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Nancy Cepero aspires to higher notes

By Staff | Oct 27, 2017

Nancy Cepero discovered her love for music when she was only 8 years old, and has since decided to dedicate her life to helping others through music. In the sixth grade she received a saxophone from The Music For Minors Foundation, a program that continues to shape her journey.

She’s now on her way to the Macy’s Parade as part of Macy’s Great American Marching Band.

The achievement is due to her own talent and continued support from the organization that helped her get started.

Now a senior at Island Coast High and a member of the Marching Gator Band, Cepero has been presented with a $1,000 honorarium by Music For Minors Board President Don Rhynard.

Cepero, the band’s drum major, was overwhelmed.

“Honestly,” Cepero said, “Music For Minors has already supported me and honored me by being part of their program but I never thought I would get an honor like this from them to support me beyond their program.”

Cepero has been chosen to play alto saxophone in Macy’s Great American Marching Band this November. The gift from Music For Minors will help offset the cost of participating in the parade on Thanksgiving Day.

Nov. 23 will mark Macy’s 91st annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2006, Macy’s Great American Marching Band was inaugurated with a goal of honoring America’s finest high school musicians. Macy’s Great American Marching Band is made up of 185 musicians plus a complement of 40 flags and dancers. Nearly three million spectators are expected to line the sidewalks along the parade route in New York City this Thanksgiving. Beginning in Central Park, Cepero and the rest of Macy’s Great American Marching Band will march to Macy’s Herald Square. There, the band will perform for celebrity hosts, a grandstand audience, and more than 50 million TV viewers on NBC.

Cepero and the other musicians will spend the week prior to the parade in New York City rehearsing and seeing the sights. The week will be fast-paced, and, at times, demanding. To get ready for the demands of hours of rehearsal, as well as the 2.6-mile parade route, Cepero has a plan.

“I understand that the parade is going to be exhausting alone but I plan on preparing for the long march of the parade by running and practice my instrument for long periods of time to build everything so the parade in New York will hopefully be a breeze and I could just take everything in while there,” she said.

Invitations to audition for Macy’s Great American Marching Band are sent out to outstanding high school musicians.

“I was sent an invitation by Smith-Walbridge (Drum Major Summer Camp) saying that there was still openings and I should go audition,” Cepero said. “And I forwarded the email to my band director saying that I would like to give it a shot.”

While at drum major camp, Cepero was presented with the Golden Whistle Award for demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities.

“The selection process, I feel it has to be the most anxious thing I have ever done,” she said. “The fact that they pick students from all over the U.S. – it is a crazy feeling to be one of the few picked.”

Along with a written application, auditions for Macy’s Great American Marching Band are posted via YouTube.

Certainly, being chosen to participate in Macy’s Great American Marching Band is a great honor. This honor, however, is not free. According to the MGAMB website, the cost to participate in the band is $1,649. This includes lodging and most meals, as well as some sightseeing tours. The fee does not include travel to New York City.

When Rhynard learned that Cepero had been selected to be part of Macy’s Great American Marching Band, he knew right away that he needed to make this happen.

“Because Nancy has been an exemplary student in Music For Minors, in her music studies, and academically, we felt we should recognize these achievements to help her out financially in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the Macy’s Great American Marching Band and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Rhynard said.

“Music For Minors,” Rhynard added, “provides instruments to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them. This allows them to stay in their music programs all through high school and beyond. This is important because many studies have shown that music and the arts enrich students’ lives, and helps them in many other facets of their learning in all subjects.”

According to their website, each year Music For Minors, contacts teachers in Lee and Collier counties to nominate deserving students in the music programs at their school. The organization then interviews the students and the parents to determine if they fit the criteria to be awarded an instrument. If they fit the financial and academic criteria, the students are accepted into the program and receive the instrument of their choosing. Each year the students must be re-certified for the program to ensure they continue to meet the requirements. After three years in the program, if the student remains in their music program and maintains good grades in school, the student receives a certificate of ownership for that instrument and the instrument is then theirs to keep for the rest of their lives.

“Mr. Rhynard’s program has impacted me in a way I never thought possible, and being in this program is the biggest part of my success,” Cepero said. “If it wasn’t for him and his program I wouldn’t have learned to find my love for playing the saxophone and with that skill I wouldn’t have made this honor. So being presented the saxophone from him and his program plays the biggest role in all of this.”

The funds from Music For Minors come from the Lee and Collier communities.

“Our biggest annual sponsor is the Bonita Blues Festival, and we also receive annual donations from the Stardust Memories Big Band, the South Florida Blues Society, the Naples Jazz Society, as well as several private donors,” Rhynard said. “Nancy received an alto saxophone from us six years ago, and completed our program as is required.”

Cepero is already giving back.

“Nancy performed in the ensemble we put together every year for the Bonita Blues Festival both while she was in our program, but more importantly, for several years after she had graduated from our program,” Rhynard said. “She wanted to help us help other students receive instruments.”

Mentors such as Rhynard, along with Island Coast High Band Director Zachary Deeter, have had a profound influence on Cepero.

“The music program at Island Coast High came from nothing,” she said. “It helped me grow so much. And being drum major for three years and seeing it grow and to be its leader is amazing. It helped me grow as a person.”

Deeter pointed to Cepero’s exemplary leadership and charitable spirit.

“Nancy is the face of the band,” Deeter said. “She’s a model student. As drum major, she takes command. She even stays after school to mentor and tutor other students who need help with either the flute or saxophone.”

When asked about growing into the role of leadership, as well Cepero’s plans for the future, she emphasized the importance of family.

“In my life everyone I meet has an impact on me but the biggest has to be my mother and my older brother,” she said. “Even when being a minority, my mother has never let that be an excuse for her, my brother, or me saying that we can do anything we want to do with dedication no matter who you are or where you come from. And from there on my brother, being the oldest, has led the path showing that he can do whatever he wants while putting his mind to it even when it gets hard from all angles.”

Cepero plans to attend college next year, possibly at FGCU, studying to be a Music Therapist with a minor in Musical Performance.

“Hopefully my role as a leader will take me places I never thought possible,” Cepero added. “And not only use it to my own advantage but to use it to help others.”

Letty Cepero, Nancy’s mom, had this to say about where she hopes to see Nancy in the future: “To see my daughter do all these amazing things. I know I have always pushed her really hard in everything she does but that’s only because I know she can achieve more than she thinks she can do. Now seeing her grow more and more and doing things that I didn’t even know she would do is just an amazing thing to see while seeing that sparkle of light in her while she’s doing everything she loves to do. But I do plan on pushing her more because why stop when there’s a whole world to try out in.”

For more information:

Interested in the Music For Minors Foundation:


Want to hear great music and help the community:


For more about Macy’s Great American Marching Band:



Find out what’s happening at Island Coast High:


Watch Nancy Cepero’s MGAMB Audition video: