UPDATE: The West Chester University Marching Band performance at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade will being at 11:44 a.m. The band tweeted out a photo in front of Macy's early Thursday morning:
Sparkling blue flags waved and 600 feet stepped in time as the West Chester University marching band sent a holiday tune into the darkening November sky.
With drums and flutes, trumpets and clarinets, the students last week turned a campus blacktop into the winter wonderland they hope to create near New York City's Herald Square on Thursday.
That's when the college musicians will have 75 seconds to dazzle tens of millions of viewers with "Winter Wonderland."
The band is one of 10 high school and college bands nationwide selected to perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which typically generates huge television ratings and draws thousands to New York's streets.
"We don't get to perform for audiences like that on a regular basis," bands director Andrew Yozviak said with a laugh before the rehearsal last week. He and the band leave Tuesday for New York.
With its giant balloons and decked-out floats, the parade, dating to 1924, kicks off the holiday season for many. And playing in the procession is a pinnacle of marching-band achievement.
"I've been watching the Macy's parade since I was little," said drum major Jacqueline Cotto, a fifth-year music education and performance major from New York City who joined her first marching band in eighth grade. "I always wanted to march in it. That was always a dream."
The Incomparable Golden Rams played in the Thanksgiving spectacle once before, in 1986. This year, WCU is sending the only group from Pennsylvania.
The band plans to play popular tunes as it marches during the three-hour parade. When band members reach 34th Street, the Macy's building, and NBC's cameras, they will break into "Winter Wonderland."
The color guard will twirl purple-blue flags adorned with glittering snowflakes; deep turquoise sails will roll through the corps; and the band members' white plumes will bob in their purple caps to add to the snowy theme.
"We have this down pat," freshman clarinet player Lauren Platt said. "We're really prepared, so I don't feel nervous at all."
The students' one minute and 15 seconds of fame has been in the works for two years; the band applied in 2013.
The Rams, who have played at Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers games and for the Phillies in the World Series, were chosen for their "very unique approach that mixes fantastic college-level musicianship with a high energy and artistic style," Macy's said, according to a university statement.
West Chester University has put up advertisements at bus stops in New York urging people to look for its band during the parade, Yozviak said.
"It's overwhelming to think we're going to be playing for that many people," said another clarinet player, freshman Devaney Ross. "It's an honor to be picked."
The 308-member band has been practicing all season, three days a week, while still working on the field show it performs at football games. Last week, a drizzle could not dampen students' excitement as they practiced in a parking lot at the university's Farrell Stadium. Taking directions from Yozviak, the students went over the drill repeatedly, cheering in between runs.
"We get one shot," Yozviak told his band.
The band director said he and the students had discussed the Paris terrorist attacks and the subsequent ISIS threats against New York and other cities. But they resolved not to worry.
"Our concern during that day is providing just that same level of normalcy that we come to expect here on Thanksgiving Day," he said.
The band is scheduled to rehearse once on the site before the parade - at 4:30 a.m. Thursday. Hours later will come the moment Ross and Platt said they were most looking forward to. They are due to arrive at 34th Street at 11:44 a.m. to perform before millions.
"When we turn the corner, oh my gosh," said Platt. "I can't wait."
BY THE NUMBERS
1936 - The West Chester University Marching Band was founded.
50 - Male students made up the first band.
1974 - Women joined the band.
308 - Members in the 2015 band.
18 - Events on the 2015 band schedule.
Source: West Chester University