Thanksgiving Treat

Hundreds of student musicians march in one of the nation’s best-known parades. Read one individual’s story.

It was the 80th anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Catalina Foothills Marching Band was invited. I was only in 8th grade when I heard the news that our band would be flying across the country to be the first-ever Tucson, Ariz.-based marching band to participate. It would cost a lot of money and require a lot of time to prepare, but I was ready for it.

When I first started high school my freshman year, I was very intimidated. The huge buildings, the hundreds of students and the new classes scared me. But through the band, I met many new and interesting people that I knew would be my friends all the way through high school. The band made me feel like I fit in somewhere, helping me get situated in my new high school environment.

Rehearsal—Rain or Shine

About 275 students signed up to march in the parade. Ms. Renee Shane-Boyd, our band director, is the only person crazy enough to fly that many teenagers across the country at once. She knew from the start how much time, effort and money would go into this parade, and she was prepared.

Our band practiced every Tuesday night for three or four hours, during our band class period, on Wednesday mornings and sometimes on weekends—a surprisingly short amount of time compared to other bands. But our director made sure that we stayed focused and worked hard throughout the entire rehearsal periods.

Our band marched and rehearsed in rain or shine. Many times we would march in the harshest of weather. Some days we played in 100-degree heat; other days the rain would soak us. We also practiced on Halloween night and during our homecoming dance. But we all knew that it would pay off when we marched in the world-famous parade.

Rainy Day Parade

After all of our hard work, time and money, the trip finally came. On the day before Thanksgiving, we left early in the morning from our school to get to the airport. I’m sure we intimidated many people, being hundreds of teenagers at an airport terminal that early in the morning. But Ms. Shane made the requirements very clear: If we broke any discipline rules, she would send us back home immediately—at our parents’ expense.

Our band flew on four separate planes. This trip was my first time flying without my family, but I knew I would have a great time. All of my new friends were on the plane with me. After a long, exhausting day of flying, we finally arrived in New Jersey at our hotel. However, we didn’t get a lot of sleep because we woke up at 3 a.m. to rehearse our music before the parade.

It lightly sprinkled when we rehearsed that morning, but when the parade began, it was pouring. We were the third marching band in the parade, so we had to wait for many other floats, performances and bands. Ms. Shane made us wear rain ponchos, so our uniforms wouldn’t get destroyed (like I said, she was prepared). Us woodwind players needed to keep our instruments under our ponchos as well, so they wouldn’t get ruined.

We waited for what seemed like hours in the cold November rain and wind. But finally, our time came. We had already been standing in our marching block, so we simply took off our ponchos and moved forward. At first it was difficult to move and play because I felt as if my whole body had been frozen. But after we started marching for a bit, I got a little better.

I was surprised how many people showed up to watch the parade. Even though it was raining like crazy, New Yorkers stood along the streets with their umbrellas and coats, eager to watch us perform.

Our band played three songs over and over again as we marched:

  • “Ho Down” (representing “the West,” where we came from)
  • “Sleigh Ride” (all the bands had to have a holiday piece)
  • “Go U Northwestern” (which our school adopted for its fight song)

In between the songs, our drum line would play a cadence. We moved and danced during the cadences as a way for us to stretch and take a break between playing. When we danced, the crowds lining the street went insane. I think we were the only band in the parade that danced, so the people loved it.

Our band marched for 45 minutes in the pouring rain, but it didn’t really seem that long. I almost wished we could have played longer. Marching through the streets of New York with my best friends playing the music that we knew by heart was one of the best experiences of my entire life.

From New York … to China?

That night, the band ate Thanksgiving dinner on a boat cruise around Manhattan. This was the first Thanksgiving I spent without my family. But in a sense, my band friends and I had become a family after spending so much time rehearsing and practicing together.

We also did other sightseeing in New York. We went to Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island and Times Square. We also saw “The Today Show,” a Broadway performance and a worldclass symphony.

In addition, we got to eat famous New York food! We also took an architectural tour, and Ms. Shane allowed us to shop (my friends and I hit 5th Avenue). However, we only slept an average of four hours a night. I think they did this intentionally to make sure we had no energy. Who would want to keep track of 275 fully awake and excited teenagers?

Overall, marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was an incredible experience. I made tons of new friends, and I experienced New York City. It also taught me how to sleep just about anywhere (such as planes and buses). The parade was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Soon after Macy’s, Ms. Shane received news that a scout from the pre-Olympic games in China had been watching us perform in the parade. The scout had been looking for American marching bands to take part in the pre-Olympic games during the summer of 2008 and invited us.

Now we are all looking forward to another adventure on behalf of the marching band; only this time, it’s overseas.

About the Author

Hannah Emerson is a sophomore alto saxophone player in the Catalina Foothills High School Marching Band in Tucson, Ariz. She has played since the age of 10. When she’s not marching, she enjoys drawing, playing guitar and listening to music.

Note from the Editor: Share your story about marching in this year’s parade. Email admin@halftimemag.com.

Sidebar: Macy’s Great American Marching Band

On Nov. 22, 2007, a young but strong musical tradition will continue! This Thanksgiving Day, the second Macy’s Great American Marching Band will march the streets of New York and lead the 81st annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Founded to showcase America’s finest high school musicians and guard participants, the band includes students from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Dr. Jon Woods of Ohio State University and Dr. Richard Good of Auburn University will direct the approximately 200 musicians. Greg Lagola of The Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps will choreograph the band’s 50 or so flags members and dancers.

Musicians were selected for participation based on written applications and DVDs/ CDs. For more information about the Macy’s Great American Marching Band, visit Music Festivals at http://www.musfestivals.com/%20mgap/macys.htm.

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