TWIN BRIDGES - With a grand introduction and a thrust of my hand into the letter "C," I fulfilled a long-held dream Sunday at Sierra-at-Tahoe with the UC Berkeley "Cal" Marching Band.
No, I don't play an instrument. I'm just a wannabe conductor, who supposedly complemented their regular band-member rotation in the lead job. Luckily, band members always start their set with a tune they know well - the Cal Marching Band theme song. They quickly moved their set in and out of the Billboard charts - with songs from No Doubt to Guns and Roses.
The band known for its undaunted zeal, multi-faceted talent and history that dates back to 1891 gathered that afternoon outside in front of the Base Lodge after skiing down the Broadway run. The band makes the rounds to the Sierra ski resorts each year for the holiday marking civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Last year, it played in a blizzard.
This year was crisp but clear.
After forming the "C" to tell the band who they are, I raised my arms and jolted them down. Suddenly, I was overtaken with the drama of their energy and sounds of precision. How did they do that? The bass drum roll prompted me to forget conducting and pretend to play the drums in the middle of the song. Overall, the band carried my incompetence.
I chuckled to think of Meredith Forrest, one of the three bass drum players, telling me earlier she drove her parents crazy by practicing the drums in the house since age 11. Anybody can realize a dream.
And Tara Castro, a bare-handed clarinet player enduring raw 20-degree temperatures, was inspirational in her right. Karin Dove, who attends Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, approached Castro about playing with the band some day. Castro fed her dream.
Band director Uri Tzarnotzky said a record number of band members - 121 people - turned out for the traditional holiday visit. The band played at Kirkwood Mountain Resort on Friday - a few times inside because of the cold - before joining the Sierra-at-Tahoe crowd Saturday and Sunday.
And that crowd of about 50 people responded with a few moves of their own.
After stepping away from my short-lived fame, David Ortega of Moraga watched the band play while wearing his Cal hat. Earlier, that same ski hat confused other band members who told him where to report in.
But that would have been a few decades ago, when Ortega played football as a linebacker for the Bears. I flashed on those times when I was in Berkeley after a win, and the band would take over College Drive and University Avenue in celebration. I've never seen a band play with such athleticism.
Ortega remembered those times. Now, he's a parent putting his children through ski lessons and dancing with a group to the songs of his alma mater, which pulled out occasional cue cards saying "Go Bears."
"I just happened to be up here. I didn't even know they were playing," Ortega said, adding he felt a wave of nostalgia.
The Cal Band has a rich history that started as the University Cadet Band founded in 1891. After the ROTC absorbed the Cadets, the band members asked the school government to sponsor a student-run band, which first performed in November 1923.
Although no one I talked to seems to know how visiting the Sierra Nevada over the holiday originated, several Cal Band traditions were established in the 1960s. One such tradition called "the bomb" announces the band's entrance to the field in the pregame show with a flash powder device.
In 1991, the Cal Band received the Berkeley Citation celebrating the 100th year of the University of California Marching Band.