6 Ways to Use a Parade to Grow Your Music Program

Are you dreading another boring local parade? Use this tip to make it more exciting for your students and more delightful for your community. Most importantly, it can help you grow your music program in six different ways! This idea comes from my time as a member of the Marching Illini under director Gary Smith.

How It’s Done

While doing parades—whether small town processions; during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, Ireland; or the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—Gary would call out to the band, “Hey band!”

“Hey what?” we hollered.

“It’s time to meet the crowd!”

At this point we would cheer, break out of our parade ranks, and head immediately to the nearest curb. We would smile broadly, shake hands with the grownups, pose for pics with the kids, and thank the crowd for coming out to see us.

It invariably took the crowd completely by surprise. When you attend a parade, you don’t often expect a marching band to stop what they’re doing, come over, and interact with you. But that’s what we did. That element of surprise is what left the crowd delighted. And we know that band people are the best people, so the students were always polite, kind, and represented the University with pride. A whistle from the drum major called us back into parade block, where all 350 of us snapped to attention, shouting, “Go!” It was just one more opportunity to impress those spectators. And we continued down the parade route, usually playing right away as we stepped off. That simple act, performed a few times over the course of the parade route, left a big impression with people who attended the parade that day.  

Norwin HS Band (PA) via Lasting Memories by Ellen

The Norwin High School Band marches in the 2015 Light Up Night parade in Irwin, PA. Image credit: Lasting Memories by Ellen


Make That Parade Work For You: Music Education Advocacy



There’s no reason a high school program couldn’t use this idea as well. Think about what it might do for your recruiting! Those little kids sitting on the curb watching you go by with awe in their eyes? They are the band students of the future. A smile and handshake from a student in full uniform will leave a lasting positive impression. I’d bet that if you surveyed the kids along that parade route before and after that parade, the number of kids who said they wanted to be in that band when they grow up would be significantly higher.

Captivate the Community

If a student makes their kid smile, I guarantee her parents will love your band forever. If that student lets that child hold his horn for a picture, you’ll leave everybody on the block delighted. Your marching band will change from a mass parade unit to individual students personally demonstrating the very best benefits of music education.

All Politics is Local

Think about the other folks you’ll find along the parade route: voters. The streets are literally lined with community members who are likely to vote the next time there’s a funding referendum for the school district. If they see your marching band and other ensembles out in the community performing and delighting audiences, they’ll feel like their tax dollars are well spent. Even if they don’t have a child in school, and even if they’re not quite sure why they like you so much, they’ll be that much more likely to vote your way.

Positive PR

Imagine all the social media posts popping up as your band goes by: Instagram selfies with band members, Vines, Periscopes, and Snapchats filled with horn flashes and your school colors. You can’t buy that kind of coverage and goodwill! And if the local paper or news crew has cameras on the scene, they’ll find your performance irresistible.


Once you develop a reputation for leaving crowds delighted, people start to take notice. You’ll get plenty of positive attention. That just might help you get more donations both from independent donors and from local businesses who would love to be associated with the positive vibes your ensemble puts out and with changing the lives of the students in your program.


Meet The Crowd


Extra Credit

Want to step it up a bit? Add a standstill performance at the end of the parade route. It’s a little extra community service while you’re still there in full uniform, and I’ll bet you could play virtually anything in your current repertoire and leave even more folks enchanted.


Your next parade doesn’t have to be a painfully boring, compulsory event to be endured. Make parades work for you by using them to grow your program by recruiting prospective students, advocating for music education with local voters, and sowing goodwill in your community.  





Kathleen Heuer

Kathleen Heuer is the host of Marketing Music Education, the podcast that encourages music educators & boosters to increase the reach, influence and “relentlessly positive” perception of their programs. By day she is a social media & digital marketing consultant, content strategist, community manager, and graphic designer for Broken Chord Communications, working primarily in the field of music education. Married to an engineer she met while she was in college marching band, she’s a proud band and orchestra parent twice over. You can check out her website at KathleenHeuer.com and follow her on Twitter at @KathleenHeuer.

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