November 20, 2010
CHS grad to march in Macy’s parade
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Chris Yamamoto remembers watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television as an elementary student in Cortland and fantasizing that someday he would play while marching in it.
The Purdue University sophomore will get his wish next week, as the Purdue All-American Marching Band — in which he plays the clarinet — will travel to Manhattan and get its own 75-second spot on national TV.
The band will be the first from a Big Ten university to perform in the parade, adding to its list of history-making moments, such as becoming the first university band to form a letter on the field in 1907 and putting the first band musician on the moon — alumnus Neil Armstrong in 1969.
Yamamoto, a 2009 graduate of Cortland High School, said the band provides a balance to his aeronautical engineering courses.
“It’s good exercise, it provides chances for leadership,” he said in a telephone interview. “If I wasn’t doing band, I wouldn’t be doing anything before dinner anyway.”
Yamamoto, 19, has been playing the clarinet since third grade at Barry Elementary School, when he began lessons with instrumental music teacher Eileen Allen. His father, Dean, said he showed Chris the clarinet he had played in junior high, which was in a closet.
“It still had a reed in it, so I played scales and handed it to Chris, and he played scales immediately,” Dean Yamamoto said. “So I said, that’s your instrument. He had the ability to play not just by listening but by sight-reading sheet music as he went. I think that helped him be picked for the Purdue band.”
Yamamoto went on to be first clarinet and a New York State School Music Association soloist while playing in the Cortland High School band.
“We do a lot of sight reading in band rehearsals,” said Rick Eleck, the school’s music chairman. “The skills we teach in our band program are not necessarily just for what we are performing. We try to educate the whole person, to prepare them for anything.”
Eleck called Yamamoto “our ideal student” because he has continued with band on his own.
“We want a lifelong lover or appreciater of music, someone who enjoys listening if they aren’t still playing,” Eleck said. “Chris is not majoring in music but is playing in the band because he loves it. This is a chance for him to unwind from his studies and socialize with other students as bright as he is.”
Cortland High School does not have a marching band except in June, when it plays in Cortland’s annual Dairy Parade.
Yamamoto tried out for Purdue’s band during the summer before his freshman year, at a week-long camp where the band’s seniors and staff members taught everyone the formations and how to move in units. He said spots in the band are competitive.
“I was kind of iffy on whether I would make it, then I felt comfortable at the end of camp,” he said.
Purdue’s band has 375 people total, including flag bearers, baton twirlers and other students in the show, plus band director and staff. Its roots go back to 1886.
Purdue was selected for the Macy’s parade three years ago, after submitting a video and a performance chart. Yamamoto said he is not allowed to say what the band will perform during the parade.
The band will leave Monday for Manhattan, practice all week and perform in the parade Thursday, then be honored at an alumni reception at the Grand Hyatt, have a Thanksgiving dinner and attend a Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall that night. The band will return to campus Friday because it is performing at Purdue’s home football game against Indiana.
Dean Yamamoto said his only child was eager to watch the Macy’s parade every year to see the floats shaped as cartoon characters.
“Especially Pokemon — I still have the credit card receipts for those things,” he said of the Japanese cartoon characters. “It was always, a new Pokemon card is out and we have to look for it.”
Chris Yamamoto said he hopes to have a career in engineering military aircraft. He is already an experienced pilot.
“This year we’re studying things like lift equations for rockets and aircraft,” he said. “A lot of projects. It’s intense.”
Yamamoto was a member of the golf and track teams in high school, as well as a member of Interact and the National Honor Society.
His father, a residence counselor for developmentally disabled adults at Ithaca’s Unity House, said he plans to go to Manhattan to watch his son in the parade. Chris’s mother, LuWen, probably will not have time off from her job as a software engineer for Sensis radar manufacturer in DeWitt, his father said.
“We’re quite proud of him,” Dean Yamamoto said.
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