Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Macy*s Parade Memories, Part 1: Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christm– Aaaaaaaaaaa!!

I just got to thinking about an event that I hadn’t thought about for quite a while.


Earlier today, there was BREAKING NEWS! My alma mater’s marching band was announced as a participant in the 2013 Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “Pretty cool,” I posted online, “and potentially pretty cold on Thanksgiving Morning.” In the great pantheon of high school and college bands, statistically speaking not too many bands get this gig. Very exciting!

What struck me as a trifle odd, as I read the press release, was the realization that I had been involved with a band that played New York City in this manner long before the Minuteman Band will have done. I’m not used to seeing news of an upcoming UMass gig and thinking, “yeah… been there.” Before joining the Minutemen, I’d never been to a Presidential Inauguration, or BOA Grand Nationals, or even the “Big E”. Or a UMass home game, for that matter.

But the Macy*s gig? Yes. Yes I have.

So, beginning here and probably continuing in a couple of blog posts to come, are a few memories of my NYC travels with director Joe Wright and the Boston University Terrier Marching Band, sixteen years ago (oh ouch).


What everyone sees of the Macy*s Parade is truly not the full measure of the experience. On Thanksgiving morning, NBC viewers tune in to what appears to be a variety show mounted on a runaway conveyor belt moving frantically across a stage whose backdrop is an art deco department store building. To be honest, I generally don’t watch the thing because I’m not that interested in singers on floats not really singing; lately too many of the “acts” have been thinly-veiled promotions for upcoming NBC sitcoms or similar entertainments; and I has heard all I wants to hear of Willard Scott mispronouncing names, and I don’t wants to hears no more.

In fact, the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade is quite a bit longer than one block long; a lot of the real fun comes as the bands march past an estimated three million people sitting on bleachers and standing six or seven deep, all along a parade route that starts at 77th Street and Central Park West. Never mind the estimated 44 million TV viewers – playing for three million live people amidst the urban canyons of New York City constitutes the kind of public exposure you almost can’t get in any other single live performance.

There are challenges. For one thing, for bands who will perform in this parade, it means designing a performance for the TV cameras which uses a “field” with parameters like no other (certainly with no yardlines or hashmarks), and which lasts for probably less than the length of a TV commercial – and nonetheless needs to display the character and personality of that band clearly. And… go.

In 1996, when I was a grad assistant with the BU band, the BUMB’s task was happily complicated somewhat, by the fact that we were the last performing unit in the parade. Therefore we had the honor of escorting Santa Claus (on his sleigh/float) into the square. What I remember most about the actual performance is marching into the square– well, truly, the Terrier Band entered the square very nearly on the run, played a quick Santa-esque tune, turned and jazz-ran out of the square. Don’t blink!– ’cause there they go. Yay Santa. All go home now.

In short – and I’ll get a little more detailed about a few things in ensuing posts on this blog – it was a wonderful, harried, amazing, hurry-up-and-wait, entirely surreal experience. I imagine that my impression of it is at least somewhat in line with others’: I only vaguely remember most of it … at the time it was almost entirely too cold, too early in the morning, and too inconvenient, and felt too much like we were being propelled along a nearly-out-of-control factory assembly line … and after the fact, I knew it was a great trip and I was really pleased that I got the chance to do it.

Knowing the Minuteman Band, for them it will be all these things and probably something more – something very uniquely UMass-more, I can imagine.


April 3, 2012 - Posted by | band, BUMB, entertainment, marching band, music, television, UMMB | , , , , , , , , ,

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