Brownsburg Band to Perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Photography Provided by Curt Moss & Amy Payne
Band kids are a special bunch. Fiercely devoted to their craft, they’ve got good hearts, strong spirits, and a seemingly endless supply of energy. On top of that, they’re tenacious, tough and full of talent. Last year that talent was set to be put on full display for all the world to see when the Brownsburg High School (BHS) marching band, the Sound of Brownsburg, was invited to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As we all know, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our lives, canceling plans faster than a freak hailstorm. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was one such casualty.
The good news is that the parade committee invited all bands that were scheduled to perform in New York City in 2020 to do so in November of 2021, and though COVID-19 is still around, bands have been given the green light to participate this year.
Senior Mackenzie Gillespie calls this opportunity a dream come true.
“Being able to do this with my second family is going to be so special,” Gillespie says. “Every year my family and I have watched [the parade] on TV, but being able to be there and actually perform in it is going to be a whole different experience. The Sound of Brownsburg has worked so hard for this moment. I can’t wait to have this experience of a lifetime with my second family.”
Several hundred bands from across the country apply every year. Each must submit a band resume, a list of staff and band accomplishments, a video performance, and three recommendations from band directors. BHS is one of 12 bands that will perform. A 90-second spot highlighting the Sound of Brownsburg will air live on NBC on Thanksgiving morning.
“We are not only representing Brownsburg, but also the whole state as we are the only band in Indiana who will be performing,” says Tracy Runyon, one of three BHS performing arts and band teachers.
Runyon, along with the other two BHS Band Directors Chris Kaflik and John Marque, will be taking the entire band to New York. This includes 205 kids, plus 20 staff members along with parents, siblings, other relatives and friends, bringing the grand total to 465 people heading to the Big Apple. The group is flying out on three chartered planes on November 24, while the equipment will be traveling via semi-trailer, which a couple of dads have graciously offered to drive.
“We will need to take all of the instruments, including the large sousaphones, all the percussion, new large banner, uniforms, guard equipment, shakos, plus all the luggage,” Runyon says. “We will be a packed caravan.”
Once they arrive in New York, they will have charter buses in the city for transportation. The five-day trip will be full of fun activities for the students, including visits to the One World Observatory, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and Grand Central Terminal, as well as the choice to either see “Wicked” on Broadway or the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. They also plan to tour the American Museum of Natural History, ice skate at Rockefeller Center, snoop around Times Square, and take a Thanksgiving dinner cruise on the Hudson. Somewhere in there they may find time to get some sleep, but it’ll be tough as they must do a full rehearsal for everyone involved in the parade in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. This means that they’ll be going through New York City at 3 a.m. After rehearsal, the students will eat breakfast, then hang out at the start of the parade route by Central Park.
“After the parade is over, hopefully we will all get to go take a nap,” Runyon says.
Connor Arnold, a junior, is happy to have this unique opportunity with his friends.
“I look forward to sharing Thanksgiving with my friends and family, and everyone I love,” he says.
Kaflik had applied previously to get BHS into the Macy’s Parade and received notification that they didn’t make it. They did, however, get a personalized note encouraging them to apply the following year because they were the last band taken off the roster for the 2019 parade.
“The selection committee said that they liked the visual components of our show – things we were doing with props and color guard,” Kaflik says. “They said it would be a good addition to the Macy’s Parade.”
With so many ups and downs as COVID-19 protocols were issued and revised, it made for a difficult year of learning and managing extracurricular activities. Thankfully, the Brownsburg Community School Corporation leaders were dedicated to doing all they could to make the year as normal as possible. For marching band kids, that means they have been practicing since April of 2021.
“We had some workshops in April and May after school and in the evenings to get the basics down, and then we came back in June and had a normal band camp week like any other year,” Runyon says.
Students used that time to prepare for the Fourth of July parade in Brownsburg, and also to get ready for the year’s competitive show. This fall they have been working on other parade music for Macy’s, as well as the 90-second production that will be televised.
Through it all, parental, community and administrative support has been consistent. Schools in other parts of the country have not been as fortunate.
“Schools who were virtual all last year are now having to rebuild their bands because they lost so many students,” Kaflik says. “Thankfully, we didn’t have to do that.”
This is not to say that students haven’t sustained an emotional toll due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, their grit, resilience and resolve are evident.
“We had limited practices last year, but I made the remark during band camp this summer that I couldn’t tell that COVID even happened because these kids hit the ground running,” Runyon says. “Coming back into this year, we wondered how the students would respond, but it feels like nothing has changed.”
Kaflik believes that this will be one of the strongest bands they have ever had.
“No one was expecting that, but it seems like our students are pushing themselves to excel,” Kaflik says.
Preparation for this illustrious moment has been in the works for many years, starting with retired Band Directors Joe Vrabec and Myron Snuffin, current middle school Band Directors Courtney Cummings and Chad Brinkman, as well as Runyon, Kaflik and Marque.
“All of these individuals have been pushing towards that direction and now it has come to fruition, which is awesome,” Kaflik says.
Senior Michael Tewell is eager to showcase the school’s talent.
“I’m really looking forward to being able to represent the face of our school and music as a whole, while doing something that I love,” Tewell says.
Tyler Kindle, a senior, agrees.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that the band is blessed to have,” Kindle says. “Macy’s will give us a chance to show off how good the Sound of Brownsburg is.”