March of a Lifetime: Averett Music Professor Recalls Rose Parade Experience

Posted on January 13th, 2022 by Matt Bell

Averett Associate Professor of Music Dr. Janet Phillips participated with 280 other band directors from across the United States and Mexico in The Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation: “Saluting America’s Band Directors: We Teach Music. We Teach Life” float in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif. on New Year’s Day. She summed up the experience after finishing the day with just three words: “this was incredible.”

The Rose Parade returned in 2022 after a hiatus due to COVID-19 in 2021. It precedes the Rose Bowl, which is the oldest played college football game in the country dating back to 1902.

This year, Phillips’ float set a new record for being the first to feature a parade and float combination, in addition to the first to be a band comprised entirely of band directors.

“Our motto was, ‘We teach music. We teach life.’ And that’s pretty true. What does music teach? It teaches personal responsibility, accountability, teamwork, staying on task. There are so many things it teaches that goes beyond the music. Music is part of life,” Phillips said.

Describing a one-in-a-lifetime experience, Phillips said it was the spectators along the parade route who made the long journey all worth it. Because of where she marched in the parade, Phillips was also featured on national television briefly.

“During the parade route there was so much cheering, so much waving at us. People were thanking us and yelling, ‘we love band directors,’” Phillips said.

“As we turned onto Colorado Blvd., we were told to just take it all in because there would be a million people standing there watching and so many more on broadcast.”

The journey to Pasadena began over a year ago. Phillips applied to participate in the band directors float well over a year ago, and was ecstatic to learn she had been accepted to perform.

On Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, Phillips arrived in California but the group’s first practice was transitioned to a hotel ball room due to rain. The group learned maneuvers and marching techniques during the practice and subsequent practices the days leading up to the parade.

Prior to arrival, Phillips was sent 76 Trombones, Stars and Stripes and Strike up the Band to play along the 5.5-mile parade route.

Months prior to travelling to Pasadena, Phillips took time to practice marching and the three pieces of music in the parking lot of Averett’s E. Stuart James Grant North Campus. She was told in her instructions they would be making eight steps for five yards.

“I was practicing at North Campus before I went to Pasadena to make sure I was hitting my 8 to 5s. I knew I had to march 8 to 5, standing up straight playing the piccolo,” Phillips said.

The uniform Phillips wore in Pasadena consisted of gray dress pants, a navy blue blazer with the Rose Parade logo and a red tie, all provided by the Salute America’s Band Directors Program.

While the parade route itself was 5.5 miles, Phillips said they would wind up marching 7.1 miles total from the staging area to the parade route’s end.

“While I was doing it, I couldn’t believe I was doing it. We were so focused on doing our maneuvers and steps correctly, there was no time to be emotional about being in it. Then as the parade went on, we were able to comfortably look at the people. Between songs I would look and wave at the people. It was amazing. I don’t know if I’ll ever really have the words to describe how it was,” Phillips said.

When the music cycled around to playing Stars and Stripes, the piece features a piccolo solo. During the parade, Phillips and the various other piccolo players took turns playing the solo. Each piece was played roughly 11 times, according to Phillips, before the parade’s end.

Judges for the day awarded the band directors’ parade and float the Showmanship Award for most outstanding display of showmanship and entertainment.

Part of Phillips’ inspiration for participating in the Rose Parade was to bring exposure to Averett’s music department. She said it was important to her that Averett’s program be recognized for the good music and work it has going on.

While in California, Phillips was able to gather some sea shells and rocks from the beaches of Malibu, was gifted an engraved baton and able to meet several composers in addition to making new friends.

“We felt so valued, and we were representing band directors around the nation, and I feel very proud to have had the opportunity to do that,” Phillips said. “I am so thankful for Averett who supported me on this trip, the music department and our Danville community and surrounding area.”