Suburban high school musicians marching in Macy's Thanksgiving parade

Suburban high schoolers will be marching across your television screens Thursday during the 97th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Tyler Ulbert, a junior at Lake Zurich High School, and Tommy Chapski, a junior at Marmion Academy in Aurora, will be playing in the Macy's Great American Marching Band.

"I haven't ever been a part of anything this big," said Ulbert, who lives in Hawthorn Woods. "It really is a cool honor."

Ulbert will be one of two drum majors leading the band, which is chosen from students across the United States and features 185 musicians complemented by approximately 40 flags and dancers.

The second drum major, Deona Julary, is a senior at Hinsdale Central.

Ulbert said both were spotted by band organizers from Music Festivals and Tours during a summer camp put on by Smith Walbridge Clinics, which is attended by drum majors from across the country.

Students started auditions in January for the band, which has marched in the parade since 2006.

Chapski said he sent videos to organizers and found out that he made the cut a couple of months ago.

"I'm really excited to meet all the different people, see how other people play and what they do differently," he said.

Chapski, who lives in Elgin, has been playing trumpet since fifth grade at St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles. At Marmion, he plays in the jazz band, jazz combo and wind ensemble in addition to the marching band.

The biggest event he's participated in up to this point was the Marengo Settlers day band competition, so this is a big step up. More than 50 million viewers are expected to tune in for the parade.

"This is my first time on TV," Chapski said. "I haven't really thought about how it's going to feel but in the moment I think it'll be pretty exciting."

Ulbert said he's been in marching band since his freshman year and played oboe and marching mellophone before becoming a drum major.

His initial interest in being a drum major was simple - he thought it would be fun to spin the baton in the air.

"Over time I kind of came to see the leadership side of it and that enticed me more," he said.

Ulbert marched with the LZHS marching band in the Chicago Thanksgiving parade last year, but he says this is a whole different class.

"It's probably going to be an experience like that but just like a thousand times bigger," he said. "Really just looking forward to seeing all the people on the sides while we're going down the streets doing our thing."

Ulbert's mom, Emily, will be at the parade for the first time.

"It's always been sort of a bucket list thing for me but I never had a reason to brave the crowd yet. Now I have a reason," she said.

Chapski and his family attended the parade about five ago, said his mom, Karen.

"I think it was the coldest Macy's Thanksgiving parade ever," she said. "We've never been so cold, it was freezing."

Chapski will have lots of family along the parade route. His mom, dad, sister, grandfather and some aunts, uncles and cousins will be there. After the parade, band members go on a sightseeing cruise then enjoy Thanksgiving meals with their families at a dinner dance.

Chapski thinks he'll be one of about 20 trumpeters in the band. He received his music a couple of weeks ago, and the band will have a few days to rehearse after arriving in New York this weekend. They'll play "Sweet Caroline" along the parade route and then "Cheeseburger in Paradise" when they stop in Herald Square.

"We're so proud of Tommy, it's a whole new experience for him," Karen said. "He's a very, very dedicated musician, very dedicated student who works incredibly hard."

The 97th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will air on NBC and Telemundo from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Chicago time.

Tyler Ulbert, a junior at Lake Zurich High School, will be one of two drum majors leading the Macy's Great American Marching Band during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday. Courtesy of Emily Ulbert
Tommy Chapski, a junior at Marmion Academy, will play trumpet in the Macy's Great American Marching Band during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday. Courtesy of Karen Chapski
The 97th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will step off from its traditional starting line at 77th Street and Central Park West at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Courtesy of Macy's
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