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Big Apple Bound! Brownsburg High School marching band to perform in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

By Lindsay Doty

Mackenzie Gillespie usually spends Thanksgiving morning doing food prep in the kitchen with her family while catching glimpses of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the nearby TV.

“We are always busy, but we have it on. If there is a band, we will sit and watch,” explains the 17-year-old senior at Brownsburg High School.

Senior drum major Mackenzie Gillespie salutes the crowd before the band’s final outdoor run through of their show Fly Away Nov. 4. (Photo by Gretchen Becker)

This year, plans look different. She’ll be one marching down Manhattan. Gillespie is a member of the Brownsburg High School (BHS) marching band, Sound of Brownsburg, that will be performing in the historic parade viewed by millions.

“I’m stoked. I’m so so excited!” says the BHS drum major.

For the first time in school history, Brownsburg is one of 10 marching bands selected out of hundreds of submissions to be part of the parade that will air live on NBC on Thanksgiving.

They’ll perform a number from the Cirque du Soleil show, Alegria, titled “Mirko” for their 34th Street performance.

“This is definitely a dream of many band students and directors. This is probably the biggest ‘stage’ many of these students will ever perform on,” said band director Chris Kaflik, who has been working tirelessly with fellow band directors Tracy Runyon and John Marque to get the dedicated students performance-ready.

“I know the students are excited to perform. That’s why they do what they do,” he said.

Macy’s has been an opportunity in the works for years. The journey has come with some hiccups along the way.

BHS applied to be part of the parade in 2017 and 2019 and didn’t make the cut, but band leaders were encouraged to apply again. After a year of more hard work, the marching band received an invitation in 2020 to perform in the parade, but plans were canceled when COVID-19 hit.

This year, the Macy’s parade committee pushed the full roster of bands scheduled for 2020 to 2021.

“I think it’s awesome they said to come back,” said Gillespie. 

The Sound of Brownsburg also invited the 2020 seniors back if they could attend rehearsals.

In a matter of days, the 205-member band along with staff, volunteers and family members will be packing their layers and making the trip to the Big Apple. They will take three chartered flights to New York. The instruments, equipment, uniforms will be driven by the band semi to New Jersey where they are staying.

“This is a crazy process, and our fine arts administrative assistant Angie Boyer spent countless hours putting that puzzle together,” said Kaflik.

The 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the 95th annual, is expected to be back to its pre-pandemic form with its route restored through Manhattan with high-flying giant helium balloons once again pulled by handlers, performers, floats and crowds welcomed back to cheer them on.

Watch it live on Thanksgiving morning. The 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air at 9 a.m. Nov. 25 on NBC.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the students to do their thing on a different stage and an opportunity to showcase the amazing work the students and staff are doing at Brownsburg,” said Kaflik.

Since before school started members have been perfecting every note, motion and step. They’ve also impressed with arguably the best competition season the band has on record.

On Nov. 6, The Sound of Brownsburg took fifth place — tying 2019 for the highest finish the band has ever had  — at the state finals for the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) Open Class A with their 2021 show “Fly Away.” 

In October, they received first place at the Bands of America Northwest Ohio Regional Championship on Oct. 2 in Toledo, Ohio.

Jordan Whitehead, BHS xylophone player, performs in the Sound of Brownsburg pit. The Brownsburg High School Marching Band will perform excerpts from its show Fly Away during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Photo by Gretchen Becker)

“Toledo was a big performance. Ever since then we’ve just been getting better,” said Gillsepie.

“As the weeks go on, it brings lots of anticipation.”

Gillespie says she’s looking forward to that 3 a.m. practice along the parade route.

“I can’t wait. It will be super early, but we get to do the route.”

On their journey, the close-knit band will also be making time for some sightseeing. They plan to visit the American Museum of Natural History, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, ice skate at Rockefeller Center and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner cruise on the Hudson River.

“They will see the entire New York City skyline, go right past the Statue of Liberty and it’ll be an amazing end to the performance day,” said Kaflik.

He says some students have never traveled to New York or flown on an airplane before. It will be a trip of firsts and an experience to remember for years to come.

“These students will never watch the parade the same way,” he said. “They’ll know the ins and outs of the parade, they’ll remember that street or that corner and they’ll definitely remember their performance at Herald Square on 34th Street.”

Sound of Brownsburg Macy’s trip by the numbers:

Number of bands from Indiana: Just one, BHS

Total travel group: 500 (chaperones, volunteers, staff and band members) 

Mode of transportation: Airplane

Equipment transported by: Band semi

Parade practice route time: 3 a.m.

Thanksgiving meal plans: Dinner cruise on the Hudson



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