Bob Hope might seem like an unlikely hero for a girl growing up in Alaska in the 21st century. Yet the more Naomi Winders learned about her grandmother’s favorite entertainer, the more of a connection she felt.
Winders, now 18 and a freshman at Brigham Young University, is the recipient of the 14th annual Bob Hope Band Scholarship Award based on her essay about the comedian’s legacy and the affinity she feels for him. The scholarship announcement came during lead-up festivities for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, where Winders will play the bass drum for Thee Northern Sound Marching Band from Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska, Thursday morning.
Parade on TV
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air on NBC (Channel 5) from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday.
The award includes $10,000 for her and another $10,000 for the band. Palmer graduated from Colony earlier this year, but band director Jamin Burton invited her and others who were in the band in the spring of 2016 — when Macy’s selected the ensemble from 175 applicants — to march in the parade with the current students.
“Bob Hope was always a real role model for me, surprisingly,” Winders said in a phone interview from New York a few minutes after learning she’d won the scholarship. “I was always the class clown. I grew up with my grandma watching his movies. I always wanted to be a comedian.”
“Naomi is super funny and always striving to put others at ease through comedy,” said her band director by phone from New York. “When there’s a tense situation and people are not sure how to respond, Naomi puts them at ease. She’s a perfect representative of what Bob Hope used to do.” Though she has a natural knack for comedy, he said, she’s also worked hard to develop her talent.
Winders grew up playing the piano and decided to learn a string instrument when her older sister started playing the bass. When the sister mentioned that not many people choose the viola, Winders knew that was the instrument she wanted to play. “I wanted to be unique and stand out,” she said. She took up percussion in high school and currently plays percussion in BYU’s symphonic band. (A lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she’s studying communications at the Provo university with the intention of going into advertising.)
Burton said most of the musicians who were in his band when the invitation came have since graduated and are studying in Alaska, New York, Philadelphia, Utah — “just kind of everywhere.” But because he wanted them to enjoy the reward for their efforts, he brought them back to rehearse with the current students over the summer, sent them videos of the 90-second routine they’ll perform at the end of the route, and encouraged them to rehearse on their own. Colony High has brought 104 band members and about 100 parents and chaperones to the parade; the smaller instruments came on the plane with the musicians, but the bigger ones have been rented in New York.
The band director hasn’t decided how every dollar of the award will be spent, but he’ll start by replacing instruments that are falling apart and performing deferred maintenance on others.
Winders has marched with bass drums ranging between 20 and 40 pounds during her band career, but will be playing a 10-pound instrument along Thursday’s 2.5-mile parade route. She’s been practicing mainly using practice pads and sticks — much quieter than a real drum — to minimize annoyance to her roommate, she said.
She won’t be the only Utahn marching in the parade. Davis High School’s marching band, 309 students strong, is also in the lineup. It’s the biggest band — by one musician — of the seven high-school bands chosen for the parade. (There are 12 bands in all, along with hundreds of dancers, cheerleaders, clowns, singers such as Patti LaBelle and Gwen Stefani, and the balloons that have become the parade’s hallmark.)
It’s also the biggest high-school band in Utah history, said its director, Steve Hendricks.
“It’s kind of insane,” Hendricks said by phone from the Staten Island ferry, describing the size of the Davis delegation. Around 400 staff members, chaperones, friends and family members came along in a group set up by the Kaysville school, but he wouldn’t be surprised if family members who made their own travel arrangements pushed the number past 1,000.
Davis’ band has marched in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., twice, most recently in 2013; it’s the second Utah band to make the Macy’s cut. American Fork High has sent its band to New York twice. “We’ve talked a lot about what this entails, how they’re representing the state and how many people watch [the parade],” said Hendricks; an estimated 3.5 million people watch along the parade route (more than the population of Utah, he noted), with around 60 million more tuning in on TV.
That 90-second show at the end of the line distinguishes the Macy’s parade from other events where the Davis band has appeared, Hendricks said, explaining that the band had to condense its regular 8-minute show to fit not only the time limit, but also the performance space that’s considerably smaller than a football field. The music is a contemporary arrangement of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The appearance will be “one last hurrah” for Hendricks, who will continue to teach Davis’ concert and jazz bands but will retire at the end of the school year after 28 years at the high school.