CINCINNATI -- When the 128th annual Rose Parade kicks off in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 2, Westwood resident Jake Kroger will be one of just 300 students from across the country performing in the Bands of America Honor Band.
The La Salle High School senior and alto saxophone player was chosen in February and will travel across the country on Dec. 28 for a week full of activities with the marching band. There are students from all 50 states.
Thousands applied to be part of the honor band and perform during the parade that precedes the Rose Bowl and features flower-covered floats along a 5.5-mile route. The parade is attended by 1 million people and is broadcast internationally.
“I didn’t think I had a chance when I first auditioned, so I was pretty excited when I found out,” Kroger said.
Kroger, who started playing the alto saxophone seven years ago, sent in an audition tape after hearing about the Bands of America Honor Band at a camp hosted by Music for All, which also coordinates the honor band. Prior to the 2017 parade, the honor band was most recently invited to participate in the 2013 Rose Parade.
Kroger’s parents are traveling with him for the week in California, but they won’t see much of their son. The band members have a busy schedule of rehearsals and performances -- and some sightseeing -- each day and evening. Band members will spend time at Disneyland, where the group will also march in the evening parade. They will also perform at Bandfest at Pasadena City College Stadium, tour the city of Los Angeles, visit Santa Monica pier and view the elaborate parade floats up close.
Because the honor band’s members are spread out across the country, they will only rehearse together for a couple of days leading up to the performance -- with the exception of all the percussion musicians who met for two days of rehearsal in Indianapolis in November.
“I got the music three months ago and I have been practicing that,” Kroger said.
A member of the La Salle marching band, Kroger was selected as a sophomore for the role of drum major, who is responsible for keeping the band in time and serves as the group's student leader.
“The drum major sets the behavior standard that all students in band live up to,” said Michael Cotten, La Salle teacher and band director. “He also helps coordinate student-led events. For example, there is a retreat over the summer for social and bonding activity that is run by the students, and the drum major heads it up. At football games, he is up there with me calling commands -- the drum major is second in command to the director.”
Cotten describes Kroger as a good leader and a dedicated and hardworking student with a good sense of humor. Kroger plays volleyball, participates in student government and is a member of the La Sallian Scholars Institute.
Kroger, who has Type 1 diabetes, has to stay on top of his health while putting in the intense hours required of high school marching band. During the summer, La Salle’s marching band spends four weeks practicing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and also attends a weeklong overnight band camp. Once school starts in the fall, the band rehearses Monday through Thursday for three hours after school, in addition to sectional rehearsals.
Weekends are spent at Friday night football games and Saturday marching band competitions and rehearsals. The band performs at basketball games once football season concludes, which wasn’t until early December this year because La Salle’s football team won the state championship.
“It’s a lot of work, especially when you have a bunch of school work on top of that,” Kroger said. “There have been times that I have questioned not doing band, but something always tells me to keep staying. I have made lots of friends.”