Leila Policarpio: Representing N.Y. State at the Macy’s marching band

‘Still couldn’t wrap my head around it,’ says the Roslyn High School senior and band flutist.

By Cristina DC Pastor

Every year since she was a kid, Leila Policarpio, her parents and elder sister would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the world’s largest,on NBC.

The morning tradition usually begins with the East Hills, New York family getting up for a special holiday breakfast and then turning on the TV for a marathon viewing in their PJs.

This year, Leila, now 17 years old, did not watch. Instead, she marched in the parade on November 25, now on its 95th year, and played the flute for the legendary Macy’s Great American Marching Band (MGAMB). She represented not only Roslyn High School where she is a senior student, but New York State, where she was born and raised.

Her family joined millions of Americans who watched the festivities on television as well as on Herald Square where the parade set out.

What makes this year’s parade historic in a sense is the grim shadow of a global pandemic that has hovered over everyone’s lives for more than a year. The parade was a welcome break from the forlorn months of staying home, staying alone for some, and just staying sane and healthy.

“I still couldn’t wrap my head around it,” Leila raved when interviewed by The FilAm. “It all happened so quickly and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

With family cheering Leila on: Parents Mariliz and Jason Policarpio and sister Sophia.
At a rehearsal for the flute group.

It all started when Leila, younger daughter of Jason and Mariliz Policarpio of East Hills, submitted a video to the MGAMB having learned of an audition going on. She approached Frank Mauriello, the band director at Roslyn High School, to inform him about her application. The video showed her playing an instrumental as well as a marching performance. “My mom helped me film my audition video,” she said.

Leila was accepted into the band of among the finest high school musicians. It is under the direction of Dr. Richard Good, Auburn University; Dr. Doug Rosener, Auburn University, Percussion Director; Bart Woodley of WGI, Flag Instructor; and Kailene Laga, Montclair State University, Dance Instructor, according to a press statement. The 185 musicians are complemented by approximately 40 flags and dancers.

This year, however, alumni members from previous years joined to celebrate the band’s 15th anniversary, and the number of youngsters who performed at the parade swelled to 300. “Three hundred strangers from all across the country who have never met before,” noted Leila’s mother Mariliz.

When it was finally assembled the MGAMB required every performer and participant to receive a vaccination.

In 2015, Leila and sister Sophia watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on TV with their aunt Sienna Aczon.

For three days, the young musicians rehearsed two songs —  George Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” and “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang — the ultimate goal for all was to perform with confidence and to “sound as one.”

“The MGAMB had always been my favorite out of all the other marching bands that performed in the parade,” said Leila. “I admired how they were all perfectly in unison and played such entertaining music which blew everyone away. The fact that it is comprised of kids from all across the country and that all 50 states are represented was inspiring.”

She has been playing the flute for almost eight years, and has been with the Roslyn High School Marching Band for four years. This year, she was appointed Chief Information Officer. She also plays the piano and has performed at Carnegie Hall.

“It feels surreal that I am able to be part of such a great American tradition,” she said. She made friends with another FilAm student who played the clarinet.  

Relishing the experience, Leila said, “It’s definitely mind-boggling to think that I was actually a part of the parade instead of just watching it on TV.”

She was equally thrilled that the parade happened this year after a lull in 2020 due to the pandemic. “It shows that we’re staying positive through these trying times.”

Leila thanks the Red Poinsettia Charitable Foundation, Alicia Almendral MD, Joanne’s Gourmet Pizza, and The Adorable Chef for helping to sponsor her participation in the MGAMB.

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