BGSU marching band director to lead national band ensemble during 2023 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Celebrating the power of music education, this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature an ensemble led by Jon Waters, 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 on Thanksgiving Day to showcase the collaborative essence of music education across the country and a legacy of service through music. 

Waters, who joined BGSU 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 includes several BGSU music education alumni, 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. 

“There's really never been a band directors' band ever assembled – usually 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.

With the strength and legacy of BGSU music education programs on full display during this year’s parade, Waters hopes the exposure will help to open the door to further such participation by the Falcon Marching Band.

"BGSU has, in my humble opinion, the very best and largest music education program in the state of Ohio,” Waters said. “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.”

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is available for viewing nationwide on NBC network platforms starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23. The parade itself draws at least 50 million viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, making it among the most-watched parades in the nation.

Ahead of the parade, the Band Directors Marching Band will converge upon New York City on Monday, Nov. 19, to meet and rehearse the parade music as a full unit for the first time.

The playlist and some surprise elements of the band's performance are under wraps until the actual parade, 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. 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 and, in that spirit, the band will also be giving back with a performance at the 9/11 Memorial on Monday, Nov. 20.

"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.

"This experience will show students, especially those looking to go into music education, that there's a wonderful and vibrant home for music education at BGSU and that by being in our program, the doors are open for future experiences such as these. If our band inspires one fifth-grader to join their school band, or if it inspires one high school student to go into music education and join our profession, I think that we've done our job.”

Updated: 11/14/2023 01:50PM