To the Rose Parade

KAHULUI – Maui High School’s award-winning Saber Marching Band & Color Guard has been invited to participate in the 126th annual Rose Parade in 2015.

Band Director Kerry Wasano made the surprise announcement to the band and color guard and the students’ parents to screams of delight and cheers at a meeting Tuesday night in the Maui High School Gym. There were even tears of joy, including from Wasano, who choked up as he made the announcement.

“I was completely surprised. I never imagined we would be accepted to the Rose Parade. It is indescribable,” said Alyssa Yoshimura, a sophomore from Wailuku, who plays the keyboard.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for our band,” said Melissa Agtunong, a sophomore from Kahului, who plays the tuba.

This will be the first time a Maui high school band will play in the prestigious parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif., Wasano said in an interview with The Maui News. The parade is televised worldwide to millions of people.

Maui High is only the second Neighbor Island school selected to perform in the parade; Hilo High School marched in the parade in 1992 and 1971. Pearl City High School was the last Hawaii public school band to perform in the parade in 2006.

Wasano, who has known about the selection since Sept. 5, wanted to make the announcement to everyone at one time, so he waited until Tuesday’s meeting about the group’s trip to Oahu next month to compete in a high school band competition. Even Wasano’s application to the Rose Parade committee was a secret.

When he initially learned of the good news, Wasano said he was surprised and shocked.

“I felt we had a chance, but never thought it would be a reality. But holy smokes, that was pretty shocking,” he said.

Then reality hit.

“How are we going to get there?” Wasano asked himself.

He said the band will have to do some grant writing, fundraisers and some “pleading and begging.”

What makes the fundraising and other potential headaches of trip planning worthwhile to Wasano is that the selection is a kind of validation that the band is doing the right things and is on the right track.

According to a subsequent letter from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association to Wasano, the band was selected “because of its excellent musicianship, strong performance skills and interesting entertainment value, along with your own outstanding directorship.”

Over the 16 years Wasano has been at Maui High, the marching band has captured numerous awards at band competitions on Oahu. In fact, the 110-member band and color guard is gearing up for the Mililani Trojan Band Festival, a high school band competition on Oahu next month. In the same week, the band also will perform at the noncompetitive University of Hawaii Rainbow Invitational Marching Band Festival.

The Saber Marching Band & Color Guard put its talents on display Saturday night at the Maui High School homecoming football game at the War Memorial Stadium. The rhythmic cadence, fast marching in formation, music and flag maneuvers and dance drew a standing ovation from some in the crowd.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, a 1989 Maui High School graduate and former band member, wrote a letter of recommendation to the Rose Parade committee.

“I’m very proud of the students and Band Director Wasano for this exceptional accomplishment,” he said in a news release after hearing of the news. “I look forward to seeing them proudly representing Maui and the rest of Hawaii. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I’m sure this is an experience the students will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Band Booster President Ann Cua, one of the few who also knew of the selection beforehand, said in an email that it is a “great honor” to be selected for the historic parade.

“The band works very hard for their achievements and this honor is a testament to their hard work. I am confident that through the direction of Kerry Wasano, along with his team of assistants, Maui will be well-represented in Pasadena,” wrote Cua, whose daughter, Marlena, is a senior and drum major for the band.

Cua’s son, Jonathan, also was a member of the band. He graduated in 2010.

Since 1950, when the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association began keeping records of band participants, 29 bands from Hawaii have appeared. That number includes the Hawaii All-State Marching Band, which will perform in the upcoming 2014 Rose Parade.

Wasano is the head director of that band, which includes musicians from music programs across the state. He added that there are 10 students from Maui High who will participate, along with students from Lahainaluna, King Kekaulike, Seabury Hall and Kamehameha Schools Maui high schools.

In addition to Maui, Hilo and Pearl City, other public high schools that have participated in the parade include Kalani, Roosevelt, Kahuku, Mililani, Castle and Moanalua, according to a state Department of Education news release.

Wasano said he is hoping to take 150 students to the parade, noting that their current number of 110 is a bit small for a marching unit. He also intends on having a Hawaiian feel to the group and may reach out to a halau for hula dancers or even look within the school for dancers.

“We are going to need that Hawaii presence,” he said.

Wasano, a 1989 graduate of Maui High School and a saxophone player, said he applied for the parade over the summer after a tour in Pasadena related to his All-State band duties. On his trip, he heard that the 2015 Tournament of Roses President-elect Richard Chinen has ties to Hawaii and wanted a Hawaii band to perform.

So Wasano quickly got the application together, which included his biography, the band’s biography, parade and field show performance videos along with letters of recommendation, which he said he “stacked” with politicians including Tsutsui, Mayor Alan Arakawa and Maui state legislators Gil Keith-Agaran and Justin Woodson.

Wasano’s former teachers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa also wrote letters.

It was the first time Wasano turned in an application for the parade.

“I have been constantly thinking of taking a big trip,” he said. “For it to actually become a reality was like holy smokes.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at