Ho Ho Holiday Parades

Nothing rings in the holiday season like a great parade— the lights, floats, balloons, celebrities, and most importantly, the marching bands. While many bands perform in local holiday parades, these five events attract groups from near and far.

Photo of the West Carteret High School Marching Band, courtesy of Disney

Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade

Members of the West Carteret High School Band in Morehead City, N.C., started to get suspicious when they were all summoned into the school auditorium and handed Mickey Mouse hats. Suddenly, The Big Cheese himself appeared on stage to deliver the news: They’re going to Disney World!

“I cried,” says senior guard member Reanna Lopez. “I’ve never been [to Disney World], and since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of [it].”

Disney specifically selected the Marching Patriots to march in the 29th annual parade based on a variety of criteria. “There’s technical competency and performance ability, of course, but we also look at educational achievements along with community outreach and service,” says Tim Hill, director of Disney Special Programs.

The parade airs on ABC each Christmas morning but tapes throughout November and December in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando, Fla., and Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.

Special Surprises

West Carteret had only two and a half months to fundraise and prepare for its trip, so the band ran a letter-writing program that brought in more than $55,000 and increased its typical number of rehearsals to learn the “Olympic Fanfare.”

When the band arrived at the Magic Kingdom, its members finally found out why the “Olympic Fanfare” had been selected. The band would be marching around Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas. The students were thrilled to see Douglas as well as parade host Nick Cannon—actor, singer and star of the movie “Drumline.”

“[The performance was] magical, just seeing the castle behind us and all the little kids cheering us on,” says Catherine Detwiller, a senior color guard member. “With Gabby Douglas and Nick Cannon being right there, it was overwhelming.”

Made for TV

The parade also featured the Dunedin (Fla.) High School Scottish Highlander Band, whose kilted uniforms and bagpipers were the perfect complement to Princess Merida from the movie “Brave.”

“It’s a unique experience that this is for television,” says Ian Black, Dunedin’s director of bands and orchestra. “There are cameras and different things, and a lot of it is happening in the moment we’re told, and we roll with it and make it happen.”

Craig Everett, West Carteret’s director of bands, agrees that the television aspect presents the students with a new challenge.

“With all the cameras and sound equipment and all the direction we were receiving, we were really just watching our students really handle themselves with the highest degree of professionalism,” Everett says. “That means more to me than winning first place at a band competition or earning a superior rating at our concert band festival. This is teaching them real life skills. This is going to give them just a little taste of what a professional musician or performer does for a living.”

Although quite comfortable with local parades, performing far from home for strangers was an exciting and new experience for the Marching Patriots. “In a regular parade, it’s all locals, and you know everything and everyone there,” says senior guard member Kennedy Stroud. “But this time it was like, ‘Oh! I’m in the Magic Kingdom!’ There are people from Florida; there are celebrities around me; it was a whole different experience.”


And while the students loved performing, they also had plenty of free time in the theme parks. For most, it was their first time at Walt Disney World. “I never thought I’d actually be able to go in my lifetime, and it’s just big, colorful and great to see everybody here.” says senior guard member Sydney Giammona.

While hundreds of bands travel to Disney Parks each year as part of Disney Youth Programs and other events, appearing in the televised Christmas parade is an elite honor. “All bands have their own unique talents and sounds, which are products of the group’s camaraderie and character,” Hill says. “Participating in the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade is a special way to showcase those talents to an international audience, and it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that these students will never forget.”—EG

America’s Children’s Holiday Parade

It has as much Christmas music as a shopping mall in December, as many cartoon characters as Saturday morning television, and as many Santa hats as … well, MORE Santa hats than anything, anywhere.

America’s Children’s Holiday Parade in Oakland, Calif., has successfully found its niche on the first Saturday of December. What began as a local event to celebrate the rebirth of downtown Oakland has quickly become a major parade with national television coverage on PBS affiliates and the American Forces Network.

Playing the Part

The parade has grown to attract a large lineup of talented marching bands— from as far away as Jamaica in prior years—who buy into the holiday spirit. “We encourage the bands to play holiday music and decorate their instruments,” says parade director Ray Pulver of Upbeat Parade Productions. “It adds to the spirit of the parade, and the spectators really relate to the festive music.”

Of the 24 marching bands in the 2012 parade, most played holiday tunes, and more than half wore Santa hats in place of their usual shakos. The Pittsburg (Calif.) High School Marching Show Band played a tune titled “Santa’s Parade.”

“This is by far a parade the students look forward to each year,” says Pittsburg director Jennifer Martinez-Narez. “The Oakland crowd is very energetic and welcoming. They cheer, dance and clap to our music as we pass by. And television coverage is always a great thing!”

