While families are just waking up to watch the 85th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade at 9 a.m. on NBC, Joppa teen Sam Winnie will be playing his bass trombone along with more than 200 other students in the Macy's Great American Marching band, making his way through the Big Apple along with kids from around the country and the biggest balloons you've ever seen.
Sam, 17 and a senior the Science and Math Academy at Aberdeen High School, was one of a few hundred high school musicians nationwide chosen to be part of the prestigious band to don red and white uniforms and open the beloved parade.
Between rehearsals in New York Tuesday, Sam said everything was "going pretty well."
"Rehearsals are intense, but worth it. We're making progress," he said about his rigorous schedule to prepare for the parade performance. "It's just learning everything, making sure you do everything correctly and trying not to mess up."
Missing a few notes on live TV with 50 million people watching from their homes is not something Sam can afford, but he's more taken aback by the magnitude of the situation rather than being anxious.
"It's more like, 'Whoa. This is actually happening,'" he explained, calling the whole experience "surreal." He commented how he "wouldn't have thought this time last year that this would be happening."
Proud mom Pamela Winnie said Monday she and her husband, David, along with their older son, Paul, his girlfriend and one of Sam's school friends, were making the trip to New York City Tuesday so they could be there in person to support him. "We'll be his little cheering section."
"This is a once in a lifetime experience," Pamela Winnie said.
From an early age, Sam has been involved with music, Pamela Winnie said. In elementary school, his band teacher told the family that colleges look for brass players and could probably get a music scholarship for Sam.
"And I was thinking, 'He's in elementary school,'" she said. "She must've seen something in Sam."
Since then, the budding musician has taken up not only the trombone, but also the piano, guitar, sitar, upright bass and cello. He performs in the Aberdeen High School band, the Harford Youth Orchestra and a jazz band at Harford Community College. He also started composing his own music last year — and hopes to pursue music composition as a major in college — and is part of the National Honor Society, Tri-M Honor Society for music and German Honor Society.
Between applying to colleges, working on his capstone project at school, attending Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Joppa and auditioning for the Maryland All State and Harford's All County bands, Sam auditioned for the Macy's marching band after Aberdeen band director Kaitlyn Wittman nominated him for the gig. After filling out an application and sending in an audition CD, he was one of the lucky few chosen in the entire country.
Pamela Winnie drove Sam to New York on Saturday so he could begin rehearsals for the parade with the rest of the band. Unfortunately, she said, he woke up Monday with a sore throat and hopes it won't keep him from enjoying any part of this adventure.
As far as nerves, Sam's as cool as cucumber.
"He gets a little nervous, but he's not really all that shy," Pamela Winnie said. She mentioned that Sam wasted no time before playing the grand piano as soon as he walked into his hotel Saturday.
Hopefully, the whole family will be able to see Sam play his trombone Thursday morning along the parade route.
"We'll try to follow him as best we can," Winnie said.
Even if the family is not able to pick him out of the crowd, Sam knows they'll be cheering him on. "It's nice to know they're there, and nice to know they'll be there for Thanksgiving," Sam mentioned.
If all else fails, the Winnies have set their TV to record the event, so they won't have to miss a moment of Sam's big day.