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Home > Spotlight > Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Band Selections

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade reveals band selections by surprise visits


By Ken Martinson, Marching.com Founder

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is filled with color and confetti, but the pageantry is not limited to parade day. Macy's brings a dose of showmanship to the marching band selection process by sending parade officials on surprise visits to personally deliver invitations.

Dobyns-Bennett H.S. band director Lafe Cook accepted a commemorative drum head during the surprise visit from Macy's official Wesley Whatley. This could be the marching band equivalent of having the "prize patrol" appear at your door. But this coveted prize is the result of dedication and hard work, not luck.

In April 2010, Marching.com was invited to join Macy's representatives when they delivered an invitation for the 2011 parade to the Dobyns-Bennett High School Band in Kingsport, Tennessee. The school principal had been informed of the top-secret plan, but the details otherwise remained a well-guarded surprise.

It can be a challenge to keep the secret, because band directors are naturally eager to know whether their application for the parade was accepted. Dobyns-Bennett band director Lafe Cook admitted that he had been searching Google for nearly two weeks, hoping to find any hints about his band's status. The day before Macy's officials appeared at his door, he found news that a band in a neighboring state had received an invitation. At that point Cook wondered whether his application had been declined due to the close proximity of the other band.

His face lit up when the Macy's team arrived.

"The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a big part of the fabric of our community," Cook said, noting that the band marched in the parade in 1984, 1988, 1993 and 2004. "Many people in the community marched in Macy's when they were in the Dobyns-Bennett band. We get incredible support."

Legacy of Bands

Just as the Macy's Parade is part of the Dobyns-Bennett band's history, marching bands are an essential part of the parade's legacy. Perhaps that is why Macy's makes the special investment to deliver invitations in person.

"The marching band program is a cornerstone of our parade, and always will be," according to Wesley Whatley, associate creative director of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. "Marching bands represent the small towns of America, the people of America. We value the music education that is going on in these quality programs. Giving band directors a place to shine and students the experience of performing on a national stage is something Macy's does truly value."

The reality is, it's a huge stage. The Macy's Parade draws several million spectators to the parade route, and more than 50 million viewers through television. Macy's works hard to ensure that every marching band in the parade is featured during the NBC television broadcast.

With a chant of let's have a parade, Dobyns-Bennett H.S. band members shower their director with confetti. "It is a live event, so ultimately it's out of our control. But we partner with NBC to make sure that each slot we promise is given its due time," Whatley said.

The television broadcast kicks off each year with a countdown from five, the slogan "let's have a parade!" and a huge flurry of confetti. Whatley invited the band students to practice that moment in the Dobyns-Bennett band room.

"We're going to recreate what happens on parade morning, and we're going to make a real mess," he promised.

The Application Process

Planning for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade begins nearly two years in advance. Applications from marching bands are due by March 1 in the year prior to the parade. Bands are selected and notified in the spring, which gives them approximately 18 months to prepare and raise funds for their trip.

Applications and the accompanying videos are reviewed by a committee of Macy's employees with a background in music and theatre. Some committee members were in marching bands, some performed on Broadway, some were professional directors.

"We watch the videos of the field show performances and judge the bands just like any judge would evaluate a marching competition," Whatley said. "We look at how well they march and play, and overall general effect weighs heavily."

After all the applicants are reviewed — there were more than 150 for the 2011 parade — the committee sorts the bands in several ways.

"First we look at who scored the highest. Then we arrange them to see who scored the highest by state, by region and by marching style," Whatley said. "On the final day of the selection process we look at it from a 'casting' perspective. We want the most entertaining, the most diverse, the most exciting marching bands for the ten to twelve slots that we have."

What tips the scale to give one band the edge over another?

"The tipping factor is about entertainment, which is a general statement, but it can express itself in a marching band in a number of ways," Whatley said. "It could be energy, precision, how beautifully they perform. Ultimately every marching band represents its state and we want to make sure that band is representing its regionality. Some groups shine in their own way."

Honoring Tradition

During the presentation to Dobyns-Bennett band students who had gathered in the school's band room, Whatley was quick to point out that many students in the room will have graduated by the time the band performs in the parade.

"To the juniors and seniors, you have led the charge to help make this happen," he said. "It's because of your leadership and hard work and your tradition of excellence that this band is going to New York."

Sophomore piccolo player Andrea Cunningham was motivated by the prospect that she will be a senior when she performs in the parade.

"We are definitely capable of holding up the band's tradition of quality," Cunningham said. "In the past we've had many successful musicians and performers, and their inspiration and leadership will shine through us."

The history of marching excellence has indeed been long established at Dobyns-Bennett High School, according to Principal Lenore Kilgore.

"For the community at large, our band is our 'brand,'" Kilgore said. "It's not only about the skill and precision but also the fact that we have such a large band. Everybody can participate."

As an administrator, Kilgore is enthusiastic about the band because of how it enhances student achievement.

"Students who are involved in band and extra-curricular activities typically do much better in school than students who are not involved, so we encourage that. We know that if you're part of something, the chances of you doing well, staying in school, graduating and being college and work-force ready are much higher than for students who are not involved," Kilgore said.

Countdown to Macy's 2011

Dobyns-Bennett will be among eleven marching bands performing in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, November 24, 2011. Other bands invited to appear include Carmel H.S., Indiana; Hawaii All-State Marching Band, Hawaii; Homestead H.S., Cupertino, California; Homewood H.S., Alabama; Legacy H.S., Broomfield, Colorado; Macy's Great American Marching Band; Miami University, Oxford, Ohio; Nation Ford H.S., Fort Mill, South Carolina; NYPD Marching Band; and Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, Canton, Michigan.

View details about the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Marching.com or visit www.Macys.com.


Photos by Marching.com.

Copyright 2010 Marching.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.


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