High Life / A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : High Stepping to French Beat : Activities: O.C. students march right into Euro Disneyland for 'once-in-a-lifetime experience.'

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They are the best, the select few. It took them years of training, dedication and perseverance to be prepared for one of the biggest days of their lives.

Indeed, April 12--the grand opening day of Euro Disney Resort in Marne-La-Vallee, France--was the day that tested the abilities and talents of each member of the 700-strong All-American Marching Band.

The All-American band was composed of top high school musicians, cheerleaders and drill team members from across the country, including more than 40 from Orange County.

One of the 2,000 applicants selected was Heather Finley, a senior at Fullerton High School, who earned a letter for playing clarinet for four years in high school. She was a section leader as a sophomore and drum major her sophomore and junior years.

Finley believes being part of the All-American band helped her become a more seasoned musician.

"It helped me playing with such a big band, having to pull everything together in such a short time," she said. "It was a very professional experience of working all the time and being on time."

Arriving in France on April 8 left participants only a few days to rehearse. They each had received the music in the mail, but had not practiced as a group. Their home base was a tent erected on the theme park's grounds for rehearsals, and it contained dressing rooms, dining rooms, restrooms and a medical center.

The students' schedules were packed with activity. On April 10, they didn't return to their hotels until 1:15 a.m. because of transportation problems, and they had to wake up at 3:45 a.m. to prepare for a full day of parades and the official Euro Disney hotel dedication.

The grand opening, which became a two-hour, prime-time television special on CBS, included a Motown medley by the Four Tops and Temptations, a performance by Tina Turner and guest appearances by Eddie Murphy, Candice Bergen, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith and Cher.

Being a part of the All-American band was a special treat for Joe Hagg, a junior at University High in Irvine, who, like the other participants, paid $1,800 to be there. Hagg said he's been a "Disney freak" all his life, having filled a room with Disney memorabilia he's collected over the years.

Hagg, one of the band's three head drum majors, is assistant drum major in his school's band. He plays trumpet and has participated in numerous solo and state drum major competitions, and he recently won first place in conducting at the national competition.

A couple of highlights of Hagg's visit to France were meeting Michael Eisner, chairman of the Walt Disney Co., and being one of the first to follow the Disney characters over the drawbridge of Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty Castle) after the park's inauguration.

"I'll never forget it," Hagg said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were the very first band down Main Street in the park, and I was the very first drum major in the park. It's something I'll tell my kids about."

Jason Perez, a clarinet player and a senior at Bolsa Grande High in Garden Grove, was another enthusiastic member of the All-American band.

Besides the thrill of meeting new friends during his first trip to France, Perez said he gained much musically as well as personally.

"I've gained a lot of experience playing in a better group and learning to play in a large group," he said. "The experience also helped me become more open to people, since the band people in Europe were so nice and friendly."

Perez, who was named Bolsa Grande's outstanding musician of the year, was the section leader of the Garden Grove District honor band and was selected to perform with the Olympic Marching Band at Dodger Stadium.

Making friends was one of the best things about playing with the All-American band for Andy Garfield, a senior trombone player at Canyon High in Anaheim Hills.

"There were no bad apples in the group. There were no complaints of 'I don't want to march today . . .' Everyone loved band--the experience and marching."

Garfield has been involved in marching band since his freshman year, when he said he was the last player in his section; now, he's one of the first. His extracurricular musical activities include composing for bands, orchestras and small ensembles and composing pop music for the piano.

In the fall, he plans to study film scoring and composition at USC, where he hopes to continue marching in the Trojan band.

"I was fascinated by the entire scale of the opening operations," said Garfield of Euro Disney. "Everybody was working as a 12,000-member team."

Regina Hoang is a junior at Saddleback High School, where she is editor of the Roadrunner, the student newspaper.

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