Behind the Scenes of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
This past February, we jetted down to San Antonio for the Texas Music Educators Conference. During the conference we sat down with Garth Gundersen, of Hendrickson High School, to discuss his experiences with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the future of his band program. Even though it might seem far off, preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade has already begun for the Hendrickson Band.
Can you tell me about the excitement level within the community and the band about going to New York to perform in the Macy’s Parade?
It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. You march in other parades, you do performances and things like that, but everybody knows Macy’s is one of those traditions… that it’s an American tradition not just a band tradition, so everybody wakes up to that. Whether it’s your brother, sister, uncle, mayor, whoever, everybody knows about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They think it’s very prestigious. The excitement level is like nothing else. We’ve been able to fundraise much better than we normally do, our retention has been much better than normal, and our recruitment has been much better than normal. People are just all rallying around this parade.
Tell me about your experience in shadowing a band in New York last year.
I really needed that. You see it on TV and you have no scope of what the parade shoot is like until you see it live. I was able to go, follow up, go into the performance area and see the band practice. The practices are at two, three o’clock in the morning. Seeing where the cameras are, how they’re going to shoot it, where the shoot is taking place, to see that…it’s not anything like seen on TV. Now when we design the show, I’ve seen it before. I know what the formation needs to look like. I know what the rehearsals are going to look like. We can prepare the kids for what that experience is going to be like, what the timelines are going to be like. Somebody could tell me all of this but seeing it first hand helps you really understand the importance of it all.
How has your program been affected by preparing for a parade? Has there been growth?
We’ve been participating in parades since our program began, so I feel it has been a recruitment show from the beginning. When we march in parades we always have more involvement. Nothing’s been like Macy’s. The growth that we are seeing, since we announced the Macy’s trip last spring, has been like nothing we’ve seen before. We have probably increased by 80 members, just by announcing Macy’s. Our program is a quality program, but I think parents want their kids to have experiences that they can’t have in other classes. Students have musical experiences obviously, but marching in a parade and going to New York City to march is a once in a lifetime experience. You can say, “I marched in that parade”. Parents want that for their kids and they’re willing to spend a little bit of extra money towards those experiences. I think it’s an American tradition. I think this is something we need to keep going and I think it’s a great recruitment tool for your band program as well.
What advice do you have for other band directors, who’d like to travel in your footsteps?
The advice I would give directors who would like to follow the model that we’ve done is to find a parade you feel like your community would like. Know your community. Know what their values are and what they would like to do. Maybe look into where they have traveled previously, where they desire to travel and then search for the parade. Talk to the folks at ETA about opportunities. It’s possible ETA can connect you with people from the parade and then you can apply. It doesn’t hurt to apply. Also, I would just say you have to train your students to march. Marching is a great skill to have. Once they learn to do that, just apply.
What’s next for Hendrickson?
Hendrickson has now marched in the most important parade, at least what I consider the most important parade, but you could argue Rose Bowl. That’s a big one as well. I think we’re planning on an international trip next. I know there’s a great parade over in Ireland that we’ve talked about doing. There’s also one in London that many bands in the Austin area of gone to as well. I think international travel would be the next step for our kids and it seems just easier to do now than it used to be. The flights aren’t as expensive. I feel as the band director you want to expose your kids to a lot of great music. I also think you want to expose your kids to a lot of great experiences. You need to think as a director about where you want and what you want to show your students. Show them the world! They’re not going to get that anywhere else and often this is the only time they’re going to get to get the chance. You have to provide those opportunities for them.