SAN JOSE -- After just a few left-left-left-right-lefts into the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day, the East Meets West Fusion Band will face its first major hurdle: a tricky 105-degree turn that could trigger a colossal marching-band malfunction.
That's because nearly half of the band's 235 members will have just arrived from Beijing and may not have had time to perfect the move with their counterparts from San Jose's Valley Christian High School.
But such are the risks you take when you (1) pair up your award-winning marching band and color guard with a band from a state-run school in China, then (2) get yourself accepted as one of the 24 bands marching in the famed Rose Parade, and in the process (3) enter the record books as the first dual-nation group to participate in what's known as "America's New Year Celebration.''
"Just being chosen to march in the Rose Parade is an incredible opportunity,'' Valley Christian's band director Troy Gunter said Saturday morning as the band and guard gathered on campus to prepare for the big show. "But doing it alongside the Chinese marching band from Beijing's No. 57 High School makes this a truly historic event.
"And while we'd certainly love to have more rehearsal time,'' said Gunter, "given the fact that the two schools are on different continents limits us somewhat.''
The rehearsal schedule has been, to put it mildly, unorthodox. Gunter, who had previously taken his students to Thailand and Cambodia, accompanied the current group in April to Beijing. There, the Mandarin-challenged kids from San Jose got to meet and march a bit with the English-challenged half of the East Meets West gang, perhaps the only marching band with a subtitle -- "From The Great Wall to the Golden Gate.''
"We didn't know what to expect,'' said tuba-player Nicholas Heliotis, 16. "But despite the language barrier, we had a delightful time.''
Tenor saxophonists Carly Pritchett, 16, said "it was hard at first, because our official translator didn't know how to say a lot of the band terms in Mandarin. But then we found out one of our students from Valley Christian spoke Chinese and was able to get us all on the same page.''
As the students stretched out on the wood floors at Valley Christian's rehearsal hall on Saturday, Gunter laid out next week's battle plan: Dec. 26, the San Jose members rehearse all afternoon, while the Chinese students go sightseeing in San Francisco. Dec. 27, both bands hook up at Gilroy Gardens where they'll have enough room to practice their parade routine, weather-permitting. Dec. 28, the two bands rehearse together at Valley Christian and then everyone hits the road to Pasadena.
"We won't have much time to rehearse,'' said drum-major Mark Muendelein, 17. "So they'll have to learn that 105-degree turn really fast.''
The Valley Christian kids got a head-start on Saturday, studying a video of another high school band making the harrowing turn in a previous Rose Parade, and then practicing it themselves for the next half-hour. With band members 11 abreast, the complicated turn-on-a-dime move practically cries out for a human train-wreck on Colorado Boulevard, midway through the 5.5-mile parade route.
The musical part of the show likely will come off without a hitch. The musicians should easily nail the two march songs -- famed South Carolina composer Jay Bocook's Aztec Fire and another original by him that melds an American folk tune called Shenendoah with the Chinese classic Jasmine Flower. And their specially created uniforms -- blue for Valley Christian, red for No. 57 -- is sure to create a nice visual for parade-watchers in Pasadena along with the millions watching it on their TV sets.
But what if this Chinese-American mash-up of a marching band blows that big right turn?
"We don't really have much of a Plan B,'' says Gunter. "So this just has to work.''
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689 or follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc
The 124th Rose Parade will take place on Tuesday, Jan 1, 2013, at 8 a.m.