TARPON SPRINGS — On a chilly November night, members of Tarpon Springs High School’s marching band got a taste of what’s to come when they perform at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
The Outdoor Performance Ensemble is part of the Tarpon Springs Conservatory for Leadership in the Arts program at the high school. And this isn’t the school’s first chance to perform in the annual Macy’s parade: Kevin Ford, the program’s founder and director, took the band in 2013.
On a recent Friday evening, Ford was giving the students advice as they performed a dress rehearsal of the routine they’ll be marching on Thanksgiving. He said the temperature in New York City would likely be in the 20s, and shared a funny anecdote from 2013 about a SpongeBob SquarePants balloon crashing into a building.
Families of the students bundled up to see them perform in their new costumes for the first time, cheering them on. The ensemble left for New York City on Monday. On Thursday, they’ll get up at 2 a.m. for a 4 a.m. rehearsal.
Vivian Lunsway, 15, who performs in the sabre line and dancer Carmen Antequera, 16, said they were excited to be performing in the parade. They were both a little nervous about the weather, but were hoping their costumes would keep them warm.
Ford said the band was encouraged to audition for the parade again a few years ago by one of its producers, who saw them at the Bands of America Grand National Championship. They were accepted, but it was right before the pandemic started.
“(The students) are extremely excited about the opportunity and I think it’s a little surreal for them that it’s here,” Ford said. “We’ve been talking about this for over a year and a half.”
Michael Rivera, 18, plays the baritone and is actually an alumni of the program.
“I go to college in Jacksonville, so I spend four hours every weekend coming down here, just for this opportunity. That’s how much it really matters to me,” Rivera said.
Just 10 bands from across the country are performing in the parade, and the Tarpon ensemble has the coveted position of performing last, right before Mariah Carey opens for Santa.
On his trip to the Macy’s Day parade in 2013, Ford and other band directors were invited to Macy’s corporate offices, where Ford spotted a photograph of a woman from the 1940s with a stack of presents. The performance is inspired by this, with a 1940s theme and costumes from the era.
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“It’s supposed to depict city life at the holiday time,” Ford said. “So hopefully people feel that we’re honoring the spirit of the parade.”
Ford also told his students that millions of people will be watching them on television, in addition to the paradegoers. This seemed to resonate with the teenagers: By the time they changed into costumes and gave the performance another run-through, you could see vibrant facial expressions even from the bleachers.
The parade’s route is 3 miles long, but what we see on television is actually the end of it, as it turns on to Herald Square. So the performance goes fast, as the audience in Tarpon Springs got to see. Flags and skirts twirled as the band played “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Joy to the World.”
“Three years of preparations and it’s over in a minute and 30 seconds,” Ford said.
Ford also acknowledged the community’s support in the form of donations that enabled every member of the ensemble to go to New York.
“We take this very seriously knowing that we’re representing not just our school and ... our community in Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida, but this means we want to do a really good job for everybody,” he said. “I just hope that they feel like there’s a quality level and an excellence level that they can be proud of. That we put a lot of heart and soul into it.”