Aaron Kennedy, a senior drum major at Massac County High School, is no stranger to recognition when it comes to music.
In fact, he will be making his second appearance this week at the Illinois Music Education Conference All State Music Festival in Peoria, the only MCHS music student to ever make back-to-back appearances at the prestigious state ensemble of the best musicians in the state.
But Kennedy, who plays the alto saxophone, might have just taken music recognition to the next level as he was recently selected to the 2012 Macy’s Great American Marching Band and performed with the best high school musicians in the United States at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City in November.
In just a few shorts months, Kennedy went from submitting an application to marching three miles down the streets of New York City.
Back in July, when he was attending the Smith Walbridge Drum Major Camp at Eastern Illinois University, he picked up the Macy’s band application. After submitting his music resume, he was notified in August of his selection.
With such an honor came a hefty price tag — $1500 from the organizers plus airfare. “But thanks to donations coming from the community, my entire trip was paid,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy and his mother and brother, Angie and David T. Kennedy, flew into LaGuardia Airport on Nov. 17, where he met up with other Macy band members for a shuttle ride to Newark, N.J. He would not see his family again until Thanksgiving afternoon.
For four days, over 200 students practiced inside an old armory building, which was converted into an indoor soccer field.
“We had to learn two songs plus a small routine that would be performed at Herald Square,” said Kennedy. Herald Square is where the largest Macy’s department store in the U.S. is located and the site where the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is televised.
“The rehearsals were very intense,” Kennedy explained. “The playing ability of the people I was with was better than anything I had been involved with before. And the band was very diverse, from kids who were coming from high school bands of 200 to some with just 20 fellow band students.”
Even though a lot of hard work went into the week, the students were escorted around New York City and were able to take in the sights, including a visit to Times Square; a view of the city from on “Top of the Rock” on top of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center, the Broadway play, Mama Mia, and — what Kennedy said was the most memorable experience — a tour of the World Trade Center Memorial. “Our guide was a woman who lost her son on 9-11,” said Kennedy.
Thanksgiving Day came early for Kennedy with a 2 a.m. wakeup call. The band rehearsed at Herald Square at 3 a.m.
“It was surprising to see all the people already there at Herald Square, sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for the parade, which didn’t begin until 9:30,” Kennedy chuckled. After a hearty breakfast at Hard Rock Café on Times Square, the band was bussed to Central Park for parade lineup.
“It was the longest parade I had ever marched, and we were told that an estimated 1 to 2 million people were watching just on the parade route, stated Kennedy. “For the parade, we played Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger but at Herald Square, we performed a small show to Hoagy Carmichael’s Lazy River.”
Later that day, a Thanksgiving meal and banquet were given to the band members along with their family and friends.
Also present from Massac County to see the parade were Kennedy’s brother, Bradley, and Steve and Debbie Christiansen, who arrived to New York City later in the week.
Besides the experience, Kennedy walked away with new friendships too, meeting people from California, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois – some who are planning a career in music and others not.
Even though he is undecided on a college, Kennedy is planning to major in political science with the possibility of a minor in music.
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