WASILLA -- For the first time, an Alaska marching band will join the elite ranks of musical groups in the Tournament of Roses parade.
The 73 members of the Colony High School Knights Marching Band, "THEE Northern Sound," will perform in the 125th annual Rose Parade, held in Pasadena, Calif. on New Year's Day.
The 2014 parade theme is "Dreams Come True."
That's about right.
"They've had bands from all around the world in this parade. They've never had a band from Alaska," Colony band director Jamin Burton said Thursday. "It is really awesome."
The Rose Parade is basically the Super Bowl for marching bands. The 2013 parade was watched by 84 million television watchers and drew an estimated 800,000 attendees, according to the Tournament of Roses Association.
Colony's place among the 20 bands on the parade roster marks a significant achievement for any musical organization. But Alaska isn't exactly a marching band stronghold. Something about the cold and the dark disagrees with young people playing instruments outside. Colony is one of very few schools here with marching band programs. Nenana City Public School has fielded a marching band, as has Eagle River High School.
Competition for a place in the parade is stiff. More than 50 musical groups compete for as few as a dozen openings every year. Burton said parade organizers told him bands that make the cut have a compelling story and must be "a good-sounding and good-looking band at the same time."
Bands playing the parade Wednesday hail from Japan and Panama, New Orleans and Hawaii. Event stalwarts such as the Marine Corps Band and Salvation Army Band perform every year. Bands from the two schools playing in the Rose Bowl Game - Michigan State and Stanford - also get to play in the parade and at halftime.
The parade course, including staging and dismissal areas, tops six miles.
That's a long way to walk in formation while playing a selection of songs by Earth, Wind & Fire.
"Endurance is the thing I'm most worried about," Burton said. "It takes a lot of stamina to carry a drum for six miles."
Then there's "the" corner, a 110-degree turn with something like 118 different television cameras from around the world, as the band director described it. "You have to really work on keeping your lines straight."
To that end, the band practiced in large indoor spaces in recent weeks: The Dome in Anchorage and the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla.
Colony's quest for Pasadena started back in 2005 when Burton first started preparing a Rose Parade application, he said. That was a year after the self-described marching band geek arrived at Colony for his first job out of college. The late Tom Hollander, a band booster, suggested the parade as a goal.
The band got word it was headed to the Rose Parade in October 2012. Bands marching in the parade are selected about 15 months in advance of the event to give groups time for the heavy-duty fundraising necessary to get there.
Band members. staff, parents and boosters raised money any way they could, from a Harlem Globetrotters game and a show featuring comedians flown in from Hawaii to selling popcorn, candles, donuts, cookie dough and frozen food. The band drummed up cash online as well.
The final bill for the trip: $2,348 for every one of the 73 students - musicians, color guard members with flags, banner carriers, drum majors - and 39 adults participating in the eight-night trip, including airfare, uniforms and lodging at an Embassy Suites about an hour from the parade start.
In addition to marching in the parade, the band will perform at a band festival Monday and will also perform at Disneyland.
While the parade is all march, no maneuver, the festival will let Colony show off its moves. Burton described some of the planned drills as "stuff where it coils into itself and kind of explodes into a new formation" plus flags twirling and dancing in place as well as a drumline cadence known as "Barracuda" - no relation to the Heart song of the same name.
While Colony's place in the parade marks the first time an Alaskan band will go to the Rose Parade, other Alaskans have gained a spot in the parade.
An Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau float won the National Trophy in the 2009 parade. Among a number of other Alaskans who graced the parade, Claudene Christian, the 42-year-old Anchorage-born woman who died in the sinking of the H.M.S Bounty in October 2012, sang during the event in 1989.
Colony is one of 45 school sites in the Mat-Su Borough School District. It's located halfway between Palmer and Wasilla, in a subdivision-crowded part of the borough known as the core area. Superintendent Deena Paramo wrote a letter of support as part of the application packet for the Rose Parade.
"Colony High School Marching Band will provide a dose of geographic diversity for the Rose Bowl Parade," Paramo wrote. "In addition to its musicianship and stellar marching ability, I know you will find the Colony High Marching Band to be unique and entertaining."
She described the band's "award-winning drum line" and the fact that two band members marched in the 2011 Macy's Great American Marching Band in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The full Colony band is no stranger to prominent parades. It marched in the 2010 Sugar Bowl Parade in New Orleans, the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade, and the 2006 National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C.
In case you're wondering, the "THEE" in the band's name refers to its rare status as an Alaskan marching band and serves as a tribute to rock bands with intentionally misspelled names.
Asked how Colony got not just a marching band but a nationally recognized one off the ground, Burton credited a combination of a supportive school administration, football boosters willing to cover startup costs, and students and parents who moved up from the Lower 48 with marching band experience.
"It's really been a perfect storm of everything," he said.
The band gets home Friday.
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER