Cary High School’s Matt Minick is good at his job. Otherwise, his band wouldn’t be one of 10 from around the country chosen to travel to New York this week to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
But even Minick, who’s been at Cary High since 2000, has never been tested as he will be shepherding 182 teenagers (including his daughter, a band member), their instruments, and a squadron of chaperones around Midtown Manhattan.
As he and the band begin final preparations for their performance Thursday, a 2.5-mile parade march followed by a solo performance at Herald Square outside the Macy’s building, we talked with Minick about what he’s looking forward to – and terrified of – as he steels himself for the trip of a lifetime.
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Q: What’s the mood been like this week in the band room?
Matt Minick: We want it to be special and fresh and all that, so we actually haven’t practiced a lot compared to our normal schedule. I didn’t want it to end up that we’re like, ugh, “Macy’s, let’s just get it over with.” We are usually still getting ready for the Raleigh Christmas Parade, but for the Macy’s parade, we have to do a whole special show.
Q: There must have been a ton of preparation to get to this point, though.
Minick: It’s still kind of just hitting me. I usually take these kids over the place, but to New York City for a week? So it’s a long time, and the trip originally started costing each kid $1,250. Then we started a campaign that we called “Earn your Green,” and our slogan was, “We want to paint the Big Apple green.” Through that, we raised enough money to drop everybody’s cost down. Last Christmas we had kids who went and played in malls and at street corners and just played for donations. We found out a year and a half ago; we found out in April (2015). They announce it that far out so you have time to raise the money. It’s huge.
Q: I can’t imagine being a junior or a senior in the band at that point and realizing you wouldn’t be going.
Minick: It was terrible. There’s a big announcement in the auditorium, and it’s like, “You’ve been invited to the 2016 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” And then everyone goes crazy. But the juniors and seniors are sitting there, counting on their fingers going, “Wait a minute ...”
Q: How does a band get invited to perform in the parade?
Minick: You submit a video, a photograph of the band, a band résumé and letters of recommendation. They’re looking for big effect. But they also want different styles of bands – corps-style bands, show bands. And there’s a college band every year, and there’s also the Macy’s Great American Marching Band. The year we applied, 150 bands applied and they took 10, so we were very proud and excited to be a part of that.
Q: Had you applied before to be in the parade? How many times did it take to get accepted?
Minick: I’ve probably applied starting in 2003, but not every year. Sometimes I would apply certain years that I thought we were really good. But like I said, who knows what they’re looking for? One year I applied, but I didn’t know UNC had applied. They choose groups regionally. So you want to say they pick the best of the best, but sometimes there are other factors. But the year we got selected, we had a really good band and things went well.
Q: What are you most worried about this week?
Minick: What worries me the most is just kids being teenagers. They can get in trouble and not even be trying to be bad. But I feel like all that stuff is going to be fine. The kids are ready to perform, but you worry about the things you can’t control. If you look at your weather app right now, it says rain for Thanksgiving Day. Now, we hope that will change, but I can’t control that.
Q: And what happens if it does rain?
Minick: The show goes on. For a football game, we wouldn’t sit out there and ruin some of the instruments and get the uniforms soaking wet. But at this, it’s a rain-or-shine event. I worry about that for the kids’ sake. We’re still going to expect them to perform in shivering cold, because we can handle cold. There are ways to be prepared for it.
Q: What does it mean for these kids to have this opportunity?
Minick: It’s the trip of a lifetime, and it’s one of the biggest stages you get to perform on. For us, it’s just a little bonus memory. But there have been lots of great bands here, and all those kids got great experiences and friends and memories that last a lifetime. So this is icing, so to speak.
Q: What does this mean for you as a band director?
Minick: It’s a bucket list moment for me. It’s one of those things where you watch other bands and think, maybe we could do something like that one day. And we were fortunate enough for it to happen. There are lots of good bands that don’t do it, though, and part of that depends on your financial situation.
It’s a very supportive community here. When you have Cary Band Day, and it’s literally declared Cary Band Day by the Town of Cary. We’re very proud, but lots of other people do good things too, and it’s part of where you choose to spend your money.
Q: So what will you, the band director, be doing next week?
Minick: I’ll be making most of the executive decisions, but I’m in a unique position in that I’m the director and I’m a band parent. When the band’s rehearsing, I’m directing. When the band plays, I’m directing. But in the parade, I basically just walk along and wave to the crowd.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan
The parade will air at 9 a.m. on NBC.