Champaign duo off to New York for Macy's parade

CHAMPAIGN — When the Macy's Thanksgiving parade kicks off Thursday, two Champaign students will see it from the street, as a part of the Macy's Great American Marching Band.

Central High drum major Sophia Magro and Centennial High drum major Erica Allender will go to New York City over Thanksgiving to participate. Both are looking forward to it.

"It's just such a unique opportunity," said Allender, a junior. "It's something I will never forget."

Both students connected to the band through the Smith-Walbridge drum major clinic at Eastern Illinois University. Participants in the program are automatically accepted to Macy's band, said Barry Houser, one of Macy's Great American Marching Band's directors. He's also director of the Smith-Walbridge clinics and the Marching Illini, as well as assistant director of bands at the University of Illinois.

Allender will play the mellophone in the band, and said she has to memorize the music, "Disco Inferno" and an original song written for the band this year, the parade's 85th anniversary.

She said she's looking most to spending time with other musicians "and the experience as a whole, just soaking it in."

Allender said she was a little uncertain about sending an application, but a friend who's done it in the past encouraged her.

It was a harder decision She said she's looking forward most to spending time with other musicians "and the experience as a whole, just soaking it in."

Allender said she was a little uncertain about sending an application, but a friend who's done it in the past encouraged her.

It was a harder decision for Magro, a senior who will be one of the Great American Marching Band's two drum majors. Central's band will spend Thanksgiving in Florida, and she had to decide which trip she wanted to take.

"It was just such an honor that they asked me, so I thought that would be the better thing to do," Magro said.

She said she's excited about her choice.

"I just feel like this is going to be something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," she said.

Plus, her dad, who's from Centerville, Ohio, marched in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade with his high school band.

Magro said she believes the parade's 6-mile length and the early start will be challenges.

"It's going to be a long day," she said. She's also a little nervous about directing a band of strangers, but she knows the other drum major, whom she's gotten to know through three years at drum major camp.

She's been to New York City twice, and is most excited about seeing "Sister Act" with the band because she's interested in theater.

Houser said Allender and Magro will do well in the band.

"The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of those opportunities of a lifetime that many people do not get to participate in," he said.

"The opportunity for Erica and Sophia to participate in this great parade will build character (and) passion for their craft, amongst other things. ... Not many people can say they performed in front of 2.5 million live spectators and over 50 million watching from home."

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