Lorraine Boissoneault, For The Miami Student

Miami’s marching band is preparing to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The band will be marching directly in front of Santa Claus during the nationally televised event. Miami’s band was chosen for its “quality and commitment to excellence.” (Contributed by Robert Werden)

Which group on campus has been running laps, spending Monday thru Friday practicing and goes to games on the weekends?

Here’s a hint: it’s not a sports team.

It’s the Miami University Marching Band (MUMB), whose members will be making a return tour to perform at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over Thanksgiving break (the band first participated in 2003).

“Macy’s is very unique,” said Stephen Lytle, the director of the band. “It’s most well known outside the Presidential Inaugural Parade and the Tournament of the Roses Parade. Those rank in the top three of major band events that the general public will know about because they’re always televised.”

The MUMB was selected by a committee in New York in April 2010 after submitting a portfolio that included letters of recommendation, information on the members of the band and audio and video clips of the band performing.

Wesley Whatley, creative director of the Macy’s Parade and Entertainment branch of Macy’s, said the MUMB will be the only college band performing.

“Miami has an incredible music program. We recognized their quality and commitment to excellence,” Whatley said. “What’s appealing about a college marching band to us, and Miami specifically, is there’s the energy level and the playing ability of professional musicians. We want that beautiful commitment to excellence. Miami had a perfect combination.”

The application process began about 18 months before the parade performance will take place, and the band has spent much of that time fundraising. Funding for their trip will come from fundraising, support from the university and other sources and individual student contribution.

Now that the parade is a mere month away, it’s time for the band to buckle down and get to work.

“We did a sight reading of the music back in August,” Lytle said.

The band began memorizing the music and the drills for the performance in mid-October because they wanted to focus first and foremost on sports events for Miami University teams.

In addition to preparing the music and the marching, band members were encouraged to do physical training.

“The parade’s long. It’s an hour and a half and six miles … the instruments are heavy, percussion has to play the entire time, we’re marching and playing the entire route … it’s physically taxing,” Lytle said. “I’m not going to compare it to playing a football game, but in its own way you’re on for a very long time.”

Students who are part of the 260-member band have been preparing in a number of different ways.

“We occasionally run during practices and I run every morning because I like running,” said sophomore Peter English, who plays flute and has been in the band since his freshman year. “Halfway through September, there was a 5k race in Mason and some of the people in the tuba section went and a few ran with tubas.”

English added that the band practices are harder and that the group must be more focused than ever to prepare for the parade.

In addition to marching the parade route, band members will be playing the Miami fight song, Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” and the blues tune “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” by Robert Randolph and the Family Band. While the parade route songs might be more appealing to certain demographics, their grand finale will be a tune that everyone is familiar with: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” since the band is marching directly in front of the Santa Claus float.

“It’s the prime spot,” Lytle said, who kept the surprise under wraps until announcing it to the students in early October.

For the students, marching in the Macy’s Parade means an exciting trip to New York and the chance to perform for an audience upwards of 40 million. For the MUMB, the trip means greater prestige and a chance to recruit more members.

“People want to be part of a successful organization,” Lytle said. “When you point to things such as the parade, the bowl game we went to last year or opportunities where they get to do something out of the ordinary, that helps polish your own star.”

Of the 260 members, only about 15 to 20 percent come from music majors, Lytle said. The majority comes from different majors on campus. All students who participate in the marching band receive two credit hours for their participation. On top of the already-rigorous schedules, this can be a challenging amount of work. But for these band members, the work is well worth it.

English, a math education major with a physics minor, is excited to be a part of a group that’s going to be in the Macy’s Day Parade.

“I’ve never been to New York City. I feel honored to be bringing in the Santa float and closing the parade,” English said.

If they learn nothing else from the experience, the students in the MUMB will know that with hard work comes great rewards. They will be joining an illustrious list of Macy’s Day Parade bands that stretches back to the parade’s inception in 1924.

“We consider the marching band program one of the cornerstones of the parade,” Whatley said. “You can have a parade without a balloon or a float, but you can’t have one without a marching band.”