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A little holiday flair, a little funk as Parkland HS band set to perform in Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Stephanie Sigafoos
Parkland High School music teacher Mark Figueroa speaks to the band on Wednesday prior to its final rehearsal before appearing in the 6abc Dunkin' Thanksgiving Day Parade.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — Parkland High School music teacher Mark Figueroa will not be with the marching band when it steps off as part of the 6abc Dunkin' Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Figueroa has plans that will find him elsewhere Thursday morning, but his presence will still be felt in a very big way.

  • Parkland High School's Trojan Marching Band will play in the 6abc Thanksgiving Day Parade for the first time
  • The parade steps off at 9 a.m. Thursday morning
  • It can be watched nationwide and will be telecast on 6abc.com

The band will play a piece of music written by Figueroa entitled “Merry Gent.” It is a modern take on the traditional holiday song “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

Merry Gent_final.mp4

The Trojan Marching Band is among just 12 bands nationwide selected to perform in the parade.

So when Figueroa stepped up in the practice room at the high school on Wednesday afternoon, he knew what the kids were feeling — and the adrenaline rush and transformation of playing on such an enormous stage.

“Thank you so much for putting in all this work on the parade tune,” Figueroa said during his pep talk. “You guys sound great. Keep up the good work.”

He followed as nearly 160 students — many dressed in jeans and school T-shirts — spilled outside to rehearse. Nearly 50 of them are seniors looking forward to a moment they have been denied since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as schools shut down.

“I’m very excited, honestly, because it’s my fourth year but my first time doing this,” senior Paul Parkinson, who plays the snare drum, said.

The band will play in the parade for the first time in the school’s history, and Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the oldest in the country, having been held through the Great Depression and World War II.

Rehearsing, it turns out, has been the easy part. The kids have practiced the piece off and on since the end of October, with one full rehearsal dedicated to practicing the song before Wednesday.

But getting to the parade has been years in the making, band Director Jason Lerew said.

“This has been a couple years in the process because we applied back in 2019,” Lerew said. “Then the pandemic happened and the parade that first year was canceled."

"They invited the bands back that were accepted but they gave us the option to either come back the first year or to hold off and come back later … and we held off another year. So it's been a good 2 or 2 ½ years.”

Lerew said they have been talking the trip up, especially after the band had the chance to play in Anaheim, California, at Disneyland last year.

“We had to explain to [the students] how much of a big deal this is because they don’t know,” said Allison Figueroa, who is Mark Figueroa’s wife and also serves as a band director. “They’ve never experienced anything like it, so they don’t have anything to compare it to.”

To get the kids ready for Philly, Lerew and Allison Figueroa have also added a little something extra to the mix.

“We also have a plan that if it happens that the parade stops, we have a little standstill performance where we’ll turn to the crowd and do [the Bruno Mars song] ‘Uptown Funk’ and do a little dancing and try to keep the crowd entertained while we’re just standing there,” Allison Figueroa said.

Uptown Funk_final.mp4

Buses will roll out of the high school parking lot at about 5 a.m. Thursday, and the parade begins at 9 a.m. It will be televised nationwide and can be viewed from anywhere via the telecast on 6abc.com.

“There’s no hiding from the cameras,” Lerew said, jokingly, but the kids seem to be taking all the attention in stride.

“It’s going to be exciting," senior Emily Walsh, a trumpet player, said. "It’s definitely a little bit nerve-wracking because it’s the first time we’ve ever done this, but it’s been anticipated since freshman year.

“It definitely sets us apart from other bands in the area. Not everybody gets this opportunity and we’re honored, and I hope we live up to expectations. I think we definitely will,” she added.

"Not everybody gets this opportunity and we’re honored, and I hope we live up to expectations. I think we definitely will."
Parkland senior Emily Walsh

Parkland will not be the only band in Philadelphia representing the Lehigh Valley. Bethlehem Area School District's East Hills Middle School Band will also participate and is the only middle school band invited to play in the parade.