The quality experience has led Martinez- Narez to bring her band back to the parade four consecutive years. “This is one of the most organized, on-time parades,” she says. “I would highly recommend this parade to other bands.”

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Another band that has returned year after year is American High School of Fremont, Calif. The band has appeared 12 consecutive years, missing only the parade’s first year of existence. “It is a chance for our band to finish our marching season with good cheer,” says director Richard Wong.

While most bands ride buses, and some take planes, the American High School band turns heads when it arrives via train. The parade lineup area is adjacent to a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train station, which is both convenient and cost-effective.

“We take BART because it costs much less, with discounted field trip tickets, than it would to pay for bussing,” Wong says. “Another benefit is that we are saving on carbon dioxide emissions.”

Wong explains that the band is environmentally conscious, and even has a parent Green Team to handle recycling when the band travels.

Up and Coming

Regardless of how the bands arrive, one consistent thread among those in the 2012 parade was the quality of musicianship. Awards were given in four divisions based on school size, and scores were often just a few tenths apart. Bands are judged on music, showmanship and marching.

Pulver has been delighted to receive inquiries about possible participation from bands on the East Coast and more foreign countries, an indicator that America’s Children’s Holiday Parade is becoming a destination event for marching bands.

“We hope to continue making this parade a wonderful experience for participants,” Pulver says.

To view pictures of all the bands and some of the characters from the 2012 America’s Children’s Holiday Parade, visit www.marching.com/photos.—KM

Waikiki Holiday Parade

It’s important to be thankful around the holidays, and performers who travel to Hawaii for the Waikiki Holiday Parade pay tribute to the United States military at Pearl Harbor while celebrating the start of the season. “The parade does a couple things; we have a lot of military presence, and it’s definitely a tribute to our military,” says Stacy Thielman-Jost, president of Gateway Music Festivals and Tours, the parade organizer. “But it’s also known to the locals as the Hawaii Christmas Parade, and so to them it’s the kickoff to the holiday season.”

The Aloha Spirit

For bands traveling in from colder climates, the pleasant Hawaiian weather and a warm welcome from the locals are a highlight of the nighttime parade, which is usually on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“This parade is just different; the people are much closer to you and are just really friendly and treat you like a member of the Hawaiian family,” says Tim Allshouse, director of bands at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School. “Although it’s in November, the weather is nice, the tiki torches are lit. It’s almost a different culture being in Hawaii.”

2012 was the second time Allshouse brought his band to the Waikiki Holiday Parade—the group celebrated the 10- year anniversary of its first appearance in 2002. As an added honor, parade organizers selected Blue Springs to precede Santa as the final band in the parade, and play a 10-minute standstill show at the reviewing stand. “When we got to this reviewing stand, we got to play a minishow for war veterans and got to actually talk to them and shake their hands; it’s something I’ll never forget,” says drum major Graham Leavell.

Honor and Respect

Parade founder Jake Peppers scouts out bands from around the country and issues invitations. Many bands like to return every few years. Oftentimes, the band “adopts” a Pearl Harbor survivor who travels with them on the trip and meets with the students.

But the parade is just one highlight of a week of events enjoyed by participating bands. Each group also performs in a wreath-laying ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri Battleship at Pearl Harbor.

“Being able to present a wreath at the memorial and play at the battleship named after our state, just standing there and being there is amazing,” Allshouse says. “Paying our respects at Pearl Harbor is a very important part of the trip.”

Time for Fun

Each band personalizes its trip by adding other attractions and tours such as the Polynesian Cultural Center, the Dole Pineapple Plantation, hikes at Diamond Head, catamaran cruises, a trip to the North Shore, shopping, surfing or snorkeling lessons, and of course free time at Waikiki Beach.

The Blue Springs Band used some free time to entertain beachgoers with a flash mob (visible on YouTube by searching “Blue Springs Flash Mob”). “A portion of our [2012 field] show had a hip-hop dance thing, so we went down to the beach and did a flash mob with the drum line; we stormed the beach,” Allshouse says. “It was just one of those fun moments.”—EG

Hollywood Christmas Parade

“Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane …” Did you know that the words of Gene Autry’s immortal Christmas song were inspired by Los Angeles’ 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade, which still continues today as the Hollywood Christmas Parade?

The parade, which marked 82 years in 2012, takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving and features bands from California and around the United States, with occasional international groups. The taping is later aired on the Hallmark and Hallmark Movie Channels and on local networks around the country in syndication.

