BY REBECCA BRATTEN WEISS
Harrison News-Herald Reporting Journalist

PASADENA — Robyn King, band director for Conotton Valley High School near Bowerston, had a unique opportunity to march in the 2022 New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, thanks to a foundation called “Saluting America’s Band Directors.” The foundation was initiated by Karen Sewell in 2017 to honor the legacy of her late husband Michael Sewell, a long-time band director in Pickerington, Ohio. Not only did Michael Sewell serve the schools in his area for over 38 years, he also took his Pickerington bands to the Rose Parade at least four times and was an influential leader in the world of high school marching bands. 

King found out about the Rose Parade project — and the foundation —  thanks to a social media post inviting applications. She applied, was accepted, and became a part of the historical event, joining 280 other band directors from all 50 states and even Mexico.

Getting that many band directors, King said, was an “eye-opening experience.” The directors who gathered for the parade ranged from 19 to 76. King said it was “impressive and extraordinary to listen to all the different stories everyone had to share.” 

The band leaders memorized the pieces they performed before traveling, but once they arrived, they had only three days to rehearse together. King said everyone caught on very quickly, but she noted that it was an “interesting experience, bringing 300 people together who are all used to being in charge.” The biggest challenge, she said, was working out their differences in marching technique. “People don’t realize how much work can go into marching and keeping straight lines — especially when the whole band has to turn a corner.” But despite this, and the short amount of time, the rehearsals were extremely effective, King said, “because everyone knew what it meant and wanted it to do well.”

While their primary goal was to gather and perform together, the event ended up being “like a professional development conference” since the different band leaders were able to share their stories and techniques. It gave King the chance to connect with band leaders from all across the nation.

Another respect in which this event was historic was that it was the first time at the Rose Parade that a band marched along with their own float. The float they accompanied “had a big band director on it, with a conductor baton and three marchers behind him.”

King said that while she was there, she got messages from her colleagues who have children in her classes. They sent her pictures of their kids watching television, trying to point out where their band leader was in the line-up.

King stressed the value and importance of band — and music in general for her students. “I want my kids to understand music isn’t something that has to end in high school with band. It’s something that can provide you with a family, with comfort.”

An event like this was even more impressive given the new difficulties band directors have faced over the past nearly two years of the pandemic. As King pointed out, the virus spreads through airborne particles, and students need to blow air through instruments to create the music. Because of this, some band programs have been limited in their playing for a year and a half. Others were even shut down for a time.  

“We’ve had our share of challenges and adjustments at Conotton Valley,” King said. “But we’ve had a supportive administration, helping us find the best way to deal with what we’re facing.”