AMHERST, Mass. – The award-winning University of Massachusetts Amherst Minuteman Marching Band will perform for the first time in its history in the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving Day before an estimated 3.5 million spectators lining the New York City parade route plus a national television audience of more than 50 million.
The three-hour, 2.5-mile parade on Thursday, Nov. 28, now in its 87th year, steps off at 9 a.m. from Central Park West, and the Minuteman Marching Band is scheduled to perform on NBC-TV in front of Macy’s flagship store at Broadway and 34th Street at 11:24 a.m. where it will play the fan favorite, “Big Noise from Winnetka.” A special preferred UMass parade viewing location has been designated by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association on 6th Avenue between 53rd and 54th streets in front of the Pearson Building. Sam the Minuteman will march with the band for the entire parade route.
Since 1924, no Macy’s Parade has been complete without the nation’s best marching bands. The Macy’s Parade Band Selection Committee chose UMass’s elite group, one of only two university bands selected from among hundreds of applicants. The rigorous selection process is based on factors such as the band’s national recognition, awards, past performances and reputation in their community.
Timothy Todd Anderson, director of the 390-member corps known as the “Power and Class of New England,” said the band’s latest honor represents the thrill of a lifetime for those who take part, but it is also a deeply meaningful tribute to the many people who helped to build the organization over the years. These include the late former director George Parks and many others, plus “all the wonderful students who have marched in our ranks. For everyone who has ever been a part of the Minuteman Band, this parade appearance is because of you!”
The band has performed at three presidential inaugurals and in 1998 received the most prestigious honor bestowed upon college bands, the Louis C. Sudler Trophy, awarded in recognition of “the highest of musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a period of several years.”
Macy’s selection of the UMass band for this high-profile event is a crowning highlight of the university’s sesquicentennial celebration, said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Being selected for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a high recognition of our band’s reputation for excellence and excitement. The Minuteman Marching Band has a very proud history, and this will be one of its greatest honors.”
To practice for the parade, the band will march from its practice fields off Commonwealth Avenue around the Amherst campus beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 25. “This is to prepare in a limited way for the parade route, to get a sense of the endurance needed,” said Anderson. “And, to get into the drill of moving from one song to the next. There’s no down time in there.”
The band will leave for New York at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26. They will get settled in their New York hotel that afternoon and attend a rehearsal the next day at New Jersey’s West Orange High School from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. A small portion of the band will perform for a UMass alumni party at the Dubliner Pub in Manhattan for about 30 minutes sometime between 4:30 and 6:30 that evening.
Band members will set their alarms for 2:30 a.m. Thursday to arrive in front of the Macy’s store in Herald Square at 4 a.m. for a 10-minute camera check by NBC engineers, Anderson says. They then return to their hotel for breakfast and to check out before assembling at the parade staging area at 7:45. “We have known the date for more than a year, but only in the past few weeks is this starting to seem real,” Anderson adds. “I think everyone is starting to get butterflies and to realize this is actually going to happen!”
“Just the experience of being in New York City for a few days with their friends and family is a huge charge for our students. A lot of parents are coming; there will be many photos taken and memories made that day. Our spirits are definitely high and there’s a lot of energy and excitement building. This is the thrill of a lifetime, I’m sure our students will remember this forever.”
Of course, the weather on this year’s later-than-usual Thanksgiving Day will have a great deal to do with the band’s experience. Anderson noted, “We have football games that get cold, and the students can pack layers under uniforms, and we do have uniform gloves. The color guard and baton twirlers have warm-up suits to wear if it’s cold. But when we get to the television stage in front of the Macy’s store, the warm-up suits and the gloves come off. The show goes on, no matter what!”
Other songs the band will play along the route include “Fight UMass,” “God Bless America,” “Roll Down the Field” and “Sweet Caroline,” Anderson said. “We hope the Yankees fans in the crowd will let us pass as we play that, for just this one special day of the year,” he joked.