What’s more American than baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie? Thanksgiving, turkey and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! If you were watching the parade this year, you might have caught a glimpse of Stoneman Douglas’s Robbie Flory locking in a beat as part of the Macy’s Great American Marching Band.
As part of the Eagle Regiment Marching band, junior Robbie Flory plays various percussion instruments. He also performs in winter percussion with Douglas, as well as the REEF percussion ensemble.
“I have always watched the parade at home with my family and have known about a band that selects members of high schools to join a special band to perform,” Flory said. One of the alumni from Stoneman Douglas, Dylan Harrison participated in the band the year before he was a freshmen. “He told me how much fun it was and really got me into looking to audition.”
The Macy’s Great American Marching band is a collection of 250 of the best band and color guard students from around the country. The student musicians participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and perform at Herald Square at the end of the parade route.
Flory arrived in New York City on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving and was there for six days. The band participated in a practice of some kind every day, whether it was at the hotel, at the armory or outside in the street.
“The exact number of hours we practiced has slipped my mind, but it never felt like practice; everyone was just there to perfect their performance and to have a fun time doing so,” Flory said.
The Armory he practiced at was an indoor soccer field. It was layered with red turf with blue lines and was by far the favorite practice site Flory has ever used. It was heated to keep everyone warm and they put down yard-lines just like normal band season and was just an overall cool looking field to march on. Also in the middle of the performance field there was a star marked to resemble the big Macy’s star at the herald square performance. They later took off the yard-lines and did full performance run-throughs to be as close as possible to the real thing.
The last two days of practice we transitioned outside to a field area that was marked and had the star in the middle. The band got to perform for friends and family as well as the Macy’s staff.
According to Flory, the band itself was a lot like the Eagle Regiment. Practices were run the same way, and the musicians had the same performance stature, standing straight up and confidently but with added responsibilities. Everyone was responsible for all aspects of the performance and their equipment. All of the musicians had a tremendous amount of passion that went into practices and performances.
“Every person was there to make the best performance possible and as soon as we were told to reset, we ran back to the start and did it again and again and again every time – not just because we had to but because we wanted to,” Flory said. “We always were looking for ways to get better, so I felt I connected with many people in the way we practiced, all for the same goal.”
Flory enjoyed meeting musicians from all over the United States, including New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas. The kids connected quickly because they all had a passion for band. He met people from drum core, seniors looking to go to college for music and kids who had a lot of the interests that he had.
“We talked about how their bands back at home were like, how our school was and the fun experiences we had in our own bands,” Flory said.
The musicians also got to go sightseeing in NYC. Some of the fun experiences included eating at a restaurant underneath the empire state building, as well as walking around Times Square, buying souvenirs and gifts and taking the occasional photo. They also got to see Broadway play Les Miserables, and after the parade, there was a dance with all of the band present.
Finally, Thanksgiving day came.
“It was fun and confusingly fast-paced, but it was a blast,” Flory said. The night before, the kids were sent back to their rooms and lights out at 10:30 P.M., only to wake up at midnight to prepare for the parade. At 1 AM, they left the hotel with everything they needed for the day on the bus. The band had a practice run through at Herald Square before the parade to prepare for the actual performance. After the practice they ate breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe and left for the starting point of the parade. They arrived about two hours before the start of the parade and made final adjustments to uniform and warmed up for the start.
“As we got the signal to start the march, I was nervous and excited at the same time,” Flory said. “With 3 million in attendance and over 50 million all over the world watching on television, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. But as we started marching, and I saw all the people there to see us perform, I was so glad to be a part of the band. Seeing countless numbers of people excited to hear us and all the children watching in awe at the band, I was so glad to perform and any nervousness that I had been feeling lifted away. All these people were not here to see me fail or mess up but to watch us perform and put on a show for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”