Santa’s “Elves”

The Long Beach (Calif.) Junior Concert Band, an independent youth band, has performed in the parade for 46 years (54 overall) as the band that precedes Santa Claus, leading him to the televised area and along the rest of the parade route.

“We’ve always escorted Santa, and it is wonderful to see the expressions of the kids along the parade route and their faces lighting up as they see us,” says Dirk Barber, president of the Long Beach Junior Concert Band Board of Directors and a former member of the band. “People who come to the parade know when they see us that Santa will be right behind us. A lot of the members marching can see it or sense it in the reaction from the crowd.”

Parade producer William Lomas of parade company Pageantry Productions invites bands to participate. Interested groups can also apply through travel agencies or by contacting the parade online. In 2012, the parade featured 22 bands, nine from out of the state.

“We look at the uniforms, the musicianship and what they do,” Lomas says. “For example, take Banning High School out of [Wilmington, Calif.]; they do dancing, Grambling [State University Band]-style marching, those are things that people like to see coming down a street.”

Star Sighting

Being in Hollywood, the parade is wellknown for featuring celebrities—such as Grand Marshall actor Joe Mantegna, George Takei, Erik Estrada, Uggie the Dog, and stars from Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and the Hallmark Channel.

“Hollywood Christmas Parade is the largest parade gathering of celebrities and stars from the music and entertainment business in the world, and hopefully it will get bigger,” Lomas says. “It’s turning around, and we’re looking for bigger and bigger stars coming around that want to be a part of it. I was there in the era of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Gene Autry. We’ve taken on the task of bringing a new generation to the parade and hope that people will see our vision of making it an entertainment value across the country.”

Performance Opps

Bands who travel to the Hollywood Christmas Parade usually build time into their trip to see the sights in Southern California, possibly with additional performances at Universal Studios Hollywood, the Disneyland Resort, Venice Beach, or various churches and hospitals.

“I hope they take away an image of Hollywood knowing that it’s much better than people have told them,” Lomas says. “My focus is not on floats or horses but on marching bands. I truly believe that, of all the parades I do, you can’t have a parade without music.”—EG

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

In Chicago, the start of the holiday season is signaled by millions of twinkling lights along North Michigan Avenue, known as The Magnificent Mile.

“Out of all the parades we produce, this one is unique in that it is a nighttime parade and that Disney is so involved in the parade,” says Todd Marcocci, president of Under the Sun Productions. “Minnie and Mickey Mouse join the parade at the beginning and illuminate the Magnificent Mile one block at a time, so by the time any marching bands get around, they are marching under a million white lights in the trees.”

More than 1.2 million people travel from across the country to see the parade and festival, which features opening and closing production numbers, floats, balloons, other characters from the Walt Disney World Resort and a spectacular fireworks finale over the Chicago River.

Coveted Spots

Due to limitations, the parade only has about five highly coveted spots for marching bands each year. In 2012, groups came from Illinois, Ohio and Alabama.

“We only have positions for five marching bands because the parade is only aired on television for one hour,” Marcocci says. “It is aired live the night of the parade— the Saturday before Thanksgiving—and syndicated nationally to 80 percent of the country beginning on Thanksgiving weekend up until Christmas Day.”

Marcocci and his entire staff all had drum corps or college/high school marching experience, and all currently teach as well, making the selection process for this parade even tougher. “Bands apply by applications that come into our office,” Marcocci says. “A committee here reviews all the applicants, and we look for marching technique, which is important because people love to see clean straight lines on the street, and we look for music proficiency. We require a DVD of a field show or parade. We’re all experienced enough to read into whatever they’re presenting to us, and we get a feel for their personality as a marching band.”

Bright Lights, Big City

Because of the parade date (right at the end of football/marching competition season and as families prepare for Thanksgiving), most bands do not stay long or have much time for tourism during their trip, with many only traveling for one day.

According to Marcocci, bands truly enjoy the gigantic crowds, and his company receives very positive reviews of the band experience. “They love it; the crowds are just crazy,” he says. “There are literally a million people on the parade route. It is absolutely amazing and stunning. It’s very unique for any marching band because, in reality, when bands do parades that are local or regional, you don’t see crowds like that. It’s a shock to the system, and it really gets them excited as they travel down the parade route.”—EG

About the Authors

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor for Halftime Magazine and a freelance journalist and communications professional in Los Angeles. She marched flute at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band, where she now works as a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

Ken Martinson is a life-long advocate of marching bands and is founder of the popular website Marching.com. He has brought a passionate and positive voice to his roles as instructor, event coordinator, performer and judge.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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