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‘Disco turkey’ Warwick drum major to perform ’70s hit during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
By: JOHN CRAWFORD Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Paul Belessis can be a difficult person to track down. Amid the normal schedule of a high school senior, he is the drum major of this year’s highly successful Warwick Marching Band and also works long evening hours at a local movie theater. His mother, Kim, while helping to set up this interview, said her son leaves himself little time for sleep.
How fitting, then, that the drum major who rarely sleeps will be in the city that never does for Thanksgiving marching in the legendary Macy’s parade with the Great American Marching Band.
Since Saturday, Belessis has been in the Teaneck Sports Coliseum and Hotel with over 200 high school band members to practice for Thursday’s parade.
“I leave on Saturday and perform on Thursday,” he said. “We practice all week (and) that is pretty much it.”
His summary understates the work he and his bandmates will do prior to big holiday event. He received his music in October and has worked on it on his own during study halls. At Teaneck, the team will be up early each morning to practice.
“We are probably going to practice about 30 hours,” Belessis said. “The show is about a minute and a half. We’re doing ‘Disco Inferno’ as our march and an original piece for the 85th anniversary.”
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tradition started in 1924.
During the week leading up to the 85th parade, Belessis’ band drills each day until about 3 p.m., followed by planned excursions in New York City.
“We’re doing all this fun stuff,” he said. “We’re going to the new World Trade Center, The Rock. We’re going to a Broadway show and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.”
The parade, naturally, is the highlight for Belessis and Thanksgiving Day will be a long one with little sleep as they will be up at 2 a.m. The parade starts at 9 a.m.
“We leave pretty early and we practice at Central Park that morning (around 4 a.m.),” he said. “They will open Hard Rock Café for us early that morning, just for the band, and we’ll have breakfast there.”
“I think we lead off the parade,” he added. “We start at Central Park West and go down Seventh and Sixth avenues to Macy’s and then Herald Square.”
NBC will broadcast the parade, but the Belessis family will need friends to record it for them as they — Kim (mom), Nick (dad) and Steph (sister) — will be along the parade route with Paul’s friend Dane Stoyanovich and his sister Jenae.
“I’ll probably see it eventually on YouTube, but I am more excited to live it,” said Belessis with a smile.
The parade will culminate a successful season for the six-year member of Warwick’s band, one that started at the Drum Major Academy after he was appointed WHS’ drum major in the spring.
“What they do is they take you to outside sessions and teach you how to march and how to lead people in marching,” he said of the academy. “You go to indoor session in the afternoon and you learn how to conduct, and then again to another outdoor session in the evening to focus on the marching and teaching.”
The academy, which is how he became involved with the Great American Band, was in addition to the normal hours a band member practices through the summer and fall.
“On this year’s show, it’s hundreds of hours we put in,” he said. “We calculated it was upwards of a 120 hours of practice. We started in May and we finished Nov. 12.”
“I don’t think people realize how much work these kids put in on a daily basis to get the result,” said his mother.
The hours also helped overcome the late installation of Warwick’s show and the July appointment of the school’s new director, Matt Wolfe.
“The show is called ‘Joy’ and it is very different from what Warwick has done in the past,” said Wolfe earlier this year. “Warwick kind of does darker shows like ‘Samurai,’ ‘Machine’ and ‘Mutiny.’ All of them are kind of musically on the darker side, whereas ‘Joy’ is on the happy side of music, the joyful side.”
Wolfe and Belessis managed to pull the show together from their different pulpits, and Warwick began winning with their first performance at Hempfield’s Opening Knight.
“We placed first in every competition and we got third place in music (at the Cavalcade of Bands Championship in Hershey),” Belessis pointed out. “Our score was a 93.2 at championships.”
The Thanksgiving parade will also culminate Belessis’ academic music career, as he does not plan to pursue band in college.
“I’m done after high school,” he said. “I did six years (of band). All good things have to come to an end eventually. I have good memories of what I did here.”
Belessis said his best memory from high school will be leading his friends.
“To be able to conduct a band that was so inspirational … Everyone put forth so much effort,” he said, looking back on his senior year.
“He grew as a person,” said his mother, referring her son’s high school career. “He has confidence as a person. He’s matured, especially with the leading. He had to step up and set an example.”
It’s been a long and rewarding six years for Paul Belessis. Maybe now, come Friday, he can get some sleep. 85th Annual
New York City
Thursday, Nov. 24
9 a.m. to noon
Aired live on NBC More MACY’S PARADE, page A15