by Jennifer Smith Richards

(Reprinted with permission from “The Columbus Dispatch,” October 21, 2008.)

The entire student body had been herded into the gym to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was video-recorded for a school project.

That was pretty cool, in itself -- several of the roughly 120 students at the Ohio State School for the Blind have perfect pitch, so it wasn't your average school-choir rendition.

What happened next was even cooler: Music director Carol Agler's cell phone rang and the crowd went quiet. She held the microphone to the phone's earpiece as a man, calling from California, invited the school's marching band to join the 2010 Rose Parade.

You'd have thought Paris Hilton or the Jonas Brothers had just walked in -- that's how loud the screaming was.

"Congratulations, and we look forward to seeing you all," said Gary Di-Sano, the parade's president in 2010.

The Rose Parade, which features flowers-only floats and takes place in Pasadena, Calif., each New Year's Day, has never hosted a blind marching band. In fact, Agler said she doesn't know of another one in the country.

Right now, there are only 17 band members, plus about as many sighted marching assistants who help them stay in formation.

"I think this will generate more kids in the band," said Agler, who co-directs the band with another teacher, Dan Kelley. They've got a year to whip the band into shape and to raise money for the cross-country trip.

Band members likely will practice marching on the school's campus and even on one of the gym's treadmills. The parade route is about 6 miles and will take about two hours to march, a grind the band isn't used to.

"I'm nervous, but I'm excited, too. It's gonna be hard, but we're gonna get through it," said Bria Goshay, a 15-year-old snare drummer from Columbus.

The band was formed in 2005 and played its first full season with about 20 members in 2006. Its uniforms are castoffs from another high school that got new ones.

During a regular season, the band plays for an audience a handful of times: at deaf-school football games, at a Dublin high-school pregame show, at the Ohio State University Skull Session in St. John Arena. The band recently marched in a Circleville Pumpkin Show parade.

Twenty-one bands from across the country have been booked for the Rose Parade, said music committee chairwoman Stacy Houser. Two others, Pickerington Central High School and Ohio University, are from Ohio.

"A blind marching band is such an incredibly unique thing," she said. "We're hoping it'll be an inspiration throughout the country."

Bands are chosen using several criteria, including marching and musical ability, uniqueness and overall talent.

Macy McClain, who plays the flute and piccolo in the band, likened the honor to being on American Idol. "Except you don't have to stand in line," she said.

The band's trip to Pasadena, Calif., will cost about $1,500 per person. If you would like to help, donations can be sent to the Ohio State School for the Blind Parent-Teacher-Staff Organization, 5220 N. High St., Columbus, OH 43214.

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