By TYLER ELLYSON
With its festive floats, massive balloon characters and famous performers, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a holiday tradition like no other.
Roughly 3.5 million spectators are expected to line the 2.5-mile parade route in New York City and millions more will watch the 97th annual event live on NBC.
University of Nebraska at Kearney alumnus Brock Persson will be in the middle of it all.
A music teacher at Todd County High School in South Dakota, Persson is part of The Band Directors Marching Band that will perform during the parade.
“Oh man, I’m ecstatic,” he said earlier this month. “It’s going to be so awesome.”
One of 11 marching bands in this year’s parade lineup, The Band Directors Marching Band is comprised of band directors and music educators from across the country who donate their time and expertise to promote the inspirational power of music. It’s part of Saluting America’s Band Directors, a project created by the Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation to recognize the extraordinary dedication and accomplishments of band directors everywhere and carry on the legacy of the late Mike Sewell, a longtime band director in the Pickerington, Ohio, school system.
The program’s motto is “We teach music. We teach life,” something Persson truly believes in.
A Kearney High School graduate, Persson was part of the Pride of the Plains Marching Band, Symphonic Band, Wind Ensemble, Loper Low Brass Ensemble and Men’s Chorus at UNK, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music education in December 2015.
He’s currently in his eighth year with the Todd County School District, which is located within the Rosebud Reservation in south-central South Dakota.
Persson views music education as a way to positively impact lives and provide the support many students need.
“The way I feel about teaching music is if I can get one student to school every single day, I know that they’re safe,” he said. “I know that they have an opportunity that they would not have if they stayed at home.”
Persson, who teaches high school band, choir and digital music production, applied for Saluting America’s Band Directors so he could inspire his own students and spread the message about the importance of music programs on Native American reservations and settlements.
Earlier this year, he co-founded Music Directors for Indigenous Students, a nonprofit that supports music education and teacher recruitment and retention in these schools.
“I want students to have a lifelong love of music,” he said. “You don’t have to stop playing after high school. It can be a lifelong experience. Look for every opportunity to play. Look for every opportunity to collaborate with others.”
As a member of The Band Directors Marching Band, Persson’s first major performance was actually on New Year’s Day 2022, when the group was part of the 133rd annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.
A total of 270 band directors and music educators came together for that event, which is also viewed by millions of people around the world.
“It was amazing,” Persson said of the performance. “That wall of sound, just glorious.”
The 5.5-mile route was a challenge for the sousaphone player, but definitely worth the effort.
“Oh man, it was a long parade,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the longest parade I’ve ever had. Oh my goodness. There’s a hill that you go down and it’s miles of people on both sides of the street. It was definitely mind over matter.”
The Band Directors Marching Band received the Showmanship Award during that parade.
“After the Rose Parade, it just blew up,” Persson said. “People were like, ‘How did I not know about this? Where do I sign up?’”
Approximately 400 members are currently in New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Persson arrived Sunday with his wife Kalinda, also a UNK graduate and an elementary teacher at Todd County, and their young daughter.
The band performed “Amazing Grace” during a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and there are sightseeing opportunities ahead of Thursday’s big event.
Persson, who lives in Valentine, hopes his moment in the spotlight motivates young musicians back home.
“My students are really, really excited to know someone who is going to be on national TV,” he said. “I’m proud that I can represent them and serve as a role model for music.”