November 28 will see the unfurling of the 87th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an affair that attracts some 3.5 million spectators and reaches 50 million television viewers each year, according to the department store. The parade’s original six-mile route in 1924 stretched from 145th Street in Harlem to Herald Square, and, back then, Central Park Zoo animals accompanied the procession of floats, clowns, and marching bands. (The animals were replaced with the event’s signature giant character helium balloons in 1927.)
Around 8,000 people, many Westchester residents, participate in the parade, including staff volunteers from the chain’s White Plains store, as well as non-employees. We asked three parade veterans what it feels like to be a part of the iconic event.
The Band Director
Bob Vitti, director of the Port Chester High School Marching Band, leads a group that has made two parade appearances, in 1997 and in 2003. The 140-member company consists of 96 students playing wind instruments, a 24-student percussions section, and a 20-member color guard.
How are the bands selected?
Vitti: There is an extensive audition process in which we have to prepare marching music and submit a resumé of accomplishments. This is all evaluated by a committee in the Macy’s office.
Was holding those instruments for the entire 2.5-mile route tiring for your kids?
Vitti: We worked on our students’ endurance by hiking and marching around the high school track, as well as through the streets of Port Chester.
The band played “Tonight” from West Side Story when they reached Herald Square in 1997 and Georges Bizet’s “Farandole” in 2003.
Vitti: Yes, those were exciting pieces; it was extremely fun to choreograph them in a small area for drill movement. The kids were on task and executed every move in their marching and playing.
What was it like appearing before thousands of spectators?
Vitti: It was astounding. We were very proud as a community and school district to represent Port Chester.
The Balloon Handler
Thanks to her children, Theresa Greto knew of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. So when a friend in Macy’s HR department sponsored the 54-year-old Greenburgh resident last year, she was ready to help hoist, and walk, the 60-foot-long, 25-foot-wide, and 56-foot-tall balloon version of Wimpy’s beloved Greg Heffley.
What kind of training did you receive from organizers?
Greto: It’s hard work holding the balloon line. We saw a video and had instructors that taught us. They stressed the importance of staying in line and at all times being focused on your balloon, because you can get caught up in all the excitement.
What was the big-day experience like?
Greto: Honestly, I felt like a celebrity. At one point, I was able to run by the crowds—all the kids wanted to give me a high-five.
The Teen Performer
A lot of local teenagers have gone to Stagedoor Manor, the performing arts camp in the Catskills. Larchmont’s Ian Palmer, a freshman at The New School in Manhattan, has been part of the Stagedoor ensemble that’s sung and danced at the last four Macy’s parades.
Have you learned anything from doing the parade?
Palmer: Performing in Herald Square is such an adrenaline rush. It has taught me the value of working diligently under time pressures, and being amenable to change. When you’re working on an event that big, your choreography is subject to adjustments for reasons that are out of your control.
Are you singing live in all of those past performances?
Palmer: Because of the acoustic issues presented in performing outdoors, what was heard on television was a combination of live voices and a pre-recorded track.
How special is it, for you, to be part of this holiday tradition?
Palmer: The parade was a very big deal in my house growing up. My uncle’s office overlooked the parade route, so we’d go each year to watch all the floats go by. Having gotten to be a part of it was definitely not an experience I can forget.