Somewhere amid Kermit the Frog, the cast of “Annie” and Angola-native Christian Laettner, keep an eye out Thursday for Kristen Keane.
The 17-year-old West Seneca West senior will join America’s favorite green frog, red-haired orphan and all-time clutch college basketball star somewhere in the Big Apple along the three-mile route of the 86th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Kristen’s newly straightened, bright-white smile will be hidden behind her piccolo.
But as one of only 185 high school musicians selected from 14,000 high schools across the United States to trek from Central Park to Herald Square as part of Macy’s Great American Marching Band, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s kind of intimidating and overwhelming, but it’s really exciting as well,” Kristen told The Buffalo News a couple of days before boarding an Amtrak train with her grandfather, Charles Schmelzer, early Saturday and heading for New York.
A flutist since taking up instrumental music as a fifth-grader at West Elementary School, Kristen accepted an invitation by Macy’s band organizers to play the piccolo – a smaller, high-pitched instrument that she learned to play just a year ago – in Thursday’s parade.
It’s Kristen’s first-time attending the renowned parade, which she has watched wide-eyed on TV every Thanksgiving morning, and only her second time in New York City.
She took a family trip there to celebrate her 16th birthday.
“Ever since we went, she was saying, 'I’d love to go back. I’d love to go back. She got her opportunity,’ ” said Jolynn Keane, Kristen’s mother, as well as Jim Keane, Kristen’s father, and other family members, are joining the teen musician in the Big Apple this week.
Besides a lot of practicing leading up to Thursday’s big event, Kristen said marching band members also will be bonding with one another on a few sightseeing adventures, including visits to Times Square and the World Trade Center memorial, as well as a Broadway performance of “Momma Mia!”
Kristen said she is rooming with a pair of clarinet players from Arizona and a fellow piccolo player from Pennsylvania. The four have been Facebook friends since getting their assignments.
Kristen, who dreams of attending the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, already has compiled an impressive musical background in West Seneca.
On top of belonging to the three-time state champion West Seneca Marching Band, in which she served as drum major this year, Kristen is also a member of West’s concert band, wind ensemble and jazz band.
That Kristen was such a quick study on the more-challenging piccolo – and that she stepped up and volunteered to play it on such a large stage – doesn’t surprise her music teacher and band director, John Blickwedehl.
“The thing that stands out the most is Kristen’s drive for excellence,” said Blickwedehl, who worked with Kristen for three days after school earlier this year to prepare her audition tape, which was on flute, to send to Macy’s. “She could have sent in the first take. But, she didn’t. She did it over and over and over again. It certainly paid off for her.”
Blickwedehl called the piccolo more demanding than the flute because “there’s a smaller region for error.” It’s harder to play the instrument in tune, which brings about added pressure all on its own, notwithstanding the momentousness of the venue in the nation’s largest city.
That doesn’t matter to Kristen – with increased risk comes large rewards.
“It’s a little higher-pitched, so you’ll be able to hear me,” she said.
When Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” hits NBC’s airwaves Thursday morning, that’s the cue the Greatest American Marching Band has arrived.
It’s also the moment when Western New York will hear Kristen’s melodic piccolo rising above the din of the rest of the instruments, traveling from the heart of Manhattan all the way back home.