As one of two drum majors for Conant High School, senior Ananya Maddulapalli has marched in holiday parades, including last month, when she led the drumline into Woodfield Shopping Center as the mall welcomed Santa.

But a little more than two weeks later, Ananya marched in a slightly higher profile holiday parade: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

Ananya before stepping off in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

“When we were standing in place, marking time, I felt like I was floating,” Ananya says. “The feeling was similar to marching in other parades, with so many people along the route, but being in New York, with the skyscrapers, cameras and barricades was exciting.”

Ananya was one of 200 high school students selected from across the country to perform in the Macy’s Great American Marching Band in the parade. Students are selected by audition and the only chance they have to rehearse is on Thanksgiving Day itself, in the wee hours of the morning before the parade steps off.

“After we arrived in New York, we were fitted for uniforms and then had some time to do some sightseeing,” she says. “But we had to report back at 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to see the route and do a run through of our performance.”

Ananya’s chance to march in America’s iconic Thanksgiving Day parade fulfilled a dream that started back in third grade. Though she had taken piano lessons since she was 4, it wasn’t until her father took her to a high school football game when she first saw a marching band — and its drum major.

“I saw the drum major on the podium and thought that was so cool,” Ananya says.

She started playing the clarinet in fifth grade at Link Elementary School in Elk Grove Village. By the time she reached Conant, she played in the underclassmen band at first but by junior year she was in the highest band. That same year she auditioned and was selected as one of the drum majors.

Ananya directs the Conant Marching Band.

“Conant sends new drum majors to the Smith Wallbridge drum major camp for a week in July,” Ananya says, ” where we learn marching and how to conduct.”

In Illinois, the camp takes place at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and draws 250 teens from across the state. In her second summer at the weeklong camp, she won an award as the “outstanding drum major,” and she was encouraged to apply for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

While Ananya fell short of landing the role of drum major in the parade, she did get a spot in the clarinet section in the highly competitive audition process, and she realized how much she missed playing in a section. But serving as drum major is still her favorite role.

“As a drum major, I try to create a community where everyone feels welcome,” Ananya says. “As a leader in the band I have different resources available that give me the opportunity to foster that environment.”

She juggles a heavy load in her class schedule and all while playing in the jazz band, pit orchestra and pep band. In college, she hopes to major in music education and is leaving her options open about going out for band.

“I don’t want it to be over,” Ananya says. “I love marching band so much.”


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