Everything’s coming up roses for color guard director

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Marcus High School’s John Leonard was invited to participate in the 2021 Rose Bowl Parade. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

In his ten years as director of the Marcus High School color guard in Flower Mound– and working creatively in multiple other venues for nearly two decades– John Leonard has experienced his share of success. But, all may pale in comparison to one upcoming assignment.

After applying last spring, he found out in June he had been chosen to lead the color guard for the Music for All’s Honor Band of America at the 2021 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.

Since its inception in 1992, the Honor Band of America has earned a national reputation as one of the nation’s finest student concert honor bands. Band members are selected from applications submitted from students and leaders nationwide.

More than one million spectators are expected to line the streets of the 5.5-mile route, with hundreds of millions more watching on television.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Leonard, who guided 34 girls this year at Marcus. “It’s a great opportunity. They do it every four years. Even though it happens next school year, current seniors can apply to participate. They would like to have representation from every state.”

The purpose of the color guard is to interpret the music that the marching band is playing via the synchronized work of flags, sabers, rifles or other props.

Leonard told his squad– and the rest of the band before the marching season– so they could apply by the Jan. 15, 2020 deadline. The public found out of his selection at the Bands of America Super Regional in San Antonio in early November.

The 300-member band, under the direction of Richard Saucedo, retired director of bands at Bands of America Grand Champion Carmel (Indiana) High School, will feature every instrument section found in a typical high school band.

Leonard and Lindsey Vento of Blue Springs, Missouri, will work with 36 color guard performers. The two will be among a group of professionals from around the country leading various sections of the band.

Band members will be in Southern California– from Dec. 27, 2020 to Jan. 3, 2021– to practice and perform, not only at the parade, but also at Disneyland and Pasadena City College Stadium– as part of Bandfest– a sneak peak of the Rose Parade bands.

The Honor Band started in 2005, so this will mark only its fifth appearance in the parade. It is separate from school bands applying and being accepted to march in the parade, such as Flower Mound High School in 2018 and Hebron in 2021.

“One of the reasons I applied is I’d never done it with a high school ensemble or a college ensemble,” Leonard said. “So I thought it would be interesting to go for it and have the opportunity to teach students from all over the country and have them get ready for the parade and learn the choreography and all come together for a week.”

Participants will get their music and choreography ahead of time, with the color guard and dancers to receive theirs via video.

“It will be interesting to learn the different lingo and how each student does things differently with their part of the programs,” he said.

While many of Leonard’s friends have experienced the Rose Parade, this will be his first.

“As a choreographer and clinician all over the country, that time period is a busy one for winter guard while I’m working with other ensembles during my break here at Marcus,” he said. “I’ve never been there. I’ve watched it where I’ve had friends take their bands or taught.”

Leonard, a native of Chicago, began his dance studies at the North Carolina School of the Arts and received his Bachelors of Arts with honors in dance from Columbia College of Chicago. He continued his dance studies at Arizona State University where he was a graduate student and teaching assistant on scholarship.

“It’s going to be fun. It’s a different project all-together. I’ve choreographed for different groups. I’ve done clinics in Thailand and Indonesia with students out there who are much newer at color guard where it’s not as prominent. It’s an eye-opening experience. I’m looking forward to it.”

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