Taft Charter High School musician Jorge Morales, a 17-year-old senior, was huffing and puffing mightily on his Sousaphone tuba as he and his fellow Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) bandmates were deep into a rehearsal for the annual Tournament of Roses parade this Saturday, Jan. 1, at 8 a.m.

M. Terry/SFVS Taft High senior Jorge Morales is eager for a second Rose Parade appearance with the LAUSD band.

Morales will be making his second appearance in the New Year’s Day event in Pasadena with the district’s All City Honor Marching Band. 

“I first heard about this through my band director. He felt like I would be a good fit for this band,” Morales said.

“I did audition, sort of; it’s mostly them hearing how you sound and seeing how you march. And it’s an amazing experience, very fulfilling, working this hard to be part of this…I tell others here for the first time to just go for it. It’s not as hard as you think. It is fun, it is fulfilling. You become part of a second family.”

Despite concerns about the current winter pandemic surge of COVID-19 cases being driven by the Omicron and Delta variants, Pasadena officials are adamant that the 133rd annual Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl football game will take place in their city as scheduled this weekend. The 2021 parade was canceled because of COVID restrictions, and the Rose Bowl game was actually played in Dallas, Texas.

“At the present time, we fully expect the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game to be held as scheduled on New Year’s Day 2022 in beautiful Pasadena, California,” according to a statement from the organization, though adding, “we are prepared to adjust our plans as necessary.”

That vote of confidence has not yet calmed the uneasiness felt by Anthony White, longtime director of the band, that a last-second change in plans may still occur.

He does not want to be sidelined by a second consecutive canceled parade. Mainly, he does not want to see his student performers disappointed again after all the hard work they have put in to get ready. 

“I’m still afraid. I will be until (Jan. 1),” said White, who was drilling and exhorting this year’s group of musicians, dancers and flag bearers through a rehearsal last week in a parking lot at Dodger Stadium.

M. Terry/SFVS

“We want to make this happen for the kids. We gotta keep stepping and doing the right thing.”

Nonetheless, White and his student performers — who began rehearsing their program in October — are doing everything possible to take their best step forward with other scheduled bands, equestrian units, celebrity participants and, of course, the decorative floats that will travel the 5.5 mile parade route before thousands of spectators on the streets of Pasadena, and millions watching on television around the world.

The Grand Marshal of this year’s parade is noted actor and educator LeVar Burton.

This will be the 49th year the honor band  — which made its Rose Parade debut in 1973 —  has performed. It is one of four bands allowed to appear in the Rose Parade annually.

White is in his 37th year as band director. He also marched with the band as a student, playing the cymbals.

“It’s the kids who keep me coming back, and the excitement [of the parade],” White said. “I just know it’s the right thing helping the kids and making the world a better place through music.”

Nearly 400 participants are chosen from the more than 80 LAUSD public and charter high schools throughout the county. According to the band’s website page, the LAUSD seeks to have at least one student from every district school to create the composite band and other performing groups. Selectees must be current students, maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5, and complete an application. Musicians, drum majors, shield bearers and dancers, and the flag bearers must also audition.

In addition to the Rose parade, the band has also performed at the Martin Luther King Day Parade, Disneyland’s Magic Music Days, then Hollywood Christmas Parade, three NFL Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Playboy Jazz Festival.

More than 14,000 students have performed in the band’s history.

Other scheduled activities will include former professional athlete Anthony Davis, who played football at San Fernando High, USC and later in the NFL USFL, WFL and Canadian Football League, being honored as a member of the 2021 Rose Bowl Hall of Fame class that will be officially inducted today, Dec. 30.