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After a nine-year hiatus of joint bands, two Missoula high schools - Big Sky and Hellgate - will step out together for San Diego's Holiday Bowl parade in December.

The last time any of the Missoula County High School bands marched together was back in 1993.

Sentinel declined to participate in this upcoming event.

John Combs, Hellgate's music director for 20 years, and Andrew Ueckert, Big Sky's music director for five years, will coordinate about 230 musicians who will represent Missoula in concert, jazz and marching events.

MCHS bands have performed at the Cotton Bowl, the Tournament of Roses and the Fiesta Bowl parades.

"It's just been a tremendous experience," Combs said. "I've been here 30 years and we've been in three Rose and three Fiesta parades."

The group will leave Missoula Dec. 26 and return on either Jan. 2 or 3, Uechert said. Sightseeing will include trips to Sea World, California Adventure, Disneyland and, of course, the beach.

All sophomores through seniors who want to participate in the marching band will be included.

Their first joint rehearsal will be June 5.

"It could be pretty interesting," Combs said. "We haven't been marching for several months."

The top symphonic band from Big Sky and the top wind ensemble band at Hellgate will perform in the concert and jazz sessions. Nationally renowned clinicians will critique the bands.

It's a chance to see different styles of bands, Euchert said. One of them will be a band from Japan, providing an international aspect to the event.

The Missoula band will be in the Saturday morning parade, rehearse for the final time in the afternoon and perform, along with all the other bands there, during the game's halftime at night. That game will be shown on ESPN, Combs said.

A marching band's competition also will be held but Missoula won't be in it.

"It's tough to practice outside (in Missoula) in December," Euchert said. "We'll go and watch some of the California schools do that."

The band also may march in either the New Year's Day parade or after it at Disneyland, Euchert said. Disneyland likes to have bands march in its parades, he explained.

The group's first performance will be during the October Homecoming Parade in Missoula.

The band members will wear existing uniforms but add a new overlay with red, blue and purple stripes to represent the three Missoula schools' colors. The back of the overlay will feature MISSOULA embroidered in gold. Each overlay will cost $112.33, according to Combs.

The cost for each student will be $800, a fee that will cover transportation by Beach Bus service, food, lodging and sightseeing.

The students will raise money through magazine and fruit sales, car washes (complete with pledges) and booths at the Western Montana Fair. A letter seeking money for the uniforms is being sent to area businesses.

Any donations can be sent to: John Combs, Hellgate High School, 900 S. Higgins Ave., Missoula 59801. Checks should be addressed to the MCHS Bands. Donations will be divided among the three high schools.

"It's incredible how many times students who have been on those trips come back (after graduating) and say it was one of the highlights of their high school career," Combs said. "I'm looking forward to it."

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