People in Mercer County might have noticed a dark-haired teen marching briskly around Harrodsburg, but they might not have realized they were getting a sneak preview of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"I've been marching, trying to keep a steady 140 beats per minute ... smiling and practicing," Olivia Perkins said before she left earlier this week for New York City, where she and two other Kentucky teens will be part of the Macy's Great American Marching Band.
Kristen Shearer, a Bourbon County High School senior, will play the flute, and Kathryn Jackson, a senior at Paul Blazer High School in Ashland, will play the French horn.
Perkins, a Mercer County Senior High School senior who is in the flag corps, remembers watching the parade on television as a child and being in awe of the bands.
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"I thought they were just the coolest," she said.
She got a little choked up just talking about the application process.
A trip to New York, meeting other band members and, of course, marching the 3-mile route is "just the experience of a lifetime," she said.
The competitive honor band picked 200 students from across the nation to play before roughly 3.5 million people at the parade and an estimated worldwide television audience of 50 million. Each teen had to submit a short audition tape as part of a process that began 18 months ago.
"All of these individuals have proven themselves to be really great musicians," said Wesley Whatley, creative director for the Macy's Parade and Entertainment Group. But, he said, "we also look for really fine individuals. These are students who are active in their churches and in their communities who look for ways to give back."
It's just the fifth year for the band, which was formed to mark the parade's 80th anniversary and was such a hit it has made repeat performances every year since. When told that Kentucky is known for some seriously fierce competition among high school bands, Whatley laughed. Marching band, he said, brings out the fighting spirit across the country.
Band, he said, "is no joke. We take it seriously here, too."
Whatley, who has worked with the honors band for several years, said for many players the band experience is magnified by a first-time visit to the Big Apple.
"It's a big balance between hard work and heavy play," he said.
Shearer, for one, was thrilled for a chance to go to New York.
"I've always, always, always wanted to go," said the Paris native, who calls herself "a big-city girl living in a small town."
As a longtime member of her school band, she is used to performing in front of crowds but not the "thousands and thousands of people sitting in the stands" along the parade route, she said.
The eight-hour-a-day practices were expected to help tamp down some of the nerves.
"It is an intense week," said Whatley, "but what is interesting to me is that their energy never wanes. It's crazy."
Plus, he said, "within a few short days they become close-knit friends."
Jackson, a New York Yankees fan, hoped she would find some down time between rehearsals to see the new ballpark.
And even though she expects butterflies, she is as ready as she will ever be for her turn on the global stage.