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Taking it to the streets: Rowan students to march in Macy’s Thanksgiving parade with WCU band

By Susan Shinn Turner
For the Salisbury Post

Imagine marching in the world’s largest parade, then having Thanksgiving dinner with 950 of your closest friends.

That’s what a group of 10 Western Carolina University students — who are Rowan County high school graduates — will be doing on Nov. 28 as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

WCU’s band, the Pride of the Mountains, has been invited for a second appearance at the famous parade. Led by David Starnes, WCU director of athletic bands, the group was notified in April 2018. At that time, Wesley Whatley, creative producer for the Macy’s parade, came to campus to deliver the good news.

“On behalf of the band selection committee, Macy’s is incredibly proud to welcome back Western Carolina University to the streets of New York City,” Whatley said. “David Starnes runs a program known for its artistic storytelling, big sound and highly engaging field shows. The Macy’s parade audience has a lot to look forward to when the Pride of the Mountains marching band returns to our parade in 2019.”

The band first appeared in the parade in 2014, and bands must wait at least five years before reapplying. But the WCU band is special, Whatley said.

“In most cases, it takes much longer for a group to receive another invitation, if at all,” he said. “WCU is a rare case — delivering such a special combination of artistry and big university sound that the committee couldn’t resist welcoming them back as soon as possible after the band’s five-year hiatus.”

The band was notified so early, Starnes said, because of the time it takes to secure finances, housing and food. He’s already made two visits to New York City to plan the trip, which will be on Nov. 23-29.

At 535 members, the band will be the largest that’s ever performed in the parade and one of only two college bands this year. Starnes said he had 650 students apply for membership.

“Every single major is represented,” he said. “We have students who are music majors, and we have students who loved band in high school and want to continue that experience. We are not a typical college band because we build innovation and leadership. We have 120 students on the leadership team.”

The band’s contingent from Rowan County includes Sarah Burris, Karlyn Dwinell and Lisa Roberts, all Carson High School alumni; Madison Lovingood, an East Rowan High school graduate; Camden Cohick, Anna Keener and Logan King of South Rowan High School; Luke Grenoble and Rebecca Lewis, Salisbury High School graduates; and Caitlyn McDonnell, a West Rowan High School graduate.

When Roberts saw an article about the band’s appearance in the parade, she thought, “I have to go there.”

The band definitely was a deciding factor for her to attend WCU, the freshman said.

“I’m an environmental science major, but there will always be a part of me that will love music,” Roberts said.

The flute player has never been to New York City and is eager to see what it’s like. As is King, a freshman baritone player.

“I’m a music major, and the music department in general was a big factor in my coming here,” King said. “The band is amazing. You’ve got to know your stuff. Everyone here is committed.”

King first visited Western Carolina as a junior in high school. “I just fell in love. This was the place to be.”

Lovingood, a marketing sophomore major, played with her high school marching band for four years, just like King and Roberts.

“I came to Western’s marching band summer camps for four years, so I just loved it here,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be in an elite college marching band. I just wanted that top-level experience.”

And that’s what she’s found at Western, she said.

Besides participating in the parade, the group will take in two Broadway musicals, see the Radio City Music hall Christmas Spectacular, visit the 9/11 and One World Trade sites, and enjoy a harbor cruise. The students will spend Thanksgiving with more than 950 family, friends and bandmates at the Marriott in Newark, New Jersey.

With this being five years after the first appearance, an all-new group of students is visiting New York, Starnes said. That means he’s taken more than 1,000 students in the two trips.

“We’re really honored to represent North Carolina,” he said. “We’re in a really good position in the parade, close to Santa. So viewership should be really high.”

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