By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
For most families across the country, watching Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade on television has become the traditional way to begin this special November holiday. It is always a colorful spectacle with huge character balloons floating high amid the city’s tall buildings, elaborate floats, previews of Broadway shows, well known entertainers, and premier marching bands. This year in particular, probably every TV set in West Virginia was tuned in to see the West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band – better known as “The Pride” – march down 34th Street in New York City!
According to WVU news releases, from 175 applications only ten bands were selected to take part in this year’s 90th parade, and The Pride was the only collegiate band in the lineup.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee called it an honor for the students, the school and the state of West Virginia to have The Pride take part in such a prestigious event. “I cannot think of a better representative of the pride, character and charisma of West Virginia than the Mountaineer Marching Band, and I am glad the rest of the world will get to experience a little bit of this feeling on Thanksgiving,” President Gee remarked.
This was a FIRST in the history of West Virginia University! And exposing The Pride to “the rest of the world” was not much of an exaggeration since the parade airs to a TV audience of an estimated fifty million viewers – not including the three plus million parade spectators lining the streets in the Big Apple on Thanksgiving Day!
Certainly the trip to NYC was an experience of a lifetime for WVU band members and an opportunity for them to see at least some of the sights while in the city. It was no doubt a thrilling trip for the students as well as a tiring one! Macy’s parade appearance was the band’s third performing appearance in a week’s time. They had first traveled to Wheeling to take part in the Festival of Lights Parade there … followed by their New York-themed halftime show during the WVU vs. Oklahoma football game … and then it was off to Times Square!
While it was predicted that the Mountaineer Band was to be positioned early in the lineup, most people probably tuned in close to 9 a.m. for the broadcast. However, band students had a much earlier wake-up call in the wee hours of the morning to make a rehearsal call in front of cameras at 3 a.m. in front of Macy’s where they performed their well-rehearsed rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Strike Up The Band’.
Yes, there were Mountaineer fans cheering them on along the parade route, and at one point, Pride members noticed a large release of blue and gold balloons being released from a balcony! Mountaineer fans are everywhere!
What a source of “pride” they were! Although the clip showed not more than a minute of their performance in front of Macy’s, it showcased very well their talent. Their colorful uniforms in brilliant blue and gold were recognizable as were the feathery plumes on their hats wafting in the chilly air. They turned and exited the camera area with precision and marched off to what else but “Country Roads”!
Thrilling – YES – but also a quite expensive trip! Imagine … nine charter buses were required to transport the 400-member band along with their uniforms, instruments, etc. from the hills of the Mountain State to the streets of New York, New York. Add to this tab the hundred+ hotel rooms and thousands of meals during their stay! Although the Pride Travel Fund, established by the WVU Foundation, supports the band as they travel across the country representing the University, many alumni, friends, and fans sent additional contributions to help defray the expenses associated with this once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgiving trip.
Paul Kreider, dean of the WVU College of Creative Arts, said the University was extremely proud of the band and its staff, and concluded, “We were excited that they had this opportunity to show the world what we already know – that the Mountaineer Marching Band is one of the best in the nation!”
If you caught Macy’s 2016 Thanksgiving Day Parade airing, you know that “The Pride” is a very suitable nickname!