76 Trombones!: Applying for the Big Parades

Mike Lawson • • April 6, 2018

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It was pouring rain and cold, especially for Miami, as the band waited to start the Orange Bowl New Year’s Eve parade.

We were in our standard Miami Senior High “Million Dollar Marching Band” all wool West Point style uniforms with high collars and tails. The wet uniforms felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. The only compromise in our usual parade standards were placing our feather plumes inside the shako style hats where they poked into our heads as we marched, to protect the plumes of course.

But all 240-plus band members and auxiliary units remained excited about just being in the parade! There is something about a parade that excites the participants as much as the spectators. It just may be the opportunity to show off what hours of practice and discipline can accomplish.

What exactly is a parade? The term “parade” is derived from the military tradition of showing their organization and discipline to their leaders and the community that they represent.

The military predecessors of today’s marching and concert bands have been described in previous SBO articles including the GreatAmerican Brass Band Festival (July 2017) Military Bands (Sept. 2017) and Before the March King (Dec. 2015). Parades come in a variety of formats, purpose and features.

Many celebrate holidays and festivals, religious or secular, both major and minor. Some are closely linked to sporting events such as bowl games or significant competitions. Most provide opportunities for high school, college and community bands to participate.

Television has made parades all around the world viewable live, or re-broadcast at times more convenient to viewers. One of the most watched, with an estimated 3 million on-site spectators and 50 million television viewers, is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. It also is one of the most coveted parade invitations for a band to receive.

Recent Macy’s parades have only presented twelve marching bands. The lead band is Macy’s Great American, an honors band with members from all fifty states. The New York Police Department is also a permanent participant. The ten remaining positions have usually included a mix of high school, college units and occasionally a military band.

The Macy’s application process begins twenty months prior to the parade, March 1 of the prior year. The Macy’s Band Selection Committee has placed their application process online with forms and directions.

They indicate that “the most important and persuasive part of the (band’s) application is the unedited video of a full field show from a halftime or competitive show performance.”

One of the bands in the 2017 Macy’s parade provides an example of how a band approached and accomplished their selection. Their decision to apply was largely because no band from the Gulf coast area or from Mississippi had been in the Macy’s parade. Their selection would bring recognition of the music programs in their area to a national audience. The trip would also serve as a significant reward to the students, parents and the community that so strongly supports the music program at the school.

The West Harrison High School in Gulfport, Mississippi is a four-year (Grades 9-12) school with a total enrollment of about 980 students and is only nine years old. The band, with 215 members, almost a quarter of the student enrollment, had applied for the 2016 parade and was not selected. Encouraged by their principal they applied again and achieved their goal!

While much of America watches the Macy’s parade, another award-winning parade is marching up Woodward Avenue in Detroit Michigan. “America’s Thanksgiving Parade” for 2017 also featured twelve bands, most from the Midwest, and all were high schools.

This parade has been labelled “one of the top 10 Thanksgiving events” by USA Today.

This parade names a winning band based on spectator voting. This year that honor went to the St. Clair High School Marching “Saints”, from St. Clair, Michigan. The St. Clair Saints program includes a number of elements that contribute to their success.

Like many school band programs, there is a summer band camp, and theirs is required for all band participants. A sixth-grade music program which welcomes beginners contributes to the long-term success of the band program by providing future band members. The rewards of these programs are a cycle of major parades, which include fun trips for the band, such as Disney World Orlando.

Other holiday parades include St. Patrick’s Day, or in the case of the Ybor City (Tampa) Florida, St. Patrick’s Night Parade. The Second Time Arounders just completed this annual traditional parade which has some similarities to the Mardi Gras events, except all the beads are green! A number of cities offer St. Patrick’s Day parade opportunities and many communities along the Gulf coast have numerous Mardi Gras parades.

Major sporting events have spawned another type of parade, the various annual football bowl parades among these. Beginning many years ago the four, major college football bowl games, Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose each had a parade associated with their game. In Miami that parade was New Year’s Eve and the game followed on New Year’s Day.

With many more major bowl games and other high image sports events the number of parades has also increased.

Many major theme parks offer parade opportunities for bands and other marching units. Among these are the Disney parks previously mentioned. The Pacific Northwest is home to an old-fashioned community parade, the Daffodil Festival Parade. This somewhat unusual parade celebrates a bulb crop which is no longer the major agricultural product it once was and honors local volunteers. In addition, the parade takes place in not just one, but four different communities in the Puyallup Valley area of Washington State. Parade units may choose to participate in one or more of these venues. Applications are accepted up until just three weeks of the actual parades in April.

Almost diagonally across the country in Thomasville, Georgia the Rose Festival Parade also celebrates community volunteerism with a theme of “Helping Hands”. Thomasville also has a children’s parade the day before the full festival parade. There is a growing trend of children’s parades that offer the opportunity to involve and encourage feeder music programs.

Many of the parades described and others include honor bands of some sort. In 2006 Macy’s established the Macy’s Great American Marching Band (MGAMB) of 185 members, with at least two members to be selected to represent each state. The band is complemented with forty auxiliary flags and dancers.

The selection process is managed by Music Festivals & Tours. Candidates complete and submit applications by a deadline and are then auditioned by a traveling team of judges. This band (MGAMB) is directed by Dr. Richard Good, from Auburn University.

Parades vary in exactly how they are performed. Some are simply a marching from beginning to end. Others have a “stop and go” with band performance at any number of locations along the parade route and many, especially those televised, now have a single reviewing stand location which requires a concert or stage production performance.

This factor alone may suggest which parades are most suitable for your organization.

Many parade organizers require an application by a specified date. Applications may also require video or other support documentation. How can your band present its very best image for consideration? The submitted videos and documentation should be relevant to that parade’s environment and the performance requirements.

For example, a video of a symphonic band in concert would not support a parade application. If a simple marching parade is the environment then a show performance, no matter how impressive, will not matter to the application review group.

So, what’s a band director and music department to do with regard to their band and parade interests? Discussions with various band directors across the country suggest these considerations.

Before applying or planning a parade participation some facts need to be established. First, what is the purpose for your band being in a parade? Is the parade a reward for the band, to gain experience as a parade band, or to present themselves and their music program to the community? Does the band have previous parade and travel experience? Just as concerts and field drills develop different skills and disciplines, parades also expand these. In addition, the parade may be a reward, especially if coupled with an interesting trip.

Next, what will your stakeholder groups including parents, school administration, and the local community endorse and support? What parade environment is acceptable to your band and stakeholders? All stakeholders need to understand how a parade experience educates your band members.

Schedule is vital. Does the parade interfere with other band competitions or usual family time such as holidays, school breaks or vacations? Does your band possess the skills necessary to represent your school and community in a strong positive manner? Are sufficient resources available so that the parade participation is not a burden to the school, parents, students and the community?

These resources include finances, volunteers and staff available from your school system and local community. While some parades provide or assist with expenses, many do not.

After an honest evaluation suggests a parade is in order for your band, deciding which parade, when and where will follow. The best parade for your band may just be the one in your own hometown!

After it’s all said and done, marched or not, know that much like those memories of a rainy New Year’s Eve parade in Miami, your band’s parade experience will be forming your students perception of life!

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