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Taking a turn in Pasadena

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When Hellgate High School musicians hit Pasadena, Calif., on Dec. 27, they’ll be able to march in step, play a complicated score and do so around “TV corner,” whence camera crews will broadcast their music and moves to 83 million people worldwide. For the fifth time since 1978, the Hellgate band has been selected to play for the Tournament of Roses Rose Parade, billed as America’s New Year Celebration.

“The best bands in the country are invited to this thing,” says John Combs, director of bands at Hellgate High School and a University of Montana graduate. In addition to rehearsing music—including a score commissioned by Combs especially for the event—the 169-member band has been practicing to make its way around a dicey corner along the parade route.

“Bands have crashed on this corner,” says Combs. Hellgate? “Oh, heavens no.”

The corner is a roughly 105-degree turn early in the route at the corner of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards. The Hellgate musicians will tackle the turn with a “pretty flashy-looking” maneuver that involves both forward and backward marching. The band began practicing for the turn in August, marching around in a big square on the Big Sky High School field.

“You take these kids and walk them through it real slow,” explains Combs. “They all have to do it right. When they don’t, it’s a mess.”

Between September and December, band members have just four Saturdays to practice, and they aren’t wasting time.

“There’s not a lot of screwing around and being dorks,” Combs says. Now, he says, the kids are in good shape: “They’re awesome.”

Hellgate freshman Willow Coefield, alto and tenor saxophone, explains the routine:

“We just run it over and over and over,” she says.

Coefield’s mother, Su Gregerson, says the students are more concerned about keeping cool than sweeping around the tricky corner: “I think the most anxiety is wearing the wool suit in California for five miles.”

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