The students, staff and parents all saw it happening: Students hugging, students playing basketball, students laughing and exchanging email addresses. One student brought Felicia a bag of Chinese snacks to take home to her parents, little treats her fellow flutist thought they might miss.
"When you're at your weakest, you're really tired, really hot, you've really studied hard, your inhibitions go," Felicia said. "Band kids are band kids."
It hasn't felt so simple since then. The Valley Christian band was on summer break, then immersed in its fall field show. Each band independently rehearsed its Rose Parade music, a new arrangement of "Shenandoah," a traditional American tune, and "Jasmine Flower," a Chinese folk song. The color guard in San Jose sent videos of their flag routine to the Chinese band and hoped for the best.
"Patience is the word," said Kathryn Read, one of the army of parents who raised money for the China trip who was on hand to find gloves and serve food for the combined band.
"I certainly saw a growth in (students) being able to connect with the music, to understand other cultures love to do the same thing they do, and put in the hard work that they do," said Read, whose son and daughter are marching in the parade. "They have an understanding, even if they can't talk to each other."
The bands finally met again last week, when 105 students from Beijing No. 57 arrived in California for a few more days of rehearsals and a schedule packed with performances. They have more in common than they realized at first, said Brooke Read, a color guard captain.
"You don't need words to express what you want accomplished. You do it more in your actions and body language, being able to show and do, not yelling at them, talking at them" said Brooke, who will be the featured twirler during Tuesday's parade.
"Leaders don't always need words. They need actions."
Early Tuesday morning, the band from San Jose and the band from Beijing will meet at the bus at 5:45 a.m. and travel to the starting point for the Rose Parade. The music will be memorized, the feet in step, the flag flourishes in sync. The bands will wear matching uniforms -- Valley Christian in light blue, Beijing No. 57 in red -- and they'll spread into a parade block by instrument, not by country or band director.
Brooke Read will be toward the front, her dress speckled with 400 rhinestones. The parade is the ultimate reward for her senior year, for her band director's long-ago dream, for the 240 kids who learned to speak without words.
From the first note, the first step, she knows she'll be thinking something still hard to believe: "This is my band."
All of them.