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And the Beat Goes On

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One Family’s Musical Tradition Continues on the Streets of NYC!

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What’s the definition of a “Proud Grandma?” This is what happens when her sweet and talented fourteen-year-old granddaughter Evelyn marches with her high school band in the annual (NYC) Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Initially called the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade, it debuted successfully in 1924. Interestingly, a year later, Macy’s renamed their innovative event the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.” During the interim, Macy’s decided to change not only the concept of their parade but the name of the parade, and that name has remained throughout the years. Happily and unselfishly, the reason for this change was an extraordinarily patriotic gesture-both loving and kind. It was Macy’s way of extending the hand of friendship in proud recognition of the many immigrants working for their company.

A few weeks ago, 50 million people watched the parade from their living rooms, and another 3.5 million watched it in person from a crammed curbside route winding down the streets of New York City. Twelve bands from all over the country marched in the parade. So it is a big deal to be chosen to do so.

“I thought it was so much fun waving back to all the people in the crowd. Everyone was so excited to see us. I was amazed to look fifty stories up and see people waving like crazy from their windows so far away,” said Evelyn Francis, a 14-year-old freshman from Tarpon Springs High School. She and 208 other band members spent a week rehearsing for this gigantic, historical affair in New York City.

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“Getting to explore the city with my friends, my parents, and chaperones, was fantastic. There was so much going on! We saw four Broadway plays, the famous Rockettes, Rockefeller Center, and the 9-11 Memorial. It was something I will never forget. I loved everything about the trip. I got to experience the value of hard work and its rewards,” she remarked.

Evelyn plays the trumpet and began playing her instrument in the fourth grade. “I chose the trumpet because my dad and sister Veronica both played the trumpet and marched in their high school bands. Marching in the band is a tradition in our family-the whole family, including Aunt Michele and Laura, Uncle Jim, my dad, Great Uncle Ed, and Second Cousins Ken and Sheila, all marched in their high school bands. And to think it all started way back with my Grandpa Francis,” Evelyn smiled proudly.

Recently, Tarpon Springs high school band under the leadership of Kevin Ford, was awarded fifth place at Nationals. Before Nationals, the band went through four grueling competitions where they excelled, giving them the ticket to Indianapolis, Indiana, and the National Championship competition. The concluding competition was the culmination of talent, determination, and positive thinking, which they absorbed from their very devoted band director. They ultimately won fifth place in the nation, which is impressive for a small town of 25,100 people. Incidentally, 1,195 students attend Tarpon High School. Notably, Tarpon High school is a Magnet school where many students do not live in the town but in surrounding areas.

My Two Cents Worth:

Music is an important tradition in our family. It goes way back to my husband Jim’s band days of the mid-to-late 1950s when his mom nixed his dream of playing football because he had asthma and was slight of frame. The family doctor suggested a wind instrument to strengthen his lungs. Much to Jim’s chagrin, he took his parents’ advice and decided on the slide trombone. His mom and dad were very proud of him because he seemed to have an aptitude for playing the instrument. Before long, they were calling him Tommy Dorsey, a famous trombonist from the 1930s and 1940s. His parents probably danced or listened to the music of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Jim went on to attend Capital University School of Music in Columbus, Ohio, a special tutorial course for young musicians to improve their skills. Jim played in the junior high band and enjoyed playing in his high school’s marching band. During high school, he had his own jazz/dance band. On weekends they were booked, playing parties and various clubs and wedding venues around the city. I didn’t know him then, but I would have loved seeing him perform. I have heard many times that he was quite talented. When he passed away in 2019, our oldest son Jim Jr. asked if he could have his dad’s trombone because he had also played the trombone in his high school marching band. For a brief period in the late 1970s, Jim played in Henry Fletcher’s Community band, but because of time and work commitments, he decided to move on and never played again.

Our four children played musical instruments. They learned how to play their instruments because of patient and dedicated music teachers such as John Keon of Anclote Elementary and Bob Wilson, band director at Gulf Jr. High; both schools are located in Pasco County. One devoted music teacher just happened to be their Uncle Ed Francis, a renowned band director in his own right, who excelled at his profession year after year, taking all of his bands “to contest.” They often traveled out of state to places like Washington, DC, and Virginia.

All four of our children marched in their Uncle’s band. They were a joy to watch in motion, giving me chills listening and watching them play alongside the other band members. I was so proud of them. Francis taught at Gulf High School in Pasco County for years. Many of his band students went on to become band directors themselves. Our oldest daughter Michele, who played the clarinet, won a two-year music scholarship to USF. She wanted to follow in her uncle’s footsteps and become a band director. Our youngest daughter Laura played the clarinet, and our youngest child Matthew played the trumpet. Matthew’s daughters Veronica (now in college) marched in her high school band out in Arizona, and later, as mentioned, Evelyn chose to play the trumpet. The girls both wanted to be like dad. So, the beat goes on. Learning to play a musical instrument was a big part of my kids’ lives growing up. Who knew it would become a tradition? Long live this beautiful tradition for the generations in my family to come.

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