Greenfield High School alumni to march, perform with UMass in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade
From right, saxophonists Emily Roy, Michael Trehey, Erica Risti, and others rehearse a move during a band practice with the UMass Amherst Minuteman Marching Band. The band was invited to march in the 2013 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Four Greenfield High School alumni were invited, as a part of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, to perform in the 2013 Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade. From left to right: Emily Ethier, Jacob Balcanoff, Matthew Beres and Ryan Stebbins. (Courtesy photo)
GREENFIELD — In their Greenfield band classes years ago, they grew up hearing about the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band — the “Power and Class of New England,” a group of musicians who knew how to perform on the country’s biggest stages and have a good time.
So it was an easy decision to go to UMass once they graduated from Greenfield High School. And it was even more of a no-brainer to immediately join the nearly 400-member marching band and start performing in football halftime shows, parades and festivals.
But they’ve never had a stage this big. On Thanksgiving, the four Greenfield High School alumni will be marching with their bandmates down the streets of New York City — participating, for the first time as a band, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
After marching and playing for about 2 1/2 miles, the band will take center stage in front of the Macy’s store on 34th Street at 11:24 a.m. — a live performance that will be watched by millions on NBC.
For seniors Jacob Balcanoff, Matthew Beres and Ryan Stebbins, the parade is the big finale to their collegiate marching band careers. Sophomore Emily Ethier will still have two years after this with the band.
“The entire experience, just as a whole, is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Stebbins, a 21-year-old trombone player. “I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
After a season of UMass football halftime shows at Gillette Stadium, the band has stepped up its parade preparation in recent weeks, said the Greenfield natives.
The band has to switch, in a very short amount of time, from a marching lineup to a performance lineup. The stage itself is much smaller than the football fields the band usually plays on — and the musicians have been practicing cramming together on university fields using a spray-painted replica of the stage’s star logo.
Every person has a specific place he or she needs to be at every given moment, said Balcanoff, a 21-year-old former trumpet player who now serves as one of the band’s four drum majors.
He believes the band is ready, but is still looking forward to practicing at the stage early Thursday morning. The band will leave for New York today, practice at an outside location Wednesday and then wake up in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving to assemble for the parade.
There will be time for fun, too.
The band, which usually crashes on high school gymnasium floors for performances, will be staying at a hotel in the city and are free to explore attractions tonight.
And then on Wednesday afternoon, the entire group will have their Thanksgiving meal together.
“It’s going to be like everything else is with the band,” said Ethier. “It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be hectic. It’s going to be amazing.”
From Greenfield to Amherst
Greenfield’s music program, its marching band and the leadership of former director Paul Calcari set the stage for their time at UMass, the four alumni said.
Ethier — a 20-year-old who plays the mellophone, which is an equivalent to the French horn — said that Greenfield band members befriended her immediately when she began attending the public high school as a sophomore. When it came time to choose a college, she only applied to UMass, because she knew she wanted to play in the marching band.
Beres, a 21-year-old trumpet player, said that the four Greenfield musicians have stayed close since graduation. He lives with Stebbins and Balcanoff and has hung out with Ethier since she started at UMass two years ago.
The high school and university were linked not only by proximity but by the friendship of Calcari and George Parks, who directed the UMass band for three decades until his death in 2010.
Calcari said his students often traveled to UMass to take part in the university’s annual Band Day for high school musicians. And Parks occasionally visited Greenfield to hold in-school clinics for students.
For any students committed to music, UMass was “definitely the next step,” said Calcari, who said he’s stayed in touch with the four alumni.
“They were the kids that were always the leaders. They went above and beyond the call of duty,” he said. “I think the whole town should be tuning in. I just think it’s a real tribute to all of us to be able to send four fabulous students ... to such a great experience.”
Greenfield High School Principal Donna Woodcock said she hopes to tune in Thursday morning to see the band.
“They were outstanding music students when they were here with us and provided us with great entertainment,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see that they continued that success.”
You can reach Chris Shores at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 264