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GHS alums: Macy’s Thanksgiving parade ‘an amazing experience’

  • UMass photo by John Solem<br/>University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band in Thursdays annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

    UMass photo by John Solem
    University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band in Thursdays annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

  • UMass photo by John Solem<br/><br/>UMass alumns and other well-wishers gathered along the parade route to cheer on the band.

    UMass photo by John Solem

    UMass alumns and other well-wishers gathered along the parade route to cheer on the band.

  • UMass photo by John Solem<br/>University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band in Thursdays annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  • UMass photo by John Solem<br/><br/>UMass alumns and other well-wishers gathered along the parade route to cheer on the band.

GREENFIELD — Their moment on Macy’s red star — in front of TV cameras and about 50 million viewers — lasted exactly 75 seconds. But the Greenfield High School alumni who marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as part of the 400-member UMass Minuteman Marching Band, had a time they’ll never forget.

“The whole trip was an amazing experience,” said Matthew Beres of Greenfield, a 21-year-old trumpet player, who has played in the University of Massachusetts Amherst band for three years. “It was probably the finest experience I’ve had in a marching band.”

“I’ve been to New York before, but never to the Thanksgiving Day Parade,” said Emily Ethier, 20, of Greenfield, who plays the mellophone. The parade attracts about 3.5 million spectators along the 2.5-mile route, according to NBC, and what Ethier remembers is how the crowd responded when the band played what has become a Red Sox late-game anthem: “Sweet Caroline.”

“Sweet Caroline was really the crowd favorite,” said Ethier. “People were singing and dancing and cheering. People were asking for it over again.”

Although the band has performed in two presidential inaugurations (Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s), this was the first time it has been selected to be one of 12 marching bands to perform in the iconic Thanksgiving parade.

Ethier said the band members arrived in New York City Tuesday night, and members had a free evening to themselves. On Wednesday, they rehearsed in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Marriott Downtown, in the Financial District. The day’s rehearsals were followed by a “super, super good” Thanksgiving meal, according to Ethier.

“Then we had to be in our rooms by 8 p.m.,” she said, “because we had to be out of them by 2:50 a.m.”

At 2:50 a.m. Thursday, the band members, with their uniforms and instruments, boarded buses and headed for frosty Herald Square, in front of Macy’s, for a run-through for the TV cameras.

“We got to the star around 3:30,” said Ethier. “Our rehearsal was around 4:15. We warmed ourselves up, we did our rehearsal.”

The song performed before the cameras was “Big Noise from Winnetka,” a quick, upbeat tune the band has played at half-time shows. Other songs that the band played while marching along the parade route were “God Bless America” and two UMass fight songs.

Beres said the 25-degree cold affected the trumpet’s tuning. “The cold can cause big intonation issues,” he said. “I couldn’t actually play in that first rehearsal. NBC wanted us to do a performance so they could make sure they knew where they wanted to put the cameras.”

“We had a very set amount of time, so that the parade could run smoothly. You’re not allowed to go over your time,” he explained, “or they will cut you off.”

“We had to run to get on — because the only way to get 400 people (on-camera) in time was to scramble.”

The band members went back to the Marriott about 5 a.m. to pack and eat breakfast. Then they returned to the parade route around 7 a.m., Ethier said.

While waiting to march, Ethier said she saw Broadway performer Kristin Chenoweth. Also fitness guru Richard Simmons came over to say ‘hello’ to band members, she said.

Beres said Miss America, Nina Davuluri, was standing near the band at one point, as were the cast from A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

In his years at UMass, Beres said he has traveled with the band to football games in Michigan and Indianapolis, “but this was the biggest-scale thing we’ve ever done. It was an amazing thing to be marching through New York City, and to get everyone to sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ with us was something.”

“In Greenfield High School, I went to New York a lot, for Broadway shows,” said Beres. “But marching to that final turn, down to Macy’s, and seeing the sight of all those tall buildings, really was something,” he said. “Everyone just held themselves a little taller.”

“I wouldn’t have traded any part of the trip,” he said.

Trombone player Ryan Stebbins, 21, of Greenfield, said the most amazing part of the trip for him was the warm response of the crowd. “There was a surprising amount of excitement for a band I’m sure most of them knew nothing about,” he said. “I’m a senior now, so this was pretty much a finale for me.”

Drum major Jacob Balcancoff of Greenfield also performed in the parade, but could not be reached for comment Friday.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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