It's a common ritual that takes place on Thanksgiving morning. It's turning on the TV and tuning in to the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade happening live in New York City. Whether it's preparing the traditional turkey or welcoming family and friends who visit, the Macy's spectacular is most likely the virtual holiday backdrop for millions of households across the country. But wait -- take a closer look at that TV and you just might see some familiar faces marching along…
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, now in its 85th year, has come to be known as the official start of the holiday season. Said to be second in viewers only to the Super Bowl, the three-hour broadcast from 9 a.m. to noon on NBC-TV not only reaches 2.5 million spectators standing along the parade route from Central Park to Macy's Herald Square, but some 50 million viewers watching on TV. It's fun for all ages with its huge helium-character balloons, sparkling floats filled with celebrities, and talented young people who comprise the multitude of choruses and marching bands our country has to offer.
One such band kicking off the parade will be Macy's Great American Marching Band, comprised of 200 of the finest high school musicians from across the country who were selected based on their musical ability and achievements. The opportunity was open to students from more than 14,000 high schools across the country. Local students performing this year include Jessica Zelenak, a clarinet player from Emmaus High School, Stephen Yale, a trumpet player from Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Sarah Miller, a piccolo player from Fleetwood High School, Brian Selman, a cymbal player from Wilson High School in Berks County and Jeffrey Lazarchick, an alto sax player from Blue Mountain High School in Schuylkill County.
Leading the band will be Allentown's own, Dr. Richard Good, now in his fifth year as director of bands at Auburn (Ala.) University. A 1979 graduate of William Allen High School, he has been at Auburn for 17 years in former positions as marching band director and low brass professor. Good has served as director of Macy's Great American Band since its formation in 2006 for the parade's 80th anniversary. This year, he will lead his group along the parade route marching and playing the upbeat "Disco Inferno" by The Trammps (Remember this great dance tune from the "Saturday Night Fever" original soundtrack?)
The student musicians will be complemented by approximately 50 flags (colorguard) and dancers choreographed by Greg Lagola, a member of the creative team of the Cadets Drum Corps of Pennsylvania. He is being assisted by Katie Hopkins, daughter of the Cadets' George Hopkins, CEO and executive director of Youth Education in the Arts in Allentown. Lagola's association with the Cadets began in 1989, when he marched in the Senior Drum and Bugle Corps. The Cadets are nine-time world champions and the oldest and most honored drum and bugle corps in the world.
"I have always enjoyed the parade. Now I'm a part of the acts," said Lagola, whose routines with the students will be complete by the time the parade kicks off. Then he'll be off to meet family and watch the parade on TV. He described the experience for the students as one of "genuine excitement and joy. It's a world stage. They're our future generations. You can feel their energy and feel hope." Though he was raised in Pottsville, Lagola calls himself a New Yorker since moving there in 1984. He is a full-time consultant/technical designer for "two emerging fashion designers," he said. He also instructs the Santa Clara (Calif.) Vanguard competitive winter colorguard.
"People will witness a ton of energy from the Macy's band," Good said. As in football, he said of the parade, "There's a big team behind it." That team is headed by Dennis Rhoads of Berks County's Music Festivals which, for 26 years, has overseen student music competitions and travel programs. Good said he struck up a friendship with Rhoads when he (Good) was teaching at Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach. Rhoads often used the facility during some of his marching band events and many times asked Good to serve on the judging panel.
Good described the Macy's parade as "an international stage" for marching bands with an exposure of 75 seconds, or one minute and 15 seconds when they reach Macy's Herald Square to perform. When Macy's Great American Band reaches that site, Good said the tune will change to an original composition – "a big fanfare" -- by 16-year-old up-and-coming composer/conductor/musician Tyler Grant of Pelham, Ala. Good said Grant, a sophomore at Shades Mountain Christian School in Hoover, Ala., was commissioned by Macy's to write the piece – title unknown until the big day -- when parade organizers wanted something different for the 85th anniversary. He said he first met Grant this past February when Auburn hosted its annual Symphonic Honor Band Festival, attended by some 1,000 student musicians. Good said he was very impressed with Grant and recommended him to Wesley Whatley, creative director for the Macy's Parade and Entertainment Group, who was looking for something new to blend with the parade's young people. Grant will be marching alongside the band. Good said the band won't meet Grant until today (Wednesday), "but I can tell you, all students love to work with a composer."
Good called it "six strong nights of bonding" for the students, who arrived in New York City on Saturday. Their travel package includes plenty of sightseeing, along with some "pretty intense" rehearsal which began Sunday night in the hotel ballroom. Then it was up early Monday to rehearse from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Teaneck (N.J.) Armory. That's where students were broken down in sectionals, evaluated in marching and put in a block running through fundamentals. A rehearsal on Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. concentrated on their performance for TV. From 8 a.m. to noon today, they parade outdoors at the Armory where working troops will view the preview.
In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, from 3 to 4:30 a.m., all marching bands will be in costume at Macy's Herald Square for a full-dress performance under the glaring stage lights for the TV technical crew. Each band will be allotted only 10 minutes for performance before they board the bus for the "red ready line" at Central Park. When the parade is over, members of Macy's Great American Band will board the bus back to their hotel and enjoy a Thanksgiving banquet and more sightseeing before flying back home early Friday morning.
As for Good, he said he'll be rushing for a bus to the airport after the parade to make his connection back to Alabama to prepare for Saturday's Homecoming football rivalry in the Iron Bowl with Alabama playing Auburn. He said he'll also make use of travel time by catching up with texts from friends across the country who will have seen him marching in the parade on TV. "It happens every year," he said. For further info: macys.com/parade
It's a great weekend for holiday happenings, starting Fri., Nov. 25 through Dec. 31 with "Pip: The Mouse Before Christmas" at the Liberty Museum at Zion's Reformed UCC Church in Allentown. New this year is a Conestoga wagon exhibit for kids of all ages. The holiday puppet show was created by Dr. George R. Creegan and gained its fame in the windows of Hess' in downtown Allentown. For further info: libertybellmuseum.org
Act 1 at DeSales University opens its main stage production of "Joseph and the Amaziwng Technicolor Dreamcoat" on Wed., Nov. 30 through Dec. 11, at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts. For further info: desales.edu
A Christmas tradition continues with the 15th Annual "A Lehigh Valley Christmas in Concert" at Allentown Symphony Hall on Sunday Nov. 27. It's a great showcase of valley musicians of all genres, to date including Zen for Primates, Jake Kaligis Band, The Large Flowerheads, Dave Fry, Cambiata, Hector Rosado Y Ensemble "Siete," The BC Combo, and James Supra and Maria Woodford. In years past, participating artists would gather at a local studio months in advance to record a Christmas CD that was sold at the event. I know I like to pull out my collection and get in the holiday spirit. For further info: AllentownSymphony.org