From BGSU to the Big Apple: Jon Waters leading national Band Directors Marching Band to Macy's Thanksgiving Parade stage
Estimated Reading Time:
The 400-member band - which includes several BGSU alumni - highlights a legacy of service through music and the widespread impact of music education
By Victoria Dugger
In a resounding celebration of musical camaraderie and the power of music education, this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a unique ensemble led by Jon Waters, the director of the Falcon Marching Band and assistant teaching professor of Music Education at Bowling Green State University. The 400-member marching band known as the Band Directors Marching Band will take center stage during the 97th annual parade to showcase the collaborative essence of music education across the country and a legacy of service through music.
Waters, who joined the University in 2022, has been the director of the Band Directors Marching Band since the organization's inception in 2018. The Band Directors Marching Band is a collective of band directors hailing from various corners of the nation and is part of an effort to salute the extraordinary dedication and accomplishments of band directors everywhere. The band, which counts several BGSU music education alumni among its ranks, first came on the radar of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade organizers during the ensemble's Tournament of Roses Parade performance in Pasadena, California in January 2022.
"The whole inception of the project was a way to honor music educators and band directors from around the country, to bring awareness to what we do. There's really never been a band directors' band ever assembled - usually the band directors lead their students in a band and this was the first time that a band of actual band directors had been assembled," Waters said. "It's been a labor of love over these past years, and we thought it was going to be a one-and-done thing with the Rose Parade, where we came up with the first-ever band and float combination. When I got back from the Rose Parade, I got a call from the head of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and he said, 'We're just sorry we didn't get you guys in our parade first.'"
Waters noted that both the Rose Parade and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are the two hardest parades for directors to have their bands accepted into, calling them both highly competitive. He believes that the exposure and connections he's making will help to open the door to further such participation by the Falcon Marching Band, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary and is already slated to perform in the highly-regarded St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland, in 2025.
The strength and legacy of the BGSU music education programs will also be on display on Thanksgiving Day with the inclusion of BGSU music education alumni in the Band Directors Marching Band.
"BGSU has, in my humble opinion, the very best and largest music education program in the state of Ohio. If you look at the reach of our alumni and who they are and what they're doing these days, you will see that music educators and band directors who've been through the BGSU program are teaching literally all over the country," Waters said. "We have some alums in the Band Directors Marching Band, and if you look at schools all around our state and indeed the country - in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges - graduates from the Bowling Green music education program over the years are teaching in those positions."
Those directors nationwide jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be available for viewing on NBC network platforms starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23. The parade itself usually draws at least 50 million viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, making it among the most-watched parades in the nation.
The Band Directors Marching Band will converge upon New York City on Sunday, Nov. 19 to meet and rehearse the parade music as a 400-person unit for the first time. The playlist and some surprise elements of the band's performance are under wraps until the actual parade day, but Waters said the theme leans heavily on Americana and the message of giving thanks.
"The Macy's parade is unique in that it's about 2 1/2 miles long," Waters said. "The first two miles are all on the streets of New York. It starts at Central Park and comes down 6th Avenue and then it sort of stops about a block before the Macy's flagship store. The part of the parade that you see on TV is actually in Herald Square in front of the Macy's store, and we'll perform there."
Part of the mission of the Band Directors Marching Band is to encourage and conduct acts of service through music. The national Service Through Music program highlights contributions that band directors and their students make to their communities, and in that spirit, the Band Directors Marching Band will also be giving back while in New York City with a performance at the 9/11 Memorial on Monday, Nov. 20.
"This fall, we asked all of the band directors across the country to engage in some kind of service through music. Some bands play at veterans' homes or they'll play for our first responders, or with a special performance on the football field on Friday night at a game. A lot of those tributes tied into 9/11," Waters said. "For the New York trip, we are working with the 9/11 Memorial and the culminating experience for all these band directors who've done acts of musical service in their communities will be at Ground Zero in New York. We're going to have a wreath-laying ceremony and the band will play 'Amazing Grace' and 'Taps' and some other music there to honor first responders and those lost on Sept. 11."
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade appearance will provide the opportunity not only to recognize acts of service through music and say thank you to the nation's music educators, but also to showcase the impact that a career in music education has on both the teacher and the student.
"The reach of BGSU music education in the state of Ohio and beyond is really far and wide and this event will highlight music education. My hope is that it also brings the spotlight to Bowling Green State University and the people who've been through the program, and even more importantly for future generations of students," Waters said. "I hope that if our band inspires one fifth-grader who sees it to want to join her middle school band next year, or if it inspires one high school student to want to go into music education and join our profession, I think that we've done our job. I think the band truly represents music educators around the country and it represents the music education profession. When you think about the number of students these band directors have taught, it starts to become in the hundreds of thousands over their careers - maybe even a million students.
"I think this Macy's experience will show students, especially students looking to go into music education, that there's a wonderful and vibrant home for music education at Bowling Green State University and that by being in our program, the doors are going to be open for future experiences for our students, for parades such as these and many other experiences and opportunities."
Updated: 11/27/2023 03:54PM