Beyond after-school and weekend practices, the Tarpon Springs High School marching band works during class periods to learn the music that will be performed at the Macy’s Day Parade, along with new pieces for competitions and football games
TARPON SPRINGS – The Tarpon Springs High School marching band keeps a busy schedule. Practice every day after school. Football games Friday nights. Competitions on the weekends. And then, tucked neatly between the Suncoast Jazz Classic and winter vacation is a special notation: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On Nov. 25, band leader Kevin Ford will leave Tampa International Airport with about 200 students on their way to New York City where they will perform in the parade and on TV.
“For all of our band members, this is a historical moment, a huge point of pride for them,” Ford said. “We’re teaching our students that if you want something great in life, you have to work for it. You have to earn it.”
One of just 11 bands chosen to perform, Tarpon Springs’ band was selected out of more than 150 applicants. A group of Macy’s employees with marching band experience pick performers based on résumé, recommendations and a videotaped performance.
“It was clear from their résumé and performance that the Tarpon band has a commitment to excellence both on and off the field,” said Wesley Whatley, the creative director of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “What they have going on there is exceptional. They’re serious about doing it right and being the best.”
The invitation to the parade isn’t the band’s first accolade, but it’s certainly the greatest, Ford said.
The band leader, who also serves as director of the Leadership Conservatory for The Arts at Tarpon Springs High School, has a history of excellence himself. Ford was named visual Designer for The Drum Corps International Walt Disney World Honor Corps in 2005, served on the Music Educators National Conference Blue Ribbon Panel in Washington, D.C., in 2009 and was hired as Artistic Designer for the opening ceremonies to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Soccer Games in South Korea.
Over the years, under Ford’s leadership, the Tarpon Springs band has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center, and the Chicago Symphony Hall.
“We have a saying around here: practice the way you want to perform,” said junior Alex Amorello. “So we practice to be perfect.”
To get to New York, the marching band will have to raise nearly $350,000, covering plane tickets, equipment costs and transportation once they get there. It won’t be easy, but they have a plan.
“Part of Leadership Conservatory is that it teaches students that they’re responsible for helping row the boat,” said Stefanie Markham, co-president of the Tarpon Springs Band Boosters. “They can’t put it all on their parents.”
On Aug. 30, there was a Tag Sale at Lucky Dill. On Sept. 14, the band benefited from the Tarpon Band Golf Classic at Crescent Oaks Country Club. And on Sept. 1, the booster club hosted the Bands on the Bayou festival.
Children and parents alike flitted around Craig Park, sandwiched between food trucks and face painters and serenaded by six local bands, including New Cathedral and Not Tonight Josephine.
Kathleen Barbiere, a member of the booster club who helped plan and run the festival, said she looked mainly to Tarpon Springs businesses and residents for participation.
“I’ve been contacted by past alumni, people in the community, people who don’t even know who (the band is),” Barbiere said. “There are so many people willing to help with this who really want to see these kids get to the parade.”
And still, between classes and fundraisers and football games, the 200 students have to find time to practice, four times a week after school and every Saturday.
Senior Sheridan Markham said that training the freshmen to live up to the standards of the band has been difficult, but she’s loved the opportunity to help them learn.
“It’s fun to watch the freshmen grow,” she said. “We want to train them to follow us so they can excel when they’re seniors.”
Ford said he’s been developing a plan for their performance since last year when they were selected.
For the parade, the marching band will perform a mix of original and familiar songs, including Phillip Phillip’s “Home,” in what Ford’s calling “There’s No Place Like Home.”
Tarpon Spring’s TV performance will be a re-creation of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous 1945 V-J Day in Times Square photo of a sailor kissing a nurse, complete with iconic music and ’40s-era costumes.
“We were trying to think of what Thanksgiving means, and for a lot of people, it means reunions,” Ford said. “We’re doing a patriotic American twist.”
In the dark auditorium of Tarpon Springs High School, with the blinding white lights and the deep red curtains, that twist is clear. Old classics rearranged, but still easily recognized. And above the piccolos and the saxophones and the trombones, assistant director Chris De Leon’s voice rings out, reminding the high school students of the magnitude of their performance:
“Fifty-two million people will watch you do this.”