MRDs to march in Macy's parade

The Marching Royal Dukes are one of only two college marching bands that will be participating in 87th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

While a lot of JMU students may be spending Thanksgiving break joining their families in Thanksgiving traditions, the Marching Royal Dukes will be spending Turkey Day permeating the streets of New York City with their performance in the 87th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

This will be the MRDs’ third year participating in the parade, following performances in both 2001 and 2008.

Only 10 marching bands were selected to perform in this year’s parade, and JMU was one of only two college bands chosen.

Scott Rikkers, assistant director of bands, is looking forward to making the trip again.

“Participating in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is an exciting experience,” Rikkers said. “One of the most exciting parts of the experience is waiting at the start of the parade, seeing all of the floats pass by with the celebrities, seeing the balloons being blown up and joining the parade.”

Rikkers said the band will be meeting with the NBC producers Thanksgiving day for a 3 a.m. rehearsal for final preparations before they begin marching. At the end of their route, the band will play “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” in front of Macy’s department store.

“It is truly a behind-the-scenes experience of the parade,” Rikkers said. “Unfortunately this year, since we will be the first band in the parade [appearing at 9 a.m.], we will not be able to see very much once the parade begins, but it will be thrilling to lead the parade nonetheless.”

Expenses for the trip are completely covered by money from JMU’s auxiliary fund, according to Bill Wyatt, associate director of communications.

Wyatt said there is a $354,170 budget for the five-day trip.

“This is a great opportunity for the band,” Wyatt said. “They’re great ambassadors for the university.”

Brittany Deacon, a fifth-year senior health services administration major, is a drum major and will be helping conduct the performance.

“My brother was in the MRDs in 2008, so my family and I attended the parade then,” Deacon said. “I’m excited to perform in the parade. It’s something you grow up watching, and to be part of it is a unique experience.”

Deacon did not originally plan to stay at JMU an extra semester, but if she hadn’t needed to make up the credits for her degree after swapping majors, she would not have had the opportunity to march in the parade.

“The MRDs have provided me with so many amazing experiences,” Deacon said. “This is a once in a lifetime experience and a neat way to cap off my time at JMU.”

Lindsey Martin, a senior hospitality major, will also be performing in the parade. She will be playing the piccolo while leading the flute and piccolo section.

“I am so excited I can barely contain myself,” Martin said. “Every day at practice, I’m reminded that in a few short days we will be performing this routine in front of millions of people — just thinking about it gets me excited all over again.”

While Martin is not looking forward to the early morning rehearsal, she knows the resulting performance will be worth all of the band’s hard work.

Nathan Saxman, a junior international affairs major, is another drum major helping conduct the performance.

“This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the incredible programs that JMU has to offer,” Saxman said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it. There is certainly some degree of nervousness, but I imagine most of that will be replaced by adrenaline once we hit the parade route.”

Although Saxman has not been a faithful viewer of the parade prior to this performance, Martin has carried on a tradition of tuning into the show annually.

“I have watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year for as long as I can remember,” Martin said. “I’m sure I saw the MRDs in the parade when they participated, but I had no intentions of coming to JMU at that time.”

Martin was introduced to JMU’s marching band at CHOICES and said that it was one of the deciding factors that made her choose JMU.

“Having the chance to join such an amazing marching band was one of the deciding factors for me,” Martin said. “Now that I’m a senior and looking forward to a fifth marching season next year, I know I made the right decision. I am totally in love with the MRDs. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to represent the band, our school and Virginia in New York City.”

Saxman also said that JMU’s marching band influenced his decision to enroll.

“Each member of the MRDs is unbelievably hardworking and dedicated to this program and university,” Saxman said. “The MRDs embodies all of the traits that JMU hopes to instill in its students, and each of us feel a great deal of pride to represent our school on such a grand scale.”

The parade is broadcasted nationwide on NBC. Rikkers explained that television viewers only get a glance of the big show — they don’t get to see all of its preparation.

“The parade is actually two parts, the parade itself begins at Central Park and ends at Macy’s,” Rikkers said. “What we are used to watching on TV during Thanksgiving morning is actually an NBC production of the ‘end’ of the parade route.”

Since, according to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade website, JMU is one of the largest collegiate marching bands in the nation, the streets will be extremely crowded.

“One of the greatest challenges we face is fitting a group of our size in Herald Square in front of Macy’s,” Rikkers said. “Needless to say, it’s not an easy task fitting 485 people who are playing instruments and spinning flags to fit into a city street less than a half city block long, but we will make it work.”

With all of the preparation, the band is well versed in its agenda.

“During these last few weeks, Mr. Rikkers has reminded us quite frequently that we will be performing for millions of people,” Martin said. “Even so, I have no worries because I am confident that the MRDs will play their hearts out and pull a fantastic performance.”

Rikkers believes the performance will be a great representation of JMU.

“This is an experience not only beneficial to our students and our program, but it is also an opportunity to showcase the JMU community on a national and international scale,” Rikkers said.

Rikkers reiterated the excitement the MRDs feel to be representing JMU, the Shenandoah Valley and Virginia in such an iconic event that more than 3.5 million people in New York alone will be watching and more than 50 million nationwide.

Tune into NBC at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning to see the MRDs performance.

Contact Emily Catherine Wood at wood3ec@dukes.jmu.edu.