Saturday, October 27, 2007

Marching Bands get ready for upcoming Children's Halloween Parade

By Kimberly Thorpe
Freelance Writer and Columbia Journalism Graduate Student

Ken Hughes raises a conductor's baton above the heads of several rows of eight and nine-year-old elementary students in music class. The students ready with trombones, clarinets, drums and flutes balanced on their arms and between their legs. Before the teacher brings down the wand to signal starting-time, he reminds the students to play the music this time by heart.

"Let's try Minute Man March … without looking," says Hughes, who has taught music for 15 years at PS 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The challenge does not bring a single gripe from the assembled fourth and fifth graders staying already over half an hour after school has let out. Instead, several "Yes's" bounce around the room, before the students wet their lips one last time and put them to their instruments.

The students are getting ready to play as a marching band in the 18th annual Jackson Heights Children Halloween Parade, the second largest Halloween parade in New York. In addition to the participation from elementary students at PS 69, middle schoolers from IS 230 and IS 145 will also join the parade as marching bands.

The parade itself, although always popular because of its focus on children and families, has been more heavily attended since the local schools began participating in the parade four years ago, according to parade organizers. This is partly because the parade now has a musical soundtrack.

"With the bands coming aboard, it has really expanded the interest in the parade," said Ed Westley, who helps command the fundraising efforts for the parade. "We feel [their participation] has increased spectators along the avenue. It jazzes up the parade."

Also, all the participating students are turning out more cheering parents and family members.

"For the kids it's very exciting," said Marge Benini, also a music teacher at PS 69, and who led students in last year's parade. "I don't think they've ever been in a parade before. There are all these people yelling and waving as you're walking through. It's a big morale booster for them."

The parade is organized by the nonprofit community organization Jackson Heights Beautification Group. It is one of the only daytime Halloween events in the city, and is attractive for families in comparison to the boisterous evening parade in Greenwich Village. Community leaders, local officials, and Mayor Bloomberg are scheduled to walk in the parade.

Although marching in a band is exciting for the students, it is also tiring for 8 and 9-year-olds to stand on their feet for one and a half hours.

Joseph Ponce, a student at PS 69 who marched in the parade last year, initially recalled that marching last year was exciting. Although, when pressed, he admitted it was hard work, too.

"It was tiring because you had to walk a lot and because we had to play a lot of songs over and over again," said Ponce, 9.

According to Westley, a co chair of the committee that fundraises for the parade, $100 will be given to each of the participating bands, in a gesture to keep the bands going in the future.

"We are proud the parade is all local involvement," said Westley.

The 18th Annual Children's Halloween Parade will take place along 37th Avenue from 89th to 77th streets in Jackson Heights, Queens, from 5 pm to 6:30 pm.

[where: 37th Avenue from 89th to 77th streets, Jackson Heights, Queens, 11372]
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