Emily Dunlap, 16, of Old Town waits Thursday morning to take her place in Macy’s Great American Marching Band for the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dunlap, a sophomore at Old Town High School, was one of 185 musicians from around the country chosen for the band. Credit: Matthew Dunlap

Emily Dunlap of Old Town finally stepped into the nation’s most famous parade at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, just nine hours after she’d awakened.

The 16-year-old clarinet player from Old Town High School was one of 185 musicians and 40 flag carriers and dancers who were part of the Macy’s Great American Marching Band in the department store’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

She was one of six high school students from Maine who participated, Emily said after the parade ended but before she and her fellow band members sat down to their Thanksgiving meal. The other students were from Marshwood High School in South Berwick and Wells High School.

“We got up at 1:30 a.m. and we had to leave by 2:30 a.m. to get [from the hotel in New Jersey] to New York by 4:30 a.m. to do a dress rehearsal,” she said in a telephone interview. “It was 30 degrees and cold and windy. I don’t really remember anything. It’s all a blur.”

After the final rehearsal, the band had breakfast and waited its turn. The parade started at 9 a.m.

“We were the last group before Santa Claus, so we got to see all the floats and performers and balloons,” Emily said. “The balloons don’t seem as big in person as they do on TV. That was kind of strange.”

But watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year is how she learned about the band. She did some research and learned that she could audition by submitting a video early in 2017 of herself playing. Emily learned in mid-April that she’d been accepted but had no idea what a whirlwind experience it would be.

She arrived Saturday but was stuck at LaGuardia International Airport waiting for a shuttle bus to the hotel. On Sunday, band members went sightseeing and shopping in the Big Apple.

“On Monday, we had a nine-hour rehearsal with breaks and lunch,” Emily said. “But, we rehearsed less after that. Yesterday, we saw ‘School of Rock’ on Broadway. I saw the biggest Walgreen’s I’ve ever seen in Times Square. It must have been four stories high. They made sure we weren’t bored.”

The best part of the experience, which cost her family about $1,800, was meeting high school students from around the country who care about music as much as she does.

“These kids are some of most hard-working musicians in the country,” Emily said. “They were easy to work with and their level of musicianship was high. In some ways, they made me think, ‘Wow, I really don’t know what I’m doing.’”

Besides the clarinet, Emily plays the trombone. She is in her high school pep band, marching band, symphonic band and the jazz ensemble, which won its division at the State Jazz Festival earlier this year. She also plays with the Bangor Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Bangor Band.

Despite all that, she was not familiar with the kind of drills and maneuvers performed by large marching bands in other parts of the country. That and the nine-hour rehearsal day were the most challenging part of the experience. The best part was making new friends.

“I’ve never made so many friends in one week like I have here,” she said. “We all get along with each other and have a lot in common. I’d absolutely do this again.”

Emily will head home Friday with her parents, Matthew Dunlap and Michelle Dunphy. Dunlap is Maine’s secretary of state, and Dunphy represents Old Town and Indian Island in the House of Representatives. The couple was in New York City for the parade.

“It was really incredible,” Dunlap said of seeing his daughter march in the parade. “She works very hard with her music, so her making the band was no accident. But to see her work so hard for this, to achieve it and then to see her march down Sixth Avenue in New York City with a big smile on her face was really special.”

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was not the only event Maine students took part in Thursday. The Main-E-Acts Baton Twirling Team marched in the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia.

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