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Californians Look Forward to Tournament of Roses Parade Tradition - 2003-12-25

With its equestrian units, marching bands and flower-covered floats, the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, is a New Year's Day tradition.

This year, the parade will celebrate the theme "music, music, music."

"It is a spectacular parade," says Gene Dent, a veteran float designer who supervised construction of the Sesame Street entry. "There is no other parade like it in the world." he said. "The scale and the complexity of the floats is unlike anything else on the planet."

The event formally known as the Tournament of Roses began in 1889 with a simple procession of flower-covered wagons. Today, the Rose Parade features giant moveable floats with computer-controlled animation systems.

Mr. Dent says the parade is the biggest flower show in the world. Every centimeter of the floats is covered with plant material, from flowers and seeds to tree bark. The Sesame Street entry will be decorated with red and white carnations, orchids and golden junipers.

This year's grand marshall is John Williams, the noted conductor and composer of such rousing classics as the theme from Star Wars. He will preside over parade entries from around the world, but the Sesame Street float should be one of the most popular. The television show has entertained young Americans for two generations, and various versions are seen in other countries. The designer says this year's entry, which draws on the English and the Spanish shows, expresses the musical theme of the parade.

"It lets us use the large Muppet characters in a music context, which gives them something to do that people can relate to anyway," he said. "So Elmo is playing a big drum, and Big Bird has a large horn, which he raises and lowers, and the character Abelardo is seen strumming his guitar."

Abelardo is the giant parrot seen in the Spanish Sesame Street.

The float is promoting musical education, says Joe Lamond of NAMM, a century old organization of music merchants which is now called the International Music Products Association. It is co-sponsoring the entry.

He says research shows the importance of music in children's development, but that cash-strapped schools often cut back on music teaching. That, he says, only hurts the students.

"What you learn in music and the arts is how to think, and what they really have seen is that music and arts are a way for all children to reach their full potential," he said.

Mr. Lamond's association has helped launch an Internet site called, which is aimed at strengthening music in schools. The parade entry will promote the web site.

Musician Bob McGrath, a Sesame Street regular for more than 30 years, will ride the float with cast member Roscoe Orman, who plays the character "Gordon" on the show.

Mr. McGrath is a popular children's entertainer and producer of children's albums, and he's excited about the parade theme. He notes that music need not be elaborate.

"Music can be as simple as kids getting a little rhythm out of beans in a shaker, or pots and pans," he said. "There was a cricket making noise, and I said "that's music," and someone was sweeping the street, and that's music. So music can be a part of our everyday life, without formal training.

The musician adds that, nevertheless, he would like to see more formal music training in the schools. "There are all kinds of things that kids can get involved in," he said. "Sports are wonderful and all the core academics and so forth. But music and the arts really are unique. They are really a direct link to a child's feelings and emotions and self-esteem."

After the Rose Parade comes the annual Rose Bowl game of American college football. It is one of a number of major college matches around the country and another New Year's tradition. This year's game promises some excitement. The University of Southern California, the top-ranked team in two major polls, will face the University of Michigan, another powerhouse in college football.