Snoopy Meets Daft Punk: Finale at Herald Square

So fellow travelers, some of my readers have been asking what happened when the Baldwinsville Marching Band reached  Herald Square.  So we pick up the story as the kids march out of sight, rounding the corner at Columbus Circle, heading, via 59th street,  for Sixth Avenue.

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As any viewer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade knows, the final stop of the parade route is Herald Square. What I did not realize until the first parent meeting last August was the Herald Square viewing area would be completely inaccessible to anyone who did not have a VIP ticket. In fact for several blocks before the 6th avenue/35th street crossing there is a strictly enforced “silent zone” due to the broadcast of performances at Herald Square. The only way to see the kids final performance would be to watch the broadcast on TV and in fact only on NBC, which has exclusive rights to the Herald Square portion of the parade. So parents were faced with a tough decision; go to NYC and watch theirs kids march in the parade or stay home and watch their Herald Square performance on TV. For me there was no question I’d be on a New York City street corner watching them march.

A handful of parents managed to obtain rooms in hotels with views of the parade route and one family had friends with an apartment at 67th street and Central Park West, so they were able to see the kids march and then watch them perform about 45 minutes later at Herald Square.

The Herald Square performance was unique because it featured a special set of music and field style marching moves which would not be seen anywhere else during the parade.  In fact bands are forbidden to perform their Herald Square sequence at any other venue prior to the parade, except of course during practice and rehearsals. Our band asked for and received special permission to do a practice performance at the high school’s homecoming football game. They had also done some “standstill” performances of their Herald Square music which reflected, as I mentioned in an earlier post, their assigned category of “contemporary relevant.”  The director had chosen a piece by the  Pentatonix  a popular vocal group  with amazing vocal dynamics and diversity.  (I’m willing to bet if you have a Facebook account you saw the video of their harmonic version of “Mary Did You Know?” which circulated during the holidays. )  The Marching Bees would be performing their Daft Punk Mix, a funky mash-up of synthpop songs created by two French musicians who first hit the music charts in the 90’s and are still “relevant” now with their album Random Access Memory winning album of the year at the 2014 grammy awards. Known as much for the visual storytelling elements in their performances and mysterious robotic helmet disguises,  Daft Punk proved a perfect match for our kids whose field band shows earn standing ovations season after season, whether the judges score them well or not.

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To prepare for their nationally televised performance at Herald Square, an exact replica of the Macy’s Star was painted in a back parking lot on the school campus. In between preparations and rehearsals for the field show  Death of Superman ( a potential blog series of its ownthe band also worked on the Daft Punk performance.  I’ve described how the band director prepared the kids for the long cold march through the streets of New York.

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Once at Herald Square they would be expected to run to their positions at the star and perform flawlessly, hitting all their marks, smiling for the cameras for millions to see.  The actual process of running accurately into position was a big focus in their later practices.

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(Photo Note: staff photo of the 3am, yes that’s 3AM, practice run at Herald Square.  Notice the distance markers and TV cameras in front.  Producers watch the rehearsals to be sure the kids are “hitting” their marks.  Bville was so well prepared they only needed two practice runs to get final approval.)

I’ve lifted the bells my daughter plays into the back of my SUV.  I doubt I would be smiling if I had to run a full New York city block with them strapped to my cold, tired body which had just marched two and a half miles on freezing concrete streets.

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Yet later that day, when we watched the DVR recording of their performance on my brother’s High Def TV, there she was, along with her 160 plus bandmates running, smiling and Daft Punking their way into the hearts of America. We had to run the video frame by frame to catch a glimpse of her running on and off at the beginning and end of the performance.  The standing percussion instruments were lined up outside the camera view of the main performance, but one can hear the bells loud and clear throughout the performance.

The Pentatonix were also in the parade, but on a float about a half hour after our band. Weird right?  Why not place them right behind our kids; but parents who went to a meet and greet at the Hard Rock Cafe the day before the parade said the group was excited to have a high school band performing their version of Daft Punk’s music.

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It was a surreal experience, watching my phone light up with the posts on social media as the band was performing live at Herald Square.

“Wow great job kids!”  “Baldwinsville you’ve made us so proud.”  “Herald Square is shining with Bee Pride.”

At that moment, my husband and I were working our way through the NYC transit system to get across town to the designated location for parents picking up their kids after the parade. I had promised my daughter she would still get to have a full Thanksgiving Dinner so we had to make the rendezvous on time or she would be riding the bus back home. Thanks to the generosity of my brother and sister-in-law who were hosting her family at their home in New Jersey, we made good on that promise.

We had no idea how long it would take for the kids to get to the pickup location.  They had to march over to the public library for their professional post parade group shot, head back to their hotel, change out of uniforms, pick up their luggage and have one of the buses bring the kids staying behind to the rendezvous point to meet their parents. By the time my daughter stepped off the bus into my big Mom hug we were all feeling pretty jet lagged and we still had to get to my brother’s house for dinner.  Still, she came to life when I asked her how it felt to do the parade. Her face glowed with excitement. “Mom, I just had no idea there would be so many people.  The further we marched the crowds just kept getting massive.  It was so crazy when we got to Herald Square, we just ran on and did the show. It was amazing.  You guys were right.  This is something I will never forget.”

and that’s when my heart overflowed into tears of joy.

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(If you would like to see the band’s Herald Square performance, this link will bring you to the YouTube file of the broadcast from NBC . Also, my daughter’s amazing experience with her fellow band members was possible because of a network of tremendous community support.  You can read about that here. )

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

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