ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The Rose Bowl Parade, the “granddaddy of them all,” will have a local participant in its ranks in January.
Andrew Johnson, the band director at Eisenhower Middle School, will join band directors from across the country next Jan. 1 in the annual Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Rose Parade.
A custom animated float will lead a marching band of band directors from across the country, and the Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation, based in Pickerington, Ohio is the sponsoring organization behind the project. The foundation was created to recognize and carry on the work of the late Mike Sewell, who dedicated his life to the school and community music programs in Pickerington and the Central Ohio area for more than 38 years.
“I'd heard about it from the former director here, Zeb Tiedemann, and he'd heard about it from the director he ultimately replaced, who's one of the major planners of this project, which is called the Saving America's Band Directors Project,” Johnson said. “Zeb had heard about it, and then he passed the word on to me about this happening back in 2019 before the pandemic messed everything up. This was actually supposed to have happened with the last parade, but it didn't happen.”
This year’s parade entry will convey the theme “America’s band directors: We teach music. We teach life,” which Johnson said he really appreciates.
“I like the message they're trying to put out there, they're looking to support band directors throughout the U.S., and the message is 'We teach music, we teach life.' That's something I work to emulate in my own classroom, and I know a lot of other teachers do the same thing in their classrooms,” Johnson said. “Band directors are kind of privileged because we have our students for more than just one year, a lot of these students continue with band all the way through school and the bands almost become like a family for these students because they spend so much time together. We get to see that and these students become pretty much our kids, and we get to see that growth in their skills and in other areas as they go through school. It's really cool to watch them grow and evolve in different ways and be part of that development. It's something that really resonated with me, and also, it's the Rose Parade, which is a huge opportunity. With the float we'll be on, they built it so our entry in the parade wouldn't take away from any of the other bands performing, because it's a really rigorous selection process, and they all work really hard to get picked to perform. There are some championship bands that will be performing in kind of a band-o-rama thing one night, which will be really cool.”
Johnson also talked about the selection process.
“It was a situation where there was a call put out for participants, and if you were willing to participate and if your instrument filled a need, you were accepted,” Johnson said. “There was also a questionnaire to fill out, but that wasn't too bad. But yeah, it was basically a situation where they said 'If you're willing to come and be part of this project, come to Pasadena.' I'll be flying out Dec. 29, the parade will be Jan. 1, and then I'll be flying back Jan. 2, so it should be a great trip, I'm really excited about it all. A big draw for me was getting to be able to be part of something honoring the field I work in. I even bought some of the memorabilia involved, which is something I never do. Along with honoring band directors throughout the U.S., this is also in memory of Mike Sewell, who was a major band director from Ohio who taught for several years. His wife is heading up the project and she wanted to do something in his memory, which is really cool, and I think a lot of people are really excited to see this happen.”
Overall, Johnson said, his schedule surrounding the parade will be quite tight.
“Everyone will show up and check in, and then that afternoon will be our first rehearsal, which I don't think will be much. Most of the preparation is on us individual directors, and we have to have everything memorized before getting there,” Johnson said. “The numbers we're doing are '76 Trombones,' 'Sing, Sing, Sing,' 'Stars and Stripes Forever' and 'Strike Up The Band.' Three of them will be used in the parade and then the other one will be used at that band-o-rama event we'll have one night. I'm guessing a lot of what we'll be doing will be logistical work like setting up, assigning everyone their spot, etc. We'll also be getting our uniforms, which I think will look really neat on everyone. Rehearsal time will also include fixing any major glaring issues, which I don't think there will be too many of since we're all professional music educators – a band that big will definitely need a bit of cleaning up with some things. Everything's pretty tightly scheduled, we won't really have too much freedom to just roam around or anything like that since we'll be working a lot, especially on the parade day.”
Johnson also emphasized the importance of music education for children.
“The skills learned through music education are so important. Studies have shown it helps build more connections between the hemispheres of the brain, which leads to students being better at problem solving, which is great creatively and practically,” Johnson said. “Being able to teach students at this age, in middle school, is really great because that's when that development really starts happening, and if you're able to get those skills started early, they'll be more concrete later on in life.”
Johnson said he is very excited to be participating in the parade.
“It's going to be really cool being in a group of like-minded individuals who are doing the same thing I do, that's always really fun. There are going to be a ton of people to talk to and bounce ideas off of, and there are some workshops we'll be able to attend that can go toward our license renewal, so that's also really cool,” Johnson said. “It'll be great being able to play with people like ourselves. I've told my colleagues a few times how I never really have a professional gig to play, and I've trained for a while to be a strong sax player, but there haven't really been very many opportunities to use that except with my classes. Having these types of opportunities around and being able to share my skills is really refreshing and it'll be a great opportunity. It's going to be a big band, there's supposed to be almost 300 fellow directors participating, which is exciting unto itself. With the parade itself, it'll be a bit of a challenge for me, it's 5.5 miles long, which is quite a distance to walk. I've already had a lot of people around town telling me congratulations for being chosen to participate after hearing about it through the grapevine. The Rose Parade is bigger than even I thought, and there's so much that goes into it that people don't fully think about, but I'm really excited to be part of it all.”
The 5.5 mile-long parade will be televised on ABC and NBC at 10 a.m. CST Jan. 1, and Johnson will be playing the tenor saxophone.