'Best Band' hitting the Big Apple

'Best Band' hitting the Big Apple

Before sitting down to stuff your face on Thanksgiving, you'll be able to watch — from home — the Marching Illini.

Not at Memorial Stadium but in the 89th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be televised to an audience of 50 million.

The "Best Band in the Land" will perform — for the first time ever — in the famed parade in New York City. The Marching Illini will have the coveted position of coming just before Santa Claus toward the end of the parade.

Conductor Barry Houser applied more than a year ago to have the Marching Illini strut their stuff in New York on Turkey Day. The application package included a video of the band in action.

"Macy's really loved our video and what we're about, the very rich and strong history of the Marching Illini," Houser said. "That was a big part of it."

Indeed, the University of Illinois boasts the nation's oldest collegiate marching band program.

The UI marching band also was the first to have a college fight song, the first to move in and out of formation while playing, the first to perform a halftime show and the first to perform during radio and television broadcasts.

So you'll want to watch them Thursday, where they will be among more than 8,000 participants in the big parade. Here are more details:

— Only three other university marching bands were selected for the parade: the Stephen F. Austin State University Lumberjack Marching Band, the University of Virginia Cavalier Marching Band and the West Chester University Golden Rams.

— The Marching Illini musicians, staff and equipment will travel to New York in seven, 55-passenger chartered buses.

— They will leave today and expect to arrive Monday morning in New York, where they will stay at the Times Square Sheraton. They'll depart the Big Apple on Thanksgiving evening to head to Chicago to perform at the Nov. 29 game at Northwestern at Soldier Field.

— The first thing the Marching Illini will do in NYC? Hit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan.

— Who's paying for the trip? Houser said the students are covering part of it, including side trips and "touristy things." The university provided for the transportation, and the band's 375 members also raised money to help pay the costs.

— Rehearsals? The Marching Illini will rehearse Wednesday in an indoor soccer facility in New Jersey. The band has practiced its Macy's material here on campus, too, working on it in earnest after the home game last Saturday against Ohio State.

Another rehearsal — really a run through — will take place at 3 a.m. Thanksgiving Day before the NBC cameras at Herald Square — Broadway, Sixth Avenue and 34th Street. "All the bands have to do that," Houser said.

— What will the Marching Illini play in the 2.5-mile parade? "An American Christmas," a medley of holiday favorites, and the "Illinois March" written by Edwin Franco Goldman.

— The Illini are scheduled to appear on the NBC telecast at 11:54 a.m. as they stop to perform in Herald Square.

— The live audience in New York: An estimated 3.5 million live.

— While it's the first time he's led the Marching Illini in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2015 marks the seventh time Houser will have led a marching band in the event.

Some area faces you may spot on Thursday

East Central Illinois students in the Marching Illini include:

Korrey Frichtl, sousaphone, Bondville

Zachary Benmamoun, trumpet, Champaign

Heather Brooks, trumpet, Champaign

Emily Delacruz, clarinet, Champaign

Aidan Healy, trumpet, Champaign

Zoe Kosmopoulos, baritone, Champaign

Andrew Myers, trombone, Champaign

Jacob Ramsey, alto saxophone, Champaign

Suzie Reardanz, trombone, Champaign

Will Small, trumpet, Champaign

Nicholas Wurl, sousaphone, Champaign

Wyatt Dozier, sousaphone, Ivesdale

Carson Satchwell, mellophone, LeRoy

Austin Coe, baritone, Loda

Christopher Bletzinger, trombone, Mahomet

Robert Butler, trombone, Mahomet

Margaret Dahl, color guard, Mahomet

Chloe Hanson, piccolo, Mahomet

Charles White, trumpet, Mahomet

Alexie Wright, color guard, Mahomet

Bailey Clancy, trumpet, Mansfield

Meredith Blanford, piccolo, Paris

Emilie Emberton, clarinet, Paris

Ian Lee, trombone, Paxton

Kryslin Sharp, color guard, Philo

Cassandra Smith, color guard, Rossville

Jessica Porter, color guard, Seymour

Lauren Gable, piccolo, Urbana

Ben Lash, trombone, Urbana

Jordi Pakey-Rodriguez, alto saxophone, Urbana

William Pritchard, trumpet, Urbana

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