, Salem, MA

March 15, 2013

Headed for Fifth Avenue

Danvers band will march in NYC St. Patrick's parade


---- — When the Danvers High Falcon Marching Band performs at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City tomorrow, they will carry a tune from Red Sox Nation straight down Fifth Avenue.

On their last rehearsal yesterday before they ship out to New York early this morning, the band pumped out the Dropkick Murphys’ hit “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” over and over.

Red Sox fans will recall that former closer Jonathan Papelbon would charge out of the bullpen to the song, which has since become an anthem for the Hub.

“I kind of love the fact that we are from Boston so we are playing, like, a Boston song in New York,” said senior Terry Sweeney, who plays tenor saxophone.

The marching band will be performing in an Irish heritage parade that started in 1762 — 14 years before the nation’s independence, according to the parade website. It’s billed as the world’s largest.

The band will rotate two songs as it marches, the Dropkick Murphys’ song and a tune from the blockbuster “Titanic,” called “An Irish Party in Third Class” by Gaelic Storm.

“While it is really repetitive, and you get so sick of the song, you have to remember that every new song you do, you are in front of a new crowd,” said Laila Najia, leader of the clarinet section.

If you won’t be in New York this weekend, you can watch the parade on NBC from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the Falcons stepping off at 11:50 a.m. They are expected to be in front of the cameras by noon, band director Ron Parsons said. About 170 band members in grades eight through 12 are expected to march.

“It’s not going to hit me until it’s actually happening,” said senior Aly Banerjee, who plays alto sax.

To prepare for their performance in front of 2 million parade-goers, the band stood during rehearsal yesterday and marched in place.

“We are Danvers Falcons from Danvers, Mass.!” they chanted as if yelling to the crowd.

Parsons paced at the front of the room while drum majors Erin Burgess and Chris Demirdogen directed the band.

During the section rehearsal, the lone quint drum player present, senior Andrew Garcia, kept time with his snare and cowbell, as he’ll do during the parade.

“It’s really stressful,” Garcia said of the pressure of keeping the rhythm when no one is playing. “It’s a lot, but it’s also really repetitive ... so once you get it, you’ve got it.”

“Now that the music is finished, it’s just a matter of maintaining musical and physical endurance to march the 21/2-mile parade,” Parsons said.

On Sunday, the band marched five miles around the Woodvale neighborhood adjacent to the high school. The rehearsal was double the parade route, and that gave the band confidence, Parsons said.

“The payoff is a successful parade,” he said of all the work. Many of the band members know how to prepare for big parades, having marched in the Waikiki Holiday Parade in Hawaii at the end of 2011 and the Rose Parade in Pasadena in 2010.

This band trip is a bonus for seniors — one of the largest senior classes to graduate from the band — who thought their last trip was to Hawaii last year. Normally, the band travels on a big trip every other year. This year, the band won an open invitation to march in the New York parade, Parsons said. The band last marched in the parade 10 years ago.

“We haven’t been to New York on a trip,” said tenor sax player and senior Rachel Ziner. “We went to Pasadena, then we went to Hawaii, and just as a little going-away present, Mr. Parsons surprised us with New York.”

Tomorrow’s parade will represent a personal milestone for Parsons, who tumbled from his roof while doing routine chores nine months ago. He shattered his left heel and elbow, fractured his ankle, and spent a month in the hospital and three months in a wheelchair. He has used a walker, crutches and a cane in his rehabilitation.

“One of my final goals was to be able to march with the band in the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” said Parsons, who is still undergoing physical therapy.

Just as the band is scheduled to be on TV at noon, it will be “nine months almost to the minute I had my accident,” Parsons said.

“I am just so grateful to Mr. Parsons,” said senior clarinet player Katherine Henry. “He didn’t have to do this for us, especially after everything that has happened this year. He did it anyway, so I really feel like we owe it to him to be the absolute best that we can be. ... I have never seen anyone more dedicated to anything than Mr. Parsons is to all of us. It’s inspirational.”

Next year, the band plans to march in the Macy’s Holiday Parade at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., and the New Year’s Day parade at Disney World.

While the band may be ready for tomorrow, the weather may not be, as both rain and snow are forecast, Parsons said.

“It’s a 50 percent chance of anything happening,” Parsons said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.