By Josette Keelor
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City featured band members from every state -- among them five of Strasburg's own.
Clarinet player Sophia Lederman, an 11th grader at Strasburg High School, earned a spot in Macy's Great American Marching Band.
Joseph Ziemer, Katie Smallwood, Tiffany Jarrell and Audrey Leathers marched Thursday with the James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes from Harrisonburg. Only one of two college bands in Thursday's lineup -- with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Minuteman Marching Band -- JMU was scheduled to lead the parade.
Ziemer, a freshman percussionist at JMU, spoke from New York on Wednesday as the 485 members of his band prepared for their first of two rehearsals.
"I've marched in much smaller parades," he said, but "they were just for the high school." The Macy's parade, which started in 1924, expected 3.5 million viewers in New York and 50 million at home, according to its website, social.macys.com/parade.
Smallwood, a junior color guard member, was excited to march with her best friends, saying "It's definitely like a once in a lifetime opportunity."
"It still doesn't feel real yet," she said.
Ziemer and Smallwood said the Royal Dukes at JMU have marched in the Macy's parade twice already, in 2001 and 2008.
A video on the band's website at www.jmu.edu/mrd shows the 2008 performance of the band performing Benny Goodman's jazz great "Sing Sing Sing."
This year, under the direction of Scott Rikkers, the band planned to perform "Seventy-six Trombones" from "The Music Man"; the JMU fight song; a band favorite "Bang a Gong" (Get it On) by the band T.Rex; and a rendition of "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music."
For Strasburg High band director Chris Szuba, seeing his current and former students march in the Macy's parade is particularly special considering he marched in the parade with the Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps in 2005.
Sophia was assistant drum major for the Strasburg marching band this year, she has been a leader for the band in other ways, and Szuba called her an all-around great person.
"She's great in school in terms of checking up with other people and how they're doing," he said.
She also helped spearhead a buddy system for the band to use when they travel.
"We hadn't done anything like that and it really brought the group closer together," Szuba said.
Sophia was the first band student at Strasburg to make All-VA Band & Orchestra earlier this year, and Szuba said he learned of her application for the Great American Marching Band when she told him she earned a spot. The band features students from all 50 states.
"I know she's super excited," he said.
Her mother Elaine Lederman said Sophia was overwhelmed to learn she had made the band and has had a great time this week meeting other dedicated and experienced musicians from around the country.
"This was all her," Lederman said. "She picked out her own music and sent in her audition tape, and she just went for it."
"We're obviously very proud of her," she said.
The band from JMU arrived in New York on Tuesday and were planning to return Saturday after seeing the Rockettes and touring the city.
On Wednesday, Leathers, a sophomore piccolo player from JMU, spoke from Central Park, calling the experience "a dream come true."
Having finished one run-through that afternoon, she was looking ahead to the 3 a.m. Thursday morning dress rehearsal. Since she expected her parents to visit with her beforehand, she said she probably would sleep afterward.
Smallwood said many weeks of practicing have helped them get where they are, and she was glad just to be there.
She and some friends even made the "Today" show Wednesday morning and got to talk with news anchors Matt Lauer and Al Roker.
"So that was pretty exciting," she said. "We made it on TV."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org