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Strike Up the Band

band lead

photographs by Raymond Thompson Jr.

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At the edge of Central Park in New York City, the engines in a police motorcade revved. A woman at the head of the assembled motorcycles wore a microphone clipped to her head and held up her hand high in the air, signaling to wait, wait, wait. The band behind them practiced numbers. The feature twirlers tossed their batons and rubbed their hands to keep warm. And then at the magic moment, confetti burst into the air and the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started with the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band taking the lead in an event that has been the way to start Thanksgiving for as long as many of us remember.


The band of nearly 400 West Virginia University students was ahead of the sign announcing the parade, the giant balloon of Charlie Brown tangled in a kite and the rest of the lineup of bands, floats and balloons.

Along the way, Mountaineer fans cheered, shouted encouragement, and in one case, released gold and blue balloons from a balcony on the parade route.

You got to see your band on the TV for not much more than a minute as they played George Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band.” But their journey began sometime around 1 a.m. as they put on their uniforms, hoisted their instruments from piccolo to tuba, and walked onto buses that took them into a moment of glory for them and an entire University. 

We followed them on that journey. It was long. It was funny. It was tiring. It was exhilarating. Here, you take that journey with them.

— Diana Mazzella

getting ready
Before 2 a.m. band members gather to load their instruments on the buses and put the final touches on their uniforms.
bus ridecrossing NYC street
(Left)Band members prepare to disembark one of nine buses that transported the band and staff from West Virginia and around New York City. (right)  Students walk in downtown New York City to rehearse before the parade.
rehearsal
Feature twirler Mia Nordon performs in a warm-up before the 3 a.m. broadcast rehearsal on empty streets closed to traffic.
refearsalwarm-ups
(left)The band has only a few minutes in front of Macy's to practice their routine that later appeared on your screens Thanksgiving morning. (right)A drum major leads her section in the hour before the parade begins.
parade route
Mountaineer fans made their voices heard throughout the parade route.
trumpetkeeping warm
parade
The color guard swirls their flags.