LocationAlhambra , CA
Mark Trulson is a busy man. Since 2003, he has been the Director of Instrumental Music and the Department Chair for Visual and Performing Arts at Alhambra High School. His responsibilities include leading the Concert and Symphonic Bands, the Jazz Ensemble, the String Orchestra, the Marching Band, and Moors Guitar Ensemble on top of teaching AP Music Theory, Beginning Band and Advanced Band. It’s a heavy schedule but it doesn’t slow him down.
And that’s a good thing because this year he’s added another item on his full agenda: leading the AUSD 2020 Rose Parade Marching Band for the 131st Tournament of Roses on January 1. This is the second time AUSD has been selected to perform, the first being in 2009.
Born and raised in Reading, Massachusetts, Trulson joined his high school band and focused on refining his brass instruments and his vocal skills. He has not always been a fan of being in the spotlight but this year he doesn’t have much of a choice.
After graduation he attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and started out as a Business major. A semester in, he decided to ditch Business and pursue his passions and received a BA in Music Education. Trulson had experience being front and center as a vocalist but now wanted to take a step back behind the scenes. Soon after he acquired his Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Portland, supporting himself by teaching elementary school and night school on the side.
Now in his 17th year as a renowned educator in Alhambra, Trulson is working with band directors from San Gabriel High School and Mark Keppel High School to lead the nearly 300 musicians, a diverse student mix of Asian American/Pacific Islanders and Latinos through rehearsals. The Alhambra band, which is about 51% female, was one of 16 chosen out of 100 band applications for the New Year celebration. They will also perform at the Tournament of Roses Bandfest at Pasadena City College on Dec. 29.
Alhambra Source: You led the AUSD band at the Rose Parade in 2009. What did you learn from that experience and how will you apply it to the 2020 program?
Mark Trulson: The biggest thing I learned was that it looks like it’s a challenge to combine three schools. But when you have two other leaders you can work with, and that you work well with, it makes the job really easy.
At this point my name is on the front of a lot of the Rose Parade announcement but there are three of us that do the work. If we weren’t strong at taking care of our own programs we wouldn’t be strong at taking care of the big program.
AS: How did you and the other band directors—Justin Lee, Mark Keppel High School Band Director and Ben Coria, San Gabriel High School Band Director—select the musicians for the band?
MT: We’re very inclusive. When kids come in and want to learn something we allow them to be a part of the program. We do some auditioning for positions. A lot of times we’ll accept intangible things like desire and how much are they going to be able to learn. Just because a student might struggle at the beginning but they have a great work ethic, they’re really excited about the program, and they’re self-motivated, we can still keep that kid. Where a lot of times where you have a big program and you have limited student numbers, you might overlook that student for somebody with a little bit more [experience] to offer right away. We can take those kids and help to groom them and build into that position needed for the band.
AS: The makeup of the 2020 Rose Parade Marching Band includes 17 home languages. Were there any language issues in leading this band of nearly 300 musicians?
MT: Most of our students will have their home language but most also speak English. I know in the past we have had students that had low English skills but we were able to communicate. We had students who could translate.
The universal language that is music allows for more communication. But really we haven’t had a big communication barrier or language issues. It goes very smoothly.
AS: The Rose Parade runs more than 5.5 miles. How did you prepare the musicians for this kind of march?
MT: San Gabriel [High School] has a great artificial track we can practice on so we do a lot of laps on that – a couple miles each rehearsal. And then we’re going to go to the Santa Anita Race Track parking lot…they have huge space. Because at this point the formation we are going to use on the parade route we go 11 people across the front and then just keep drifting back. It will be on the 26th when we will [practice in that formation] for the first time. Which is exciting.
But that is how it was last time as well. We practiced it at the race track and then we put in miles. So like I told the kids, what is this all about?: it’s about practicing the turn and getting our miles. Apart from the turn, the only challenge is a long walk and a long time to play.
It seems daunting but what it boils down to this…we’ll get the miles in, we’ll get the laps in …and that adrenaline will just turn into excitement. There are people the entire length where most parades you have spots where there are people and then spots where there is no one. So that adrenaline goes a long way.
AS: What were the major challenges in preparing the band for New Year’s Day and the related Tournament of Roses events? How did you manage the rehearsal scheduling?
MT: I think the biggest challenge is having three different bands coming from three different places. When we set out on this journey, we all made it very apparent that we still have our home programs and we still have our home identities. And we wanted to maintain that. That was the biggest task for us. We really wanted to come together to show that cohesiveness and collaboration but we also wanted to make sure that we can maintain that.
My students have a very demanding schedule and the other bands do as well. I have students that are in my Jazz Band, Orchestra, the Concert Band, and the Marching Band. And they are preparing music for all four of those activities while also preparing for the Rose Parade. So doing it in a way where we don’t burn the kids out or take them away from their studies is important. That we don’t take them away from their families, their sleep time, and their health, we have to maintain all of those things. So that is a big challenge unto itself in any given year…and now you’ve got this parade to do.
So logistics become a big issue. When people say “boy, I bet it’s going to be hard to march on the parade,’ I say, ‘no, that’s the easy part.’ Getting them to work on the music – they do that every day – but dealing with all of those other activities that they have…we have kids that are in sports teams, we have kids that are in speech and debate, and various other activities. Mainlining those schedules is the challenge.
Note: The Rose Parade begins at 8:00 AM PST on January 1, 2020, in Pasadena, California. Full details here: https://tournamentofroses.com/events/about-rose-parade/
This interview had been edited and condensed.