The 88th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will air at 8 a.m. Thursday on NBC, and a local father and son will be among those marching and performing throughout the 2.6-mile route.
Taras Nahirniak and his son, Mykhailo, are a part of a special Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps ensemble known as the Corps of Brothers. They will be the last unit in the parade, preceding the entrance of Santa Claus along the parade route.
“The corps will be doing a street beat played by the drum line, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ – which I was asked to write the drum parts to – and the feature number that the corps will play at the staging area is ‘Happy Christmas,’ others know as Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy,’” Taras Nahirniak said.
Taras Nahirniak and his wife Lori are teachers at Monona Grove High School.
The Madison Scouts were invited last summer to march in the parade, and the corps decided to open it up to alumni.
“When I filled out the information sheet online, I mentioned that even though I didn’t play snare drum in the SC, I would be proud to stand next to my son in the snare line,” Taras Nahirniak said. “They thought that would be great. I have been practicing a lot and hope that I can keep up with him.”
While there have been smaller rehearsals held around the country, the main rehearsals will be in New York City. On Tuesday, there was a three-hour rehearsal, followed by a pair of four-hour rehearsals Wednesday. On Thanksgiving, the 400-plus members board seven buses at 2 a.m., head to downtown New York for a 4 a.m. rehearsal in front of Macy’s, eat some breakfast and then march in the parade.
“The group is incredibly diverse,” said Chris Komnick, executive director for the corps. “We have 426 total members from 40 different states and six countries. While all participants are either current or former members, we needed to put in place a rehearsal process that would assure everybody was prepared musically and physically before we see them the week of Thanksgiving.”
The father’s beginnings
Taras Nahirniak’s involvement with the Madison Scouts goes back to 1970s, but his interest came another 10 years before that.
“My older brother marched in the Madison Scouts from 1966-71, so I was around it from an early age. I loved going to watch my brother at practices and area shows,” Taras Nahirniak said.
“We lived on the west side of Madison at the time, and there used to be a big show at Madison Memorial High School called Drums On Parade. When I was 6, my parents decided to go to the show while leaving me home with a babysitter. That evening, I could hear the drums playing in the distance and was so excited, I talked a few friends I was playing with into going with me to find out where the drums were coming from.
“Running from neighborhood to neighborhood, we finally reached the show but found it much harder getting home. A few hours later, I returned to a crying babysitter and angry parents.”
Taras Nahirniak played with the Madison Scouts Junior Corps in 1976 and 1977. He played the bass drum the first year and the snare drum the second.
The Junior Corps was a training corps for the senior corps, made up of those 12 through 16 years. At the time, the SC was made up of those 14 through 21.
“In 1978, a good friend of mine decided to make the jump to the SC,” he said. “I had planned on staying in the JC one more year then try out for a snare spot, but when I heard they had I spot as a bell player, I joined my good friend.”
Taras Nahirniak marched in the SC from 1978-85. He played the piano and said he had a good ear at the time, so playing bells seemed to work.
“From my first year in SC at age 14, I started arranging music for the corps,” he said. “Our percussion instructors didn’t know much about writing for keyboards, so they would just give me a horn score or a recording, and I took it from there.
“Eventually the marching mallets were grounded, and from 1982 to 1985, we stood in front of the of the field playing on full-size marimbas, vibes, xylophones, etc. After aging out in 1985, I stayed on as an instructor, helping to write the music, and in 1989, I became the head instructor and arranger for the front ensemble until 2000.”
Interest sparked in the son
Mykhailo Nahirniak was born in 1989, and as soon as he was old enough, he joined his father at rehearsals.
“Many times during breaks, he would bang on the instruments,” Taras Nahirniak said. “When he was 5, my wife made him a uniform, and he became the mascot of the corps, marching in a few parades and joining the corps on the field when the score were announced. He traveled to with us to the national championships in Massachusetts and New York in 1994 and 1995 as the mascot.”
Taras Nahirniak stopped working with the corps in 2000, and his son lost a bit of interest.
“I didn’t want to push him into the activity, but when he was 13, I showed him a video of the 1995 show that he was a mascot for and he fell back in love with it,” Taras Nahirniak said.
That year, Mykhailo Nahirniak joined the Capital Sound drum corps, which was a co-ed corps that merged the Madison Scouts JC with an all-girl corps from the area called the Capitalaires.
Coincidentally, two of Taras Nahirniak’s sisters had marched with the Capitalaires.
Mykhailo Nahirniak started in the front ensemble in 2004, but he had his sights set on a higher goal. He wanted to play snare in the Madison Scouts, the most coveted spot in the drum line. He spent three years with Capital Sound, one year in the Southwind corps from Lexington, Ky., and one year in the Pioneer from Milwaukee. In 2009, he succeeded in making it in the Madison Scouts snare line and marched that year and the next before aging out in 2010.
And now, the father and son are back in the corps, at least for one special performance.
“Since it has been a long time since I marched a parade – 30 some years – it’s a scary prospect but a once-in-a-lifetime event, not just the parade but being able to march next to my son in an organization that has meant so much to both of us,” Taras Nahirniak said.