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Marching band making plans for Thanksgiving 2014 after scoring another parade invitation

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

When the 400-plus members of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band leave campus for the Thanksgiving holiday break next year, it won’t exactly be a matter of “over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.” That is, unless grandma lives in the Big Apple, because Western Carolina’s marching band is one of only 10 from across the nation invited to participate in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Representatives of the Macy’s parade visited campus at the end of the spring semester to surprise the marching musicians with the invitation to take part in the 2014 edition of the annual holiday spectacular. Band members had assembled in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center under the guise that they were attending a mandatory organizational meeting when Wesley Whatley, the parade’s creative director, broke the news.

Macy's Parade

David Starnes, director of the Pride of the Mountains, displays a commemorative parade drum head.

“It’s my job to look across the country to find the best bands, the most entertaining bands, the most fantastic, most fabulous bands to represent their states and perform in our event,” said Whatley. “This year we received well over 175 applications from bands across the country and even some international groups. We selected 10 from over 175. And let me tell you this: your name – Western Carolina University – was the first band I wrote up on the board, the very first. It was a resounding yes from our committee. It was so clear. And that’s a testament to all of you.”

Whatley also unveiled a parade banner and presented a commemorative drum head to David Starnes, director of the Pride of the Mountains, as the students showered Starnes with a rain of colorful confetti. “We’re not going to do this in a way where we go up and go, ‘Hi New York, bye New York,’” Starnes told the band members. “The trip that we’re looking at right now would have us in New York on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday of Thanksgiving, Friday after Thanksgiving and drive back Friday night, so we’re talking about a week in New York City the week of Thanksgiving.”

For students such as Joel Gerome Jeffries Jr., a junior education major, the Macy’s invite represents the latest accolade bestowed upon the WCU marching band. “Being a member and now drum major of the Pride of the Mountains has given me many opportunities to experience things that most college students aren’t able to say they’ve done: marching in the Rose Parade in California, performing halftime for a Carolina Panthers football game, and performing for the largest marching band stage in the country at Bands of America Grand Nationals in Indianapolis,” Jeffries said. “These opportunities are tremendous and now the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is able to add on another major experience to the books.”

The band received the 2009 Sudler Trophy, presented by the John Philip Sousa Foundation, considered the nation’s ultimate honor for college and university bands. When the WCU marching band appeared in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., it won “favorite band” in a poll conducted by KTLA-TV, earning 72,287 votes – 40 percent of all votes cast in the poll and more than any of the parade’s other musical groups. And now comes the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Founded in 1924, the parade attracts more than 3.5 million spectators lining the streets of New York and 50 million at-home viewers.