Twin sisters to represent Connecticut in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Identical twin sisters, Kristen Motola and Lauren Churchill have shared so much together, growing up in a musical family, leading bands together in high school and college and now directing bands as high school teachers.
But they never marched in, or even attended, the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Until this Thanksgiving, that is, when they’re planning a first-ever performance in the marquee holiday parade.
They’ll be in New York City for the parade two days after celebrating their 42nd birthday, in the company of about 400 other high school band directors representing all 50 states.
“The stars aligned for us,” Motola said Wednesday.
Motola, of Waterford, has been band director at Norwich Free Academy for the past 12 years. Churchill, of Griswold, has been band director and music teacher at Woodstock Academy for the past 19 years.
A year ago, they received an email from the American School Band Directors’ Association seeking applicants for the chance to perform in the prestigious parade as part of a fledgling group called Saluting America’s Band Directors, a collection of 400 high school band directors.
Churchill said they jazzed up their applications, played up their unique situation as twin sister high school band directors who led their college band and directed their respective student bands to award-winning competitions.
Motola shocked her band students when she opened the email congratulating her on being selected.
“Apparently, I screamed very, very loud and ran around the band room,” Motola said.
She calmed herself and called her sister, not wanting to upset Churchill if she had not gotten accepted, and asked simply, “Did you get in?”
Then they screamed and cheered together.
Motola will play her mother’s clarinet, and Churchill will play trumpet.
They will take the train to New York Sunday morning and check in at the Sheraton in Times Square at noon for a five-day whirlwind experience.
They will rehearse and perform in a giant ballroom – wearing earplugs – and on a football field. They will give a rare musical performance at the 9/11 Memorial, share a Thanksgiving banquet Wednesday night, march in the parade Thanksgiving morning and check out of their hotel by noon that day.
The sisters grew up in Wallingford, played in a band directed by their father, Richard Sansoucy. Their mom, Janice Sansoucy was the enthusiastic band mom.
They attended the University of Connecticut, playing in the marching band and serving as drum majors in their final year at UConn. They graduated together in 2005 with degrees in music education.
During an interview, the twins talked passionately about their love of music and of teaching music. They call it a “family lifestyle.”
Motola and her husband, Jeff Motola, have twin 12-year-old daughters, Leah, who plays clarinet, and Cara, who plays tuba. Both will attend NFA in two years and will join the band. Kristen and Jeff met while playing in the U.S. Army National Guard Band.
Churchill’s husband, Ray Churchill, is choir and theater director at Griswold High School. Their daughter, Sydney, a sophomore at Griswold High, is in the theater program. She plays French horn, but, “her true passion is singing,” her mother said.
When the twin band directors learned of the Macy’s parade invitation, they jumped at the chance to apply.
“We thought, this was kind of a bucket list item,” Motola said. “There are certain things you always want to do. You want to play in Carnegie Hall as a musician, which we did in college. You want your band to win championships. We did that. So, we said, why not, let’s apply.”
Saluting America’s Band Directors is the brainchild of the Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation, launched by his wife, Janice Sewell, to honor high school band directors for their skill and dedication to students. Churchill especially loves the foundation’s motto: “We teach music. We teach life.”
Saluting America’s Band Directors debuted at the last Rose Parade on New Year’s Day 2023. Macy’s then invited the group to perform in its famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. Karen Sewell. Michael’s widow promised to shower the participants with bling and small gifts.
Each participant was asked to bring memorabilia from their schools to trade and share. Motola will bring this year’s NFA Band New England championship T-shirts. Churchill will bring Woodstock Music Department gear and shirts from her school’s inaugural Connecticut Jazz Girls Day.
The real work for the Thanksgiving Day Parade started shortly after the participants received those exciting emails a year ago.
“We’ve had the music for months,” Motola said of the medley of marches and songs the band must memorize for their performances.
Motola has practiced for her students multiple times in the NFA band room. At their homes, the band directors are getting themselves into marching shape, walking treadmills, doing exercises and breaking in their specialty roll-heeled black marching shoes.
All participating band directors must memorize complex medleys of marching band standards, including “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “76 Trombones” and “Simple Gifts,” which they will play when they hit Herald Square, where the NBC TV cameras broadcast the parade.
The parade starts at 8:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Motola and Churchill estimated Saluting America’s Band Directors will hit the TV screen sometime after 9 a.m., just behind the band led by singer Jon Batiste and right in front of the big Snoopy balloon. “You can’t miss us,” Motola said.
The directors’ band will be “a big block” of 39 columns of red-clad musicians. The band will wear bright red blazers, blue pants, black shoes and belts, and possibly earmuffs, depending on the weather. At 5 feet, 2 inches tall in a band not arranged by height, Motola and Churchill said they will not be surprised if people can’t see them on TV.
The parade will not be the only bucket list checkmark for the two women. Saluting America’s Band Directors received special permission to perform for 30 minutes during a solemn wreath-laying ceremony on Monday at the 9/11 Memorial. The site rarely allows musical performances, Motola said. The group will play a medley including the national anthem and special arrangements of “Amazing Grace” and “Taps.”
Not everything about the trip will be glamorous.
Band participants must rise at 1:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, put on their uniforms and board the eight coach buses that will take them to Herald Square for a 2:30 a.m. rehearsal of their TV spot. They’ll re-board the buses and be taken to Central Park to get ready to line up for the 8:30 a.m. start. Once in the parade area, no one can leave and be allowed back into the secured zone.
After the parade, they must race to their hotel to check out by noon and head to the train station, arriving in New London by about 5:30 p.m.
Thanksgiving night, they will enjoy a family dinner at Churchill’s home in Griswold, where everyone will watch a recording of the parade.
“We’re trying to walk the walk and talk the talk,” Motola said. “So, we’re memorizing our music, just like we ask the kids to do. We are marching in the parade, just like we ask our kids to do. I’ve broken in my marching shoes, just like the kids.”
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Twin sisters, Kristen Motola, band director at Norwich Free Academy, and Lauren Churchill, band director at Woodstock Academy, will represent Connecticut in the Saluting America’s Band Directors group marching in the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday.
To watch: NBC TV network will broadcast the parade beginning at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Where to look: The 400-member Saluting America’s Band Directors group will be clad in bright red blazers. The group will be positioned just after the band led by singer Jon Batiste and directly in front of the giant Snoopy balloon.
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