Service through music: ’Berg band director marching in Macy’s parade

On Thanksgiving morning, live from New York, the Heidelberg family will be represented at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Heidelberg Band Director Rod Miller is serving as the assistant band director for America’s Band Directors Marching Band. 

Rod has been serving as Heidelberg’s band director since 2022, following the departure of his friend, Jon Waters. Rod spent the first 34 years of his career as a high school band director. During his time, he was a two-time quarter finalist for the Grammy Educator of the Year Award. He retired from Port Clinton City Schools, but quickly came back out of retirement to begin serving as Heidelberg’s band director.

Rod’s career couldn’t be what it is today without his Sousa concerts. Rod met Keith Brion, the world’s best Sousa impersonator, during his time at The Ohio State University. Simultaneously, he was introduced to Sousa-biographer Paul Brierly. Quickly, Rod was sucked into the world of Sousa, and began performing small-scale Sousa concerts, inspired by Keith Brion’s work. These concerts kept him connected and well known in the band world, leading to opportunities like the one he has been preparing for since late spring.

Rod’s new undertaking as an assistant director for the Band Directors Marching Band began with a simple conversation. Talking over the phone with long-time friend and previous Heidelberg Marching Band Director Jon Waters, the two discussed the Band Directors Marching Band performance at the Rose Bowl in 2022, which Jon is directing again this year. Jon, now, was anticipating the trip to New York City, and the work that was soon to begin. Rod offered, “If you need help, I’m happy to help!” And soon after, Jon called back to take him up on it. The two of them spoke with the board of directors for the band, and Rod was formally invited on board. 

Since then, Rod has been aiding music selection and working out the logistics of traveling and rehearsing with a band 400 members strong. They have secured the armory in Jersey City for their massive rehearsals, and will be bussing there from their hotel in NYC in the days leading up to their performances. Part of Rod’s duties have involved organizing the continuing education credits to be offered by Heidelberg to the directors, in thanks for their participation and in respect of their time and efforts. 

Rod traveled to New York City in June and met with the representatives coordinating their activities. During the band’s stay in the city, they’ll be performing in the parade (including the final rehearsal at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday), as well as doing a presentation at Ground Zero. Things began heating up for the group back in September, with a group-chat going wild as final arrangements were made. At the end of the day, Rod and all of the members of the organization are thrilled as the days count down. “It’s a real honor to be asked to be part of this,” Rod shared. “It’s not every day that you get to march at Macy’s!”

As fun and exciting as the Macy’s performance will be, the true heart of the Band Directors Marching Band is “service through music.” The Band Directors Marching Band began as an actualization of the mission of the Sewell Foundation. The Sewell foundation was created by Karen Sewell in 2017 in honor of her husband, Mike’s, life work. Mike Sewell was a band director in Pickerington, Ohio, and he traveled around the country, serving communities and sharing their gifts with others.

“When we want to make something better, we add music,” Rod explained, “So when we add that music – someone volunteers their time with a band or a choir, or takes the time to help students learn how to be better people through band or choir practice, that’s all service through music.” The Band Directors Marching Band is lining up service projects around the U.S. and doing the presentation at Ground Zero in efforts to best serve the country we call home. “We’re continuing to bring music education to the forefront in the U.S. because it’s so important to our students,” Rod continued. “It is an honor for me to continue the legacy of Mike Sewell and his mission of service through music as a music educator.”

At the end of the day, Rod is beyond grateful for the way that everything has fallen into place, both for the Macy’s performance and for his career. “I really think there’s strength in loving something,” Rod said of his passion for music. “When you love something, it’s so worth it to put in the hard work that’s necessary to be successful.” A Sousa extraordinaire, and soon to be a Macy’s Day performer, Rod’s life and love of music and performing have taken him far.

Rod will be leaving on November 17 for New York. Be sure to wish him luck as he and the band make the final preparations for the Macy’s Day Parade and their performance at Ground Zero!

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