Strike up the band: MIHS students selected to perform at 2023 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City

This was not an April Fool’s Day joke, said Jen McLellan with a smile.

The Mercer Island School District’s band curriculum and organizational support manager couldn’t wait for the immense announcement to be unveiled on the morning of April 1 in the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Performing Arts Center.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade creative producer Wesley Whatley surprised a packed auditorium by informing attendees that the Islander marching band was selected as one of 10 national bands to perform at the famous parade in 2023 in New York City. As a bonus, Macy’s Bellevue store manager Ryan Ramoso handed off a $10,000 check to help kick start the school’s fundraising to attend the event.

This will be the band’s inaugural performance at the parade, which has featured bands captivating millions of live spectators and viewers nationwide since 1924. The MIHS band was one of more than 100 applicants aiming for a coveted spot in the parade.

Band members from MIHS and Islander Middle School attended the half-hour program and unleashed their enthusiasm after Whatley’s announcement.

“Our organization believes in providing a national stage and a spotlight for the finest musicians in the U.S. That search has led me here to you,” Whatley said while building up to the big moment.

Whatley told the Reporter following the event that the MIHS band stood out because the selection committee saw the joy the musicians brought to the audience. The energy they displayed while performing on the football field will translate to the streets of New York, he said.

“The Macy’s parade is really all about entertaining audiences, so we look for marching bands truly who know how to entertain. What was special about Mercer Island, as the high school, they perform music that audiences really relate to, they have fun on the field. It makes them very unique,” Whatley added.

McLellan noted that the band adds a touch of whimsy to its show while nailing down precision and professionalism. She said it will be fun to create, practice and hone a new show specific for Macy’s before taking it on the road to New York.

School district Superintendent Donna Colosky and band director Parker Bixby praised the students for garnering such a stellar achievement.

“This is a huge celebration for you,” Bixby said.

Jacob Krieger, also a band director, added after the event: “I’m just so proud of the hard work of the students. Everything that you just saw, the reaction in there, is the payoff of two years of commitment in what has been the most challenging time for the performing arts ever, and I could just not be more proud of the students.”

MIHS hopes to take about 200 band members in grades 9-12 to New York along with chaperones and directors, according to Krieger. He said it will take hundreds of hours of hard work by all the participants to prepare for the parade. McLellan added that they’ll start shopping for a trip provider and begin 18 months of fundraising to bring everyone along for the musical ride.

Senior Matthew Kurt, who plays trombone and sousaphone, feels that the future of the band program is in solid hands.

“I know that’s going to really get students going and build a really, really strong community. And that bond is going to keep this band program going for years and years. I know kids are going to remember it in the same way that when we were freshmen, we had an opportunity to do something similar in Pasadena, California, for the Tournament of Roses Parade,” he said.

Added senior Derek D’Souza, who plays French horn and mellophone: “I’m really excited to see the seventh-graders and eighth-graders finally get to experience what we’ve experienced with Pasadena. (Through the band community) you really feel the energy and everybody’s very close with each other, everybody knows everybody’s names. It’s just a very strong bond between people and that’s really important, especially here in high school.”