Bryan Hughes had been told all week while in New York City preparing to perform with the Macy’s Great American Marching Band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to take the time to look up.
So as the Forsyth Central High School senior took off with the band from West 77th Street and Central Park West, turning left on Central Park South and then right on 6th Avenue, he stole momentary glances at the scene around him.
Everywhere Hughes looked, he saw people, and not just lining the streets. He saw them on rooftops. He saw them through windows, their faces pressed against the glass.
“No matter where you were, you could see so many people,” Hughes said. “That was probably one of the coolest parts to me, being able to look up and see all those different people and be like, ‘Whoa.’”
Hughes relished the chance to perform in the annual Thanksgiving parade that has become a cultural marker for the start of the winter holiday season, and the Great American Marching Band has been a staple of the event since its inaugural performance in 2006. The band bills itself as being comprised of “America’s finest high school musicians,” according to its website, and it selects 185 musicians and approximately 40 flags and dancers from around the country.
Hughes was familiar with the band. A member of Central’s Flash of Crimson marching band percussion section, Hughes knew Nick Tucker, a former Central student, who participated in the parade in 2012, and Central’s marching band director often reminded members of the opportunity.
“I was like, ‘Well, it’s my senior year, I might as well see if I can do it,’” Hughes said.
Hughes applied in March. For his audition, he had to take a video of himself performing basic skills and a solo. In July, he received a letter notifying him he’d been selected.
Hughes received music for the band’s performance, titled “Think,” a few weeks before leaving for New York, and he spent up to an hour each day practicing it. He flew to New York on his own a few days before Thanksgiving. He was whisked off to the band’s hotel on his arrival.
The next few days were split between practice and site-seeing. Hughes saw Times Square, took a tour of Radio City Music Hall and caught a Broadway performance of “Wicked.”
The day of the parade, Hughes and the band loaded up on buses at 2 a.m. to do a rehearsal for NBC at Harold’s Square.
At 5 a.m., they got breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then they went back outside to wait until the parade started at 9 a.m.
“Which sucked in 9-degree weather,” Hughes said.
But once they stepped off, Hughes was caught up in the moment. He was pleased with the band’s performance, and his own, and Hughes said he will never forget the people he saw and met along the way.
“I made some great friends along the way,” Hughes said, “probably some lifelong friends from all over the country. And also, the amount of people that were in buildings and up on rooftops. That was just really spectacular.”