982. But he isn’t worried about them.
“We get them up to about four miles, and the enthusiasm of the parade takes over after that,” he said.
Standing in a band building that bears his name, Watkins said he doesn’t compare the bands that have had success over the years.
“I’ve had terrific students, consistent messaging based on excellence and character and development of musicianship,” Watkins said. “They’re kind of like children, I try to avoid comparisons. You just treasure the ones you have at the time.”