The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a Turkey Day tradition for millions. But this year, a group of Homewood students won’t be watching it on TV.
Instead, they’ll be marching in it.
The Homewood Patriot Marching Band was one of less than 10 high school bands selected to perform in the 85th Macy’s Day Parade in New York City. More than 300 members of the band – made up of instrumentalists, Star-Spangled Girls and color guard – will head to the Big Apple Nov. 21 to perform in the parade on Thanksgiving Day.
Homewood is the state’s largest high school band with 335 members, or about a third of the student body, and will be the only Alabama band at the parade.
“It’s really exciting,” said drum major Chris Schiller. “It’s something we always wake up and watch on Thanksgiving. It’s really a great honor to be representing the state and Homewood.”
Approximately 3 million head to the streets of Manhattan to watch the parade each year, and another 50 million are expected to tune in to it at home, according to Macy’s.
Band director Ron Pence said it’s a great honor and that this band is up for the challenge.
The band applied to be in the parade in the spring. They sent in a DVD with the band performing a complete drill, as well a picture and a band resume with competitions and ratings. It was approved, “with no changes,” Chris said.
Drum majors Maggie Williams and Rebecca Riley said it’s all about showmanship with this band and that their uniforms are perfect for the parade that’s an American tradition.
“We’re very flashy,” Rebecca said. “We incorporate a lot of body movement, and we really engage the crowd. It just looks really good.”
During the parade, the Homewood band will perform its “Flag Doodle,” a mixture of “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle.” Practice for the parade and game days started in the summer at band camp and will continue up until the day of the parade.
The parade begins at 9 a.m. EST on Thanksgiving, but the day for Homewood band members will begin much earlier.
“We’ll wake up at 1:30 – that’s a.m.,” Ron said. “Then we’ll have a rehearsal from 3:50 to 4. We’ll do a 10-minute run of our show for the producers.”
After that, they’ll head to breakfast at Planet Hollywood and maybe catch a few Z’s on the bus before parade time. Lineup starts at 7:30 a.m.
While it’s a grueling schedule, band members will manage to squeeze in a Thanksgiving dinner that evening. Ron said about 600 band members and their families have signed up for a dinner cruise that night.
Although the parade is the highlight of the trip, it’s not the only taste of New York that band members will get. They’ll arrive three days before the parade to do a little sightseeing and attend a Broadway play or two.
“I’ve never been to New York, so I’m really excited,” said drum major Bailey Douthit. “I’m just really excited about the whole experience and the opportunity.”
The chance to go on the trip was made possible by several donations. The trip is not inexpensive – it costs $1,300 per student.
For students who couldn’t afford the trip, Ron said, they sent out donation request letters. People from 33 states and three countries responded, raising more than $75,000 for the trip.
“A lot of people might have gotten a donation letter, but a lot of people just called Mr. Pence saying they wanted to help,” Maggie said. “Then if there were some families that couldn’t afford it, others that could stepped in to help. Everybody has been so supportive.”
This isn’t the first time the community has stepped up to help the band play in the national spotlight. In fact, the band performs at a special event each year.
Last year, it was the Disney World Christmas Parade. In the past, the band has marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
While no one in the band now has performed in the Macy’s Day Parade, this group won’t be the first from Homewood to play at the iconic event. Ron said the band applies to be in the Macy’s Day Parade every five years. So far, it’s been eight times.
“The first time we went was in 1978,” Ron said. “We were the first in the state of Alabama to be asked. We also have a record for a high school band having marched the most in it. I think there is one other that’s close, and it’s only been five times.”
Ron has directed the band since 1996, and this will be his third trip to the parade. He said it’s always thrilling to know that millions of people will be watching his students.
“This is really a special group, and they’ve worked so hard to put forth this effort,” he said. “It’s exciting to get to represent our community and state on the national level. They’re making us all proud.”