Belpre music educator marches in Tournament of Roses Parade

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade is an experience a Belpre music teacher will treasure for a long time.

Robin White, Belpre Elementary music teacher and assistant band director for Belpre City Schools, was part of a marching band made up of 275 band directors who marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

“I made it through the whole 5 1/2 miles of the parade without collapsing,” White said, laughing.

The Band Director’s Marching Band was done with the Saluting America’s Band Directors Project through Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation, based in Pickerington, Ohio. The group’s entry was a combination marching band and parade float with the theme, “We Teach Music, We Teach Life.”

“It was really celebrating the importance of music education in our schools,” White said. “That was something that resonated with a lot of us.”

White learned about the band through a Facebook ad he saw in 2019 and registered to participate. He was selected with the intent of marching in the 2021 parade last year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled those plans, but the organizers worked to make sure they would participate in the 2022 parade.

“I think that was a good thing where they were able to get more people to be a part of it and give everyone more time to prepare,” White said.

The band had representatives from all 50 states and from Mexico. They played three songs in rotation throughout the parade, an original arrangement of “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Strike Up the Band.”

White told organizers he could play trombone or baritone and was picked to play trombone in the parade. He has played trombone since he was in fifth grade in Meigs County. He used the same instrument he had since attending Eastern High School.

Participants were sent the music and other materials and were encouraged to practice and prepare physically for the parade.

“I really challenged myself to get my playing skills back in order,” he said. “To be able to practice and do that was really fun.”

White said he wasn’t able to physically train as much as he would have liked, but believed the excitement and the adrenaline of being there carried him through.

He flew to California on Dec. 28 and began rehearsals the following day. At the time the area was experiencing unusual rainfall and one of the first rehearsals, including marching, was done in the hotel ballroom.

“The band sounded incredible from the beginning,” White said, giving a special nod to the percussion and tuba sections who came in sounding great.

The next day they were able to practice at a nearby high school, eventually making it outside.

During the parade, they did a maneuver when they got to TV Corner where the band separated and the float came up between them. White said they really practiced to make sure they did that right.

“That moment was the thing we practiced the most,” he said. “(When they did it in the parade) the crowd completely erupted and went crazy.

“It was something they weren’t really expecting. That was so much fun.”

White said there was one little glitch with its execution. The band won the Showmanship Award at an earlier judging and they ended up with a banner in front of them highlighting that. No one told the banner carriers and the timing got off a little bit but no one noticed.

The parade itself seemed to go pretty quickly, but he attributes that to the excitement and the great reception they got from the crowd throughout the parade when people realized they were a marching band made up of band directors.

White believes it is the first time a marching band like that had been assembled for such an event.

He got a chance to talk to many of the band directors from around the country to see what their band programs were like. A number came from smaller school districts like Belpre.

“It was important to have this experience and be able to take it back to the kids,” White said, adding he wanted to show them that it was possible to do these things and that they needed to take chances to do things they might not otherwise do.

Ohio had a huge representation in the band.

White carried pictures of his family, items representing the Belpre Band program and a bandana handkerchief that belonged to his father, Bob White. His father passed away in November and was a musician and supported school music programs.

White’s sister, Bobbie Conklin of Morgantown, was one of the people selected to carry a number of banners with the band.

Their father knew they were going to be in the parade, but passed away before he could see it. They did it, in part, to also honor him for their own love of music.

The organizers made sure that this band did not take the place of any other band which they were able to accomplish from being a combined entry. No other school band was knocked out because they were there, White said.

Once the band passed TV Corner, they were encouraged to take photos. White did a Facebook Live post from the parade and more.

The band members were also able to buy flowers that were put on the float. White bought flowers in honor of his parents, his own kids and the Belpre band program.

All of the band members received an embroidered patch and a special engraved director’s baton from the Dan Fogelberg Foundation.

Band members and groups associated with school music programs have posted clips of their performance online with many going viral.

“We have got a lot of great comments from that and the recognition keeps coming,” White said.

He has remained in contact with other members of the band with his Facebook friends list growing. A number of dignitaries rode on the float, including composer James Swearingen of Columbus, Ohio. He and White were on the same flight back and they were able to eat lunch together at the airport and got to talk.

Parade organizers and others have talked about doing something like this again in the future at future Tournament of Roses parades and other events.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” White said.

He said he will remember how great the band sounded and hearing the crowds cheered when they played.

“It was a great sound that you dream of playing with,” White said.

In addition to the parade, they performed at BandFest which was for the bands in the parade and during a separate judging event where the various entries were judged.

White commended the parade organizers for making it run as smoothly as it did.

The whole experience re-emphasized for him the importance of music in the schools and music in people’s lives. White has taught in Belpre for 20 years, the past eight as a music teacher.

He tries to expose his students to a wide variety of music.

“Music is important to students because it is with them all of their lives,” White said. “I want my students to understand and appreciate music on a personal level so that it touches their hearts when they are most needed.

“Music truly is ‘life.”’