After a long and anticipated wait, Miami University’s 253 marching band members traveled to New York City and introduced Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday morning.
Approximately six returning band members joined the band, band director Stephen Lytle said.
Liz Zoller, one of the returning members, is in her fifth year at Miami and is currently student teaching. She was in the band all four years, but not this year.
“I was really jealous I missed it by just a year and I’m still technically part of the university and I’m so glad I did it because it was so much fun,” Zoller said. “There were several of us and we could all hang out together and talk about our past years in the band. [Lytle] had last year mentioned that he was going to allow graduating seniors to come back and play with us since he felt bad they would miss it by just one year. He pretty much allowed everyone who asked to come.”
Each student paid $200 to participate in the trip, and those who couldn’t afford it were covered, Lytle said.
The band members’ trip began Tuesday morning when they left Miami at 8 a.m. and spent the next 17 hours on the bus. To pass the time, they watched a lot of movies, sophomore McKenzie Compton said.
Arriving in New Jersey around midnight, the students went to bed but woke up again early for a 9 a.m. practice at a local school. After the two hour rehearsal, the students went on a bus tour of New York City.
Following rehearsal and the bus tour, the students went on a cruise that went around the Statue of Liberty.
The next morning, students had a wakeup call at 2:30 a.m. to be in the city by 4 a.m. for rehearsal. “The rehearsal was mainly for the producer,” field commander Mike Scott said. “They rehearsed camera angles and practiced getting used to what we were doing and then we rehearsed the entrance for Santa. It was a relatively short rehearsal, around 40 minutes.”
Although it was early, the students were so excited the hour didn’t matter.
“It was really fun to be in the city that early because no one is up at 4:30 in the morning and it was really fun,” Zoller said. “The adrenaline kicked in and everybody was hyper and running around super excited.”
Singer Neil Diamond preceded the band in the parade, so he was close at hand for the early-morning rehearsal. The band opted to serenade him with “When A Man Loves a Woman.”
At 5:30 a.m., the band went to breakfast at Hard Rock Café in Times Square and spent the next few hours before the parade exploring.
The parade began at 9 a.m., but the marching band didn’t step on until about 10:30 a.m., Scott said.
“It was pretty amazing,” Scott said. “There were three million people in the parade route.”
The Macy’s Day Parade averages about 50 million viewers, Lytle said.
“It’s almost unbelievable; it’s a lot,” he said.
The parade route was a total of two and a half miles, taking approximately an hour and a half to march, and some students found it hard to march that long and keep up the tone quality as well.
“A lot of people got winded,” sophomore Steven Angles said. “It was hard to keep up the performance level but I don’t think it declined because we always try to make sure it’s as high as possible. What we did was have [percussion] cadences to ensure that each piece was the best it could be.”
“It was difficult because it’s not just walking two and a half miles and you have to be in parade format and it’s marching so it’s more intense than walking, so it wasn’t really easy but it wasn’t the worst thing ever,” sophomore Olivia Eckler said. “We were going for like an hour and a half so not the worst but not exactly a walk in the park.”
The band rotated between three songs during the parade, Lytle said. They played “Fire” by Jimmy Hendrix, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” by Robert Maynard and the Family Band and Miami’s own Fight Song.
“We also played ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ for the parade,” Lytle said. “One woman even called me and said her great uncle wrote that tune and he was from Cincinnati and it was totally coincidence that we chose that song to play.”
The chance to play in the parade was a once in a lifetime chance that all the students savored.
“It was amazing, it was surreal and it was so fun,” Zoller said.
“It was amazing,” Angles said. “It was one of the greatest experiences going through Time Square and performing and opening for Santa. Just the whole experience was amazing.”
Once the parade was over, the students were able to take after-the-parade photos with Santa, Zoller said.
After a quick nap in the hotel, the students went to see The Rockettes that night. “That was really cool,” Eckler said.
On Friday, the students had a free day in the city to do whatever they wanted.
“Our trips are always really packed and we don’t have a lot of free time,” Eckler said. “But it was really nice to have a free day after all the chaos.”
The experience and free time in New York City were moments that each student will take with them for many years following this weekend.
“Honestly, it was a really great experience and I’ve never been in New York and I think over half the people in the band had never been in New York and that was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Eckler said.