Milo Wilkes’ music career began in fifth grade at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Redmond and will soon expand onto one of the grandest stages of all.
He started out playing the trumpet but switched to the tuba by the end of the school year because he was having difficulties hitting the high notes. From there, he never looked back.
Now the Redmond High School (RHS) senior is taking his talent on the road as one of 225-250 high school students who will participate in the Macy’s Great American Marching Band in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade later this month in New York.
Wilkes is one of two students from Washington to be selected for the program. He is also the second student from RHS to participate in the Macy’s marching band. Clarinetist and senior Sierra Allen participated in the program in the last two years as a sophomore and again as a junior.
“There’s a large sense of accomplishment to be one of the few people to be able to do this,” he said.
In the upcoming parade, Wilkes will play the sousaphone — an instrument similar in sound to the tuba but wraps around the body, making it easier to carry while marching. Because of the instrument’s size, Wilkes said a sousaphone will be provided for him in New York.
RHS doesn’t have a marching band program, but Wilkes has participated in programs outside of school. His first experience was when he was at Evergreen Junior High School in Redmond. He said a fellow band member told him about the Seattle All-City Marching Band (ACB), which brings together band students from the greater Seattle area to participate in up to 20 parades and community events throughout the summer.
Wilkes said he joined for a number of reasons.
“The people in band are always a lot of fun,” he said. “(ACB was also) a good way to keep playing the tuba (during the summer).”
Wilkes — who would like to continue playing in college and beyond, but only as a hobby and for potential scholarship opportunities — said he is looking forward to marching again since he hasn’t done so for a few years.
Macy’s Great American Marching Band program began in 2006 as a way to commemorate the Thanksgiving parade’s 80th anniversary.
Wesley Whatley, creative director for the parade, said the band includes students in grades 9-12 from all 50 states. To participate, students must send in an application packet that includes an audition tape, resume and letter of recommendation from the students’ band directors.
Whatley said the applications are reviewed by a panel of college professors and the number of selected participants varies from year to year depending on the number of applicants per instrument — among other factors.
“We try for a balanced band,” Whatley said. “So there are certain numbers for each (instrumental) section.”
Despite the application process, Wilkes said he was automatically eligible to participate because he was part of Washington’s All-State Concert Band as a junior, which acted as his application for the Macy’s program.
“I was obviously very proud of him,” said RHS band director Andy Robertson about Wilkes’ being selected. “I thought he would be great. He would have a great time.”
Although the parade is Thanksgiving morning, which is Nov. 24 this year, Whatley said the students arrive in New York about a week beforehand to get fitted for their uniforms as well as rehearse as a band.
In addition to honoring the parade’s 80th anniversary, Whatley said the marching band program was started as a way to give more students the opportunity to participate in the parade. He said they receive hundreds of applications from marching bands around the country, but usually only 10 to 12 bands are able to participate each year. Whatley added that this year will also feature a student composer as the band will play an original song composed by a high school student for the TV broadcast.
CELEBRATING THE ARTS
Whatley said the marching band program was also started because marching bands are such a big part of parades. He said it’s also important for the band to have representatives from all 50 states.
“(The marching bands are) the heart and soul of our event,” Whatley said.
He added that giving young musicians a national platform is also important.
“I think it’s really great for kids looking for additional experiences and different experiences,” he said about the Macy’s band as well as other band programs outside of the school.
Wilkes added that just having arts programs, not just music, in schools is very important. He said such programs allow students to explore different fields and in some cases, discover their passion. Wilkes said without music, fine arts, drama or other programs, there would be fewer artists and actors just because they were never exposed to the art.
Wilkes also said arts programs also bridge the age gap and help students meet people and make friends. The Macy’s marching band and other groups he has been part of do this on a larger scale.
“They’re good experiences,” Wilkes said. “It’s a good chance to meet other people and make new friends and possibly pick up new tricks (on your instrument).”