IF YOU'RE WATCHING the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television, you may spot familiar faces -- and not necessarily those of characters such as Garfield and Spiderman on the helium-filled balloons.
Look closely and you might see neighbors such as 13-year-old Megan Henry and Ashley Burke, or 14-year-old Eileen Keck.
They'll be among 16 Severna Park Middle School chorus singers going to New York City to perform in the parade as part of a 680-member chorus assembled from across the nation by the organization America Sings!
The youthful singers will be solidly on the ground when they perform, but being part of one of the world's most famous holiday events has them floating in the air -- at least in spirit.
"I've always wanted to go to the Macy's parade," says Ashley, daughter of Jack and Frances Burke of Severna Park. "My family doesn't like to go away for Thanksgiving, but they're coming with me, and it's going to be so much fun actually being in the parade."
The 16 girls will perform music and choreography they've practiced all fall, joining singers from high schools, middle schools and community choirs from 14 states.
Two million people are expected to line the two-mile-plus parade route, and millions will watch on television.
"I've always wanted to be on TV," says Megan, daughter of Jim and Ginnie Henry of Millersville. "They probably won't see me, but the feeling of being on TV singing and dancing is still great."
Thanksgiving morning, the huge ensemble will open NBC's "Today" show. Afterward, all 680 will take the subway to Central Park, where they'll start the parade with a song. Then they'll be the last marchers, just behind Santa Claus.
Singing is not the only objective. The Severna Park pupils will leave Maryland Nov. 23, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and spend three days in New York City, racing between daylong rehearsals and volunteer assignments.
The Marylanders will join the other singers preparing thousands of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the New York Coalition for the Homeless at the New Yorker Hotel. Along with warm woollies for their own fingers and toes, the girls are packing toys, books, clothing, canned goods and toiletries to donate to New York shelters.
"The singers are very enthusiastic," says Kerryanne Salisbury, director of the school's three choruses. "They took the initiative to do a canned-food drive at school, and they'll take the food they collect to New York City."
"When we go out to see the sights, we see the homeless people on the streets, the ones we'll be helping," says Eileen, who made the America Sings! trip last year with another group from the middle school. Now at Severna Park High School, she and fellow ninth-grader Carolyn Kleppin are returning to the chorus as veterans for this year's New York adventure.
"You feel so much better after you do it, even though you have to get up at 7 o'clock in the morning," says Eileen, daughter of Ben and Ginny Keck of Severna Park.
The other middle schoolers making the trip are Chelsea Adams, Hallie Andrew, Emily Corey, Amanda Duck, Laura Flack, Courtney Gatton, Amy Leslie, Erin O'Keefe, Laura Smith, Kaitlin Watts, Kristin Wehmueller and Jessica White.
Based in Alexandria, Va., America Sings! organizes benefit concerts, noncompetitive choral music festivals, and large ensembles such as the one performing in New York.
Participation in singing is widespread at Severna Park Middle. Its three choruses -- a sixth-grade group, the combined seventh- and eighth-grade chorus, and the Show Choir -- have a total of 370 members.
"Nearly half of the 1,300-member student body takes part in the combined choral and instrumental music programs," Salisbury says, and Anne Arundel's 1999 All County Chorus has named 24 SPMS singers to its ranks.
The seventh- and eighth-grade group has been selected to represent Maryland in the first of what is planned to be an annual One Song, Many Voices Worldwide Sing in honor of the United Nations International Day of Tolerance at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Severna Park Middle School. The SPMS chorus and Chesapeake Harmony Chorus will sing, and canned goods taken to the concert as the price of admission will be delivered to a New York City charity.
The school's Show Choir has been invited to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to open the Dec. 3 Baltimore Blast soccer game at the Baltimore Arena, and all three school choruses will appear in the annual holiday concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at SPMS.