Jeff Helms, the band director at Pioneer Valley High School, has marched and played trumpet with bands in Italy, Spain, Scotland and Great Britain.
On New Year’s Day, however, he will be marching into uncharted territory – Pasadena.
Helms is one of eight musicians to be chosen to lead off the 121st Rose Parade. He is part of a reunion of Riverside Community College alumni trumpet players – known as the Hot Tunas – who will play the fanfare to open the parade and then ride the first float over the five-and-a-half-mile-long route, down Colorado Boulevard.
The float will feature a
70-foot-tall trumpet player.
“He’s a great guy. We have a big program with lots of members every fall. He’s one of those guys who stood out,” said Gary Locke, longtime director of the RCC marching band. “I picked my best eight from the past 25 years and we have them together for a reunion.”
Along with Helms, the eight honorable Tunas are Larry Hart, Dave Murphy, Vance Hu, Tatsuya Koyama, Mike Espinosa, Mark Mellado and Charles Hargett. Hargett works at Kanstul Musical Instruments, which is making the group eight commemorative trumpets at no charge.
The group will be playing the herald trumpet, a trumpet with an extended bell that is a descendant of the horns used for centuries to play fanfares.
Helms and the other Tunas will ride on the float with the parade grand marshal, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his airliner on the Hudson River. The float is sponsored by the International Music Products Association.
The rest of the RCC band will also be marching as the Farmer’s Insurance Band.
“That’s going to be cool,” Helms said about riding instead of marching. “It’s really exciting. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Marching is nothing new to the 34-year-old Helms, who has been performing since his high school days. He has performed with the RCC marching band at the Madrid Christmas Festival in Spain, Edinburgh Easter Festival in Scotland, and London New Year’s Day Parade, just to name a few.
Helms also marched as one of the toy soldiers in the Disneyland Christmas Parade for about five years, but this is his first Rose Parade and it’s quite an honor for a Southern California boy.
“I was poised to be able to do it with them a couple of times,” he said. “Hopefully, knock on wood, this one will pan out.”
As a youngster growing up in the Southland, Helms would visit Pasadena with his parents and view the floats as they staged for the parade. This year, some of Helms’ Pioneer Valley High School band students are headed to the parade as well.
“There were some from here going even before we found out about this,” Helms said.
His work with the RCC Marching Tigers was under the direction of the world-renowned Locke. In his 37-year career, Locke has directed bands that have appeared in five Rose Parades, three Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades in New York City, one Sunkist Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, and 17 Hollywood Christmas Parades.
His bands have been featured in motion pictures and on television for decades.
At the Rose Parade, the group and the RCC band will begin their day at 2:45 a.m. for on-street rehearsals.
Back at home, Helms is taking his first steps with the marching band at Pioneer Valley High School. Still in his first few months, Helms is the school’s third band director in the last three years. Because of that history, Helms was surprised to see the great interest in music at the school when he arrived.
There are about 60 members in the Panthers band, up from 45 when Helms arrived earlier this year.
“Hopefully it will be a long journey for him,” Locke said of Helms. “I’m hearing good reports and he seems to be in it for the long run.
“What we try to teach the most is discipline, commitment and follow through,” he added.
The Panthers band marched in the 15th annual Santa Maria Christmas Parade of Lights on Dec. 5, along with the school’s drumline and drill team. The Panthers band also marched in the Orcutt Christmas Parade on Saturday.
The Rose Parade begins at 8 a.m. PST Jan. 1 and will be broadcast on ABC, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, KTLA, NBC, RFD-TV, Travel Channel and Univision. The parade is also seen in more than 200 countries and international territories.