Parade of Lights, CSU Marching Band: Holiday harmony

CSU Marching Band Parade of Lights
The CSU Marching Band will lead the way Dec. 1 at the 9News Parade of Lights in downtown Denver.

Carol-Anne Lucero and Peter Gaetz have one wish for their final 9News Parade of Lights:


Lucero and Gaetz are two of the nearly 265 members of CSU’s Marching Band. On Friday, Dec. 1, they will continue a Rams tradition, leading off the Parade of Lights, which is witnessed by tens of thousands of holiday revelers in downtown Denver and a TV audience via 9News.

Lucero and Gaetz said the Parade of Lights is one of their favorite events on a busy calendar that includes home football games, the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver, and a bowl game trip.

Special preview Nov. 30

If you can’t travel to Denver for the parade but still want to see the CSU Marching Band perform in person, a special preview performance is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, on the streets surrounding the University Center for the Arts. Attendees are invited to stay for the annual Holiday Spectacular, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Griffin Concert Hall and features performances from various CSU ensembles.

Added treats for the preview will include the Human Bean Coffee Truck parked in front of the UCA serving hot cocoa and coffee. Show your Alumni Membership card for a free drink. Transition inside for student instrumentalists in the Griffin Concert Hall Lobby as you wait for the Holiday Spectacular to begin.

The CSU Marching Band in the Parade of Lights will air on 9News live on Friday, Dec. 1, and again at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2.

“We’re the very first group in a parade that gives us our widest audience – well over 100,000 people at the parade, plus TV,” said Gaetz, a senior drum major. “We get to lead off the biggest Christmas celebration in Colorado – so it’s pretty cool.”

Added Lucero, a senior piccolo player: “We get to share our holiday cheer in a very unique and special way. Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday, and I really enjoy playing for all the people – especially the kids. It’s a lot of fun.”

2013: Brrrr!

Of course, some years are more fun than others. Take 2013 as an example. It was minus-5 degrees in Denver when the parade started. And freezing toes was just one of the concerns.

Most band instruments, you see, don’t like cold. Actually, they loathe it – and stop functioning. Trumpet valves freeze, trombone slides stick, piccolos ice over.

“I remember seeing one of those temperature gauges on a building in Denver, and all I saw was the ‘minus’ in front of a number,” Lucero said. “I didn’t even want to know the actual temperature. That was a cold as I’ve ever been – but it was still fun.”

The night the music stopped

Gaetz, a senior from Parker, Colo., majoring in mechanical engineering, recalled that the instruments simply stopped working after 15 minutes – just long enough for the band to perform in front of the grandstand at the state capitol.

“Lots of groups pulled out of the parade that year but we made it to the end,” he said. “That’s one of the coldest experiences of my life, but it’s fun to look back on.”

The good news is that the weather is usually good – the past three years’ temperatures have been chilly but not cold enough to affect instrument performance.

Getting into the holiday spirit

Among the many unique aspects of the band’s performance is the opportunity to “decorate.” Band members string battery-powered lights on their uniforms and hang other seasonal doo-dads on their hats. Gaetz and the other drum majors trade traditional batons for oversized candy canes.

“Everyone in the flute section had a candy cane hanging off their instrument last year,” said Lucero, a biology education major from Fort Collins. “You could hear the little kids talking about it. Every section tries to do something a little bit unique.”

Parade admission is free. The CSU Alumni Association is hosting a reception at the CSU Denver Center from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for Alumni Association members and $15 for non-members. Pre-registration is required.