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Austin ISD band director will perform in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Band director Ryan Dufrene plays a trumpet in a classroom at Langford Elementary.
Ivy Fowler
Band director Ryan Dufrene teaches his morning class of sixth-grade students at Langford Elementary in South Austin.

The sound of trumpets, saxophones and clarinets emanates from a portable classroom at Langford Elementary School in South Austin. Inside, band director Ryan Dufrene is conducting his class of sixth graders, who first started playing their instruments in September.

“Stay with the steady beat,” he instructs them. “Play softer, play softer.”

Langford Elementary is just one of four Austin Independent School District campuses that Dufrene travels between to teach beginner band. But now he's traveling a lot farther to showcase his love of music education in front of a much larger audience.

Dufrene will perform in the 97th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday. He is one of hundreds of music educators from across the U.S. and Mexico marching in the nationally televised parade as part of the Saluting America’s Band Directors project.

“This is the first time in Macy’s for Saluting America’s Band Directors,” Dufrene says. “There are about 400 of us, just under 50 from Texas and one from Austin Independent School District — that would be me.”

Sanford Meisel, the group's director of marketing, said the band directors' participation in the parade helps showcase the importance of bands and other arts programs, which are often the first on the chopping block when school districts need to make budget cuts.

“More times than not, students that go through a band program will say, ‘I never really knew about myself. I found myself in band. I found a group I could be with and perform with,’” Meisel says. “So, if you have coworkers, if you have children of your own who have been in band, more times than not they love it and it really allows them a lot of personal growth.”

Band director Ryan Dufrene plays the flute at the front of his class at Langford Elementary while students sit and play their own instruments.
Ivy Fowler
Dufrene says he loved playing music at a young age and wanted to share his passion with students.

The most popular instruments for his students, Dufrene says, are saxophone and drums. But he plays a bit of everything so no one feels left out.

“Since they’re just learning all of these instruments for the first time, I think it’s really important that I demonstrate as often as I can,” he says. “I always try to play and mix it around and not always play the same thing so every student sees me play their instrument every day.”

During his class at Langford on the Friday before fall break, Dufrene demonstrated how to play the flute.

Really, though, he’s a trumpet player. Playing that instrument is actually something of a family tradition.

“My dad played the trumpet. His dad played the trumpet. So, it was a great family connection,” he says.

Dufrene, who loved playing music from a young age, started to figure out in high school he wanted it to be part of his career.

“I realized that I just wanted to share my passion for music with young people, and hopefully show them that they can have great opportunities through music like I’ve been able to have,” he says.

One of those opportunities is to travel to this week's big parade. Dufrene sees firsthand how beneficial music is for his students and how it enriches their experience at school.

Band director Ryan Dufrene stands at the front of his beginning band class and conducts the students as they play.
Ivy Fowler
Dufrene said he hopes his students will become advocates for the importance of arts in education.

“I mean, there’s really no other activity on the planet like it in the way it combines logic and creativity,” he says. “There’s study after study that show that test scores get better and students perform better in math and reading thanks to being in music.”

One study the American Psychological Association published in 2019 found high school students who participated in music courses, such as band or concert choir, got better scores in English, math and science when compared to peers who did not play music.

“Purposeful and extended engagement with music-making in childhood and adolescence may impact cognition in various ways,” the study authors wrote.

They pointed out making music requires a variety of skills, including reading music, planning and synchronizing with other performers.

Dufrene is hopeful his own students will be advocates for the importance of arts in education over the course of their academic careers and beyond.

“So hopefully seeing their band director on TV can inspire them to maybe want to do something similar or maybe just fight for keeping arts as a priority in schools,” he says.

Participating in the parade also has personal significance for Dufrene. Not only did he perform in the parade with his college marching band back in 2005, but it’s also special for him and his wife because their wedding anniversary falls around Thanksgiving.

“We went to the Macy’s Parade the first time that our anniversary was on Thanksgiving Day,” he says. “So, it’s something that we connect over as well.”

The day of the parade, Dufrene and the other band directors will be getting an early start. They’ve got rehearsal around 3:30 a.m. — about five hours before the event begins at 8:30 a.m. EST. The parade will be broadcast on NBC and livestreamed on Peacock. More than 3 million people are expected to attend in person.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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