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Thanksgiving in the Big Apple: South Portland students make Macy's parade band

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Thanksgiving in the Big Apple: South Portland students make Macy's parade band

SOUTH PORTLAND — High school seniors Calvin Stanly and Elizabeth Small are no strangers to performing in public.

They have marched and played in the award-winning school band for years. Stanly marched with the Boston Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps in competitions last summer, and in the presidential inauguration parade last January in Washington, D.C. Small has danced in Maine State Ballet productions of "The Nutcracker."

On Nov. 28, the two will take a larger, longer stage: the 87th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, as members of the Macy's Great American Marching Band.

Stanly will play sousaphone with about 185 high school musicians. Small will be part of a 40-member dance troupe.

"It was an honor, I was not really expecting to get in. I just do my best and send in whatever audition is needed," Stanly said Monday.

Small marches with the school color guard, but auditioned as a dancer for the parade.

"It is a big achievement, I am really excited,” she said Monday.

On Tuesday, Macy's publicist Ansley Brown confirmed Stanly and Small are the only Maine representatives in the band of students from throughout the country.

The parade from Central Park to Herald Square covers about 35 blocks through mid-town Manhattan, and will be viewed by an estimated 2.5 million spectators, with as many as 50 million more watching on TV.

The Macy's Great American Marching Band is open to high school students who audition by playing musical pieces lasting four to seven minutes, or dance routines of three to five minutes.

The band is directed by Richard Good, Auburn University director of bands. Vicki Pfeiffer, who has directed the Arizona State University dance team and Arizona Cardinals cheerleading team, leads the Macy's dance team.

Stanly and Small auditioned in the spring. Stanly said South Portland Band Director Craig Skeffington found him a technical composition called an etude that lasted just under four minutes. He was able to stretch it out.

Small's audition required showing hip-hop, jazz, lyrical and modern dance styles.

"It was very last-minute, it was in June. I realized it was my last year to audition. I grabbed my sister's laptop (computer), put some music on and started dancing," Small said.

It was as much a challenge to find the audition spot, her father, Eric Small, recalled.

"We were trying to figure out a place for her to dance. She ended up going out in the garage with my old VW bus in the background," he said.

Skeffington said Wednesday it is the first time South Portland students have been part of the parade since he has directed the band. About 25 years ago, trumpeter Joe Ward marched with the McDonald's All-America Band.

"(Stanly and Small) are both leaders, besides being really nice kids. They do their job so well the others look at them and sort of model themselves after them,” Skeffington said.

Stanly's mother, Martha Stanly, said she steered Calvin to music, beginning with piano lessons at age 5.

"It is beautiful, relaxing, and if you have that talent, it will take you through the rest of your life," she said.

Stanly said both his parents have abundant talent.

"(My mom) won't admit it, but she is a great piano player, and she does it all by ear,” he said. His father, David, plays accordion, violin and harmonica.

Eric Small said he and his wife, Paula, have raised three talented children, all of whom played in the South Portland band.

"I don't know where the kids have got it," he admitted.

Macy's band participation perks include tours of New York City landmarks, tickets to a Broadway show, a holiday dinner-dance, and attendance at a leadership and education seminar.

Stanly and Small said their families will pay the participation fee of more than $1,500, which does not include transportation costs to New York City. Band members will bunk four to a room, with meals included.

"I'm nervous, but excited, because there are so many people I am going to meet," Small said.

The band will stay in New Jersey, with band uniform fittings beginning Nov. 23 and rehearsals beginning Nov. 24. Stanly has received music he will be playing, including Christmas carols. Small said she will learn her dance routines when meetings and rehearsals begin.

Martha Stanly, who emigrated from India with her husband about 20 years ago, said for her the parade symbolizes the American Dream.

“They don't just pick anybody," she said. "They pick the best of the best.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.