Hoover band is all ears in Iowa

Band camp has nothing on Hoover High School's marching band now.

About 60 band members returned Tuesday from West Branch, Iowa, where on Aug. 4 they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.

One of five high schools in the country named after Hoover, the country's 31st president, theirs was the only band to accept organizers' invitation to march in the anniversary parade and perform at the library's celebration.

It turned out to be an adventure in more ways than one.

For starters, Hoover High's total enrollment of roughly 2,500 students rivals that of the entire population of the president's childhood home. And for many in the band, it was their first Midwest experience.

The band booked its own Amtrak car, practicing rhythms by clapping their songs from Los Angeles to Chicago before taking a bus to Iowa.

Once in town, they stayed with host families who let them drive tractors, ride horses and pick corn from their fields.

For Glendale urbanites, it was a different world.

“I have my own ear of corn, which I'm drying to keep,” said 16-year-old alto saxophone player Victor Garcia.

“It was not like here,” said Veritas Kim, a 17-year-old drum major. “They said they never locked cars or houses.”

During the anniversary celebration, the band marched in a parade through town and performed two concerts for city officials with West Branch High School's band.

During a series of outdoor speeches at Hoover's grave site on Aug. 4, a looming storm forced everyone indoors. The temperature change alone caused Victor to faint, and nine others to follow.

“We had been given a lot of water,” he said. “I don't know why we fainted inside the auditorium.”

That's when band instructor Martin Rhees stepped up hydration efforts.

“I came to realize, ‘We won't just water them, we'll Gatorade them,'” he said.

After eight students were taken to the hospital as a precaution, officials didn't press the band to perform. But they insisted, even the students who fainted. They each returned to the auditorium with the full band to play “America the Beautiful.”

But midway through the song, the storm cut the power. West Branch's band stopped playing immediately, unable to read the music. But Hoover's band, having memorized several songs for the trip, played on in the darkness.

“The people who were sitting in the auditorium listening to us, they were very amazed,” Veritas said. “We got a standing ovation after. It's going to be in our memory forever.”

As band camp began Wednesday, a day after the band's train rolled into Los Angeles, Rhees said he and his students hope to return to the library on a semi-regular basis.

“I'm just like a proud father,” he said of his students.

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter @kellymcorrigan

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