Every year on New Year's Day, hundreds of thousands of people line the streets in Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Parade. Millions more watch the parade — this year with about 40 floats and 21 bands — on television.
For Katie Schlueter and Steven Wolf — senior trombonists at Atholton High School in Columbia — it was the largest audience ever to watch them play.
"It was crazy," said Schlueter, 17, of North Laurel. "One of the things our director told us the night before was, 'As soon as you turn the corner, look at all the people, look at the cameras and take it all in. It's one of the best performing experiences a student can have.' It was really overwhelming."
Schlueter and Wolf, 18, of Clarksville, were two of 299 high school students selected through a nationwide audition process playing in the Bands of America Honor Band. Eric Posner, Atholton's director of bands, said it was the first time Atholton students had participated in the Bands of America Honor Band, a program through music education organization Music For All.
"It's really an elite group of band kids," Posner said. "It's a good opportunity for (Schlueter and Wolf), but it's good for Howard County and it's good for Maryland to get it out there that we have great kids here who can compete with kids from across the country."
The honor band marched in the second half of the parade, Wolf said, and the six-mile route was long and tiring. The cheers from the crowd, he said, helped the musicians keep their energy.
"The streets were lined the whole way," he said. "There were people on the roofs of the houses watching. It was so cool to watch them watching us. ... It's just so great to see people wanting to watch bands play."
Schlueter and Wolf have been playing trombone since the fourth grade and learned about the honor band when Atholton went to the Music For All National Concert their sophomore year. They auditioned for the Rose Bowl parade last winter and found out they'd been selected last spring. They were given three songs to learn: Disney's "Reflections of Earth," Katy Perry's "Firework" and John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."
Schlueter and Wolf each had to pay their own expenses. They flew to California Dec. 27, where they met their band director and the 297 other band members.
"It was 300 people who all cared about what they were doing, which isn't something you usually see," Wolf said. "Every time we went to work, everyone was focused and you got stuff done really quickly. We were able to put all those pieces together and sound good doing it."
It was the last time Wolf and Schlueter will march in their high school careers. Wolf intends to study music performance in college, focusing on classical music. Schlueter, who was Atholton's drum major her senior year, plans to march in college.
Both said that when it comes to marching band, it's more about the friendships made than the music.
"I don't think anyone would do marching band if there wasn't that connection," Schlueter said. "It's like a family. It's bigger than yourself."
Posner said that's often what he tells his students.
"You have to learn how to work together and how to work with your friends, and that's a tough thing to do," Posner said. "Katie and Steven had to learn how to come together with a group of people they had never met, to create a great product. Again, it's a little about music and a lot about life. It's about working with people."