Glory, Glory To The Ultimate Fans–A Look At The Life of the Collegiate Marching Band from the Perspective of a Georgia Redcoat
Chief Cultural Correspondent Jennifer Rohner talks about life as a member of an SEC Marching Band.
What would you give to set foot on your most beloved team’s hallowed ground at every home game without the danger of being charged by a 300 pound lineman? What if you were counted on at games to elevate the spirits not only of the players but of your alma mater’s entire world? How many of us get the privilege not only to be a part of the spectacle on the home field, but also to proudly and grandiosely defend the honor of our compatriots in enemy territory at away games?
It’s an enthralling experience to watch an SEC football game from the stands. But some of us super-fans have the distinction of being even more closely sewn into fabric of the the glorious spectacle that is a fall Saturday contest.
Some of us mere mortals (as opposed to a finely-tuned athletic machines) play a vital role in the Circus Maximus, a role whose absence would be like a Fourth of July without apple pie, Lee Greenwood, and fireworks. Yet it is a perspective that is known by a relatively small sector of any school’s fan base. I refer to the students who by way of their musicianship, exceptional performance aptitude, and dedication get to represent their people on the field and in the stands with gusto and grandeur. These fortunate ones bring to the masses, as it is said at UGA, “Great Music and Pageantry”.
No organization embodies the spirit of the Southern game day quite like an SEC Marching Band.
At this time of year, football teams aren’t the only ones working overtime to ensure a successful Fall campaign. Not too long after football camps begin, marchers from all over the country forego their last two weeks of summer freedom and come together to create an indispensable icon of fandom, the ultimate extension of both the fans and the team. Membership is a whirlwind experience like no other, and it was something I was lucky enough to be offered thanks to my own hard work and dedication. My participation therein turned out to be one of my most memorable and rewarding accomplishments.
As a proud alumna of the University of Georgia Redcoat band, I thought I’d share some of my personal story as well as some of the universal experiences of the musicians, twirlers, dancers and directors who make it all happen.
I’d been in love with the Redcoat Band since the first time I saw them at a UGA homecoming parade many years ago. Never having played an instrument in my life, I rapidly found one and swore that one day I’d find my way into their ranks. And wouldn’t you know it, my tenacity and nearly obsessive drive led me to heart’s desire, as I was granted membership to the 100th Anniversary edition of the RCB in the fall of 2004. Needless to say I was ecstatic.
What I found when I arrived on my first day of band camp–apart from the fact that I knew how to play my trumpet but that my marching required a little bit of work, to say the least–was that this was a big and welcoming community. While it was quite diverse there was also a strong common connection. We were musicians and performers, one and all, with a shared love of music, performance, and ceremony. The camaraderie was palpable. Before I met even one person I couldn’t help but feel at home.
It wasn’t long, either, before I found a new respect for everything that these kids do. While completely exhilarating, camp days were long and intense. Two-a-days? More like three-a-days! Long rehearsals on the field in the sweltering heat while attempting to sight read and master enough music to short-circuit anyone’s main-frame. Enough marching drill to challenge the fittest of men. And the responsibility to make it all look and sound brilliant.
Participaton was an honor and a privilege, no question. I was just a lot of work.
I recently visited Athens for UGA’s Band Camp to see how the world of Band had changed over the years. And to no surprise of mine, it hadn’t. Just as much dedication and obligation are still part of the package.
Band students report at least a week before school starts, with leadership arriving earlier still. Once the entire band has returned, there is the whirlwind stress of registration, placement auditions, and wondering whether or not you’ll be guaranteed a permanent spot on the field for the season (I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was always wrapped up in panic over that!).
Then the camp itself begins. The day begins around 9am and runs until about 10pm. Morning rehearsals in the hot sun give way to afternoon sectional time, and finally an evening session that brings the day all together. You play and you march and you work. For hours every day. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Auxiliaries such as the Flagline, Majorettes, and Georgettes have their own extra tasks. I caught up with two of the featured twirlers, Miranda from Jessup, GA and Nicole from Iowa City, IA, who reported that their day also includes additional exercise, running, and conditioning.
Not that the musicians have it any easier. Not only does the drill have to be precise and sharp but also the music itself must excel. Learning new music and new drill simultaneously isn’t exactly like walking and chewing gum. But it has to be done, and done right.
After all, you wouldn’t want to be shown up by a rival school, would you? Our featured twirlers mentioned that the rivalry between themselves and the Crimsonettes (the Alabama dance team, as opposed to our own Georgettes) is rather legendary. And anyone who’s been a Redcoat knows of the necessity of outplaying and marching the Pride of the Southland (UT), Pride of the Sunshine (UF), and the Mighty Sound of the Southeast (South Carolina), just to name a few. It’s almost as important as leaving their stadiums with wins. “We always want Redcoats to be the best.” said featured twirler Nicole. That spirit of competitiveness can help keep marchers motivated when the days at camp get long and tedious.
Not that band camp is a total grind that is completely free of frivolity. Traditionally, the last night (or two) of band camp features a tradition known as Hype Night, during which each section comes to evening practice costumed in a particular theme–and it always becomes a competition between sections of cleverness, ridiculousness, and often downright outrageousness (if you thought that seeing a bunch of football players riding down Milledge Avenue in Athens riding mopeds and shouting at sorority girls was an scandalous spectacle, you’ve never seen what the Tubas and the Drumline can come up with on Hype Night….and in the interest of protecting the innocent, I’ll leave it at that! Insert smiley here!). Aaaaah, but it is all good fun!
The band becomes not only part of the glory and the glee of the day, but an extension of the heart and soul of the team. The lives of the two separate entities are irrevocably bound. Where the team goes, the band goes. You work nearly as long and hard as they do for essentially the same goal. And their successes and failures directly dictate how you’ll be spending your weekends and holidays, not to mention the massive semester-long time commitment (three to five nights a week on the practice fields, not including game day). It’s easy to see how that kind of undertaking can precipitate a passionate sentiment for the season that can rival the emotion of even the heartiest of fans. Hali, an Senior Redcoat from Lawrenceville, Georgia, said it best : “We are more emotionally invested (than the average fan),” she said. “The football team cries, we cry.” No question that the sting of a tough loss can be a little bit keener for those of us who play the tunes, especially when traumatizing moments happen right before your very eyes. “The last play of the title game was right in front of the Redcoats.” said featured twirler Miranda.
Band members must be there with their team no matter what.
If you’re in the band, there’s no deciding you don’t feel like going to a game. There’s no strolling in just moments before kickoff if it’s convenient. There’s no leaving early if the team is down by 20 points with no hope of recovery. There’s no sitting a game day out if the day is too hot, too cold, too rainy, or the stadium too full of bitter Georgia Tech fans hurling frozen beer cans. You’re in it for the duration. Every weekend. Just like the players themselves.
But when all goes well on the field, the dividends are just as rewarding as the losses are painful.
Marching Band is, in truth, a year-round endeavor. When the bowl trip ends, the world of marching doesn’t take any time off. Most schools have multiple athletic bands that pick up where marching band leaves off (such as pep bands for Basketball and volleyball, and sometimes Gymnastics) that need to be maintained. At many schools, members who plan to return in the fall are required to be part of an offseason performing ensemble to stay in shape. There are January and February music camps for high school students that must be run. New shows and drill need to be written. New members must be recruited, with auditions going on through the winter and spring. All this takes us up until around June. Not too long after that its time for band camp, football season and bowl trips…just in time to start all over again. A shadow of the Football program, to be sure.
The band is an integral part of the magnificence and grandeur of College Football. At the risk of sounding like a mawkish old alumni I can promise that being a part of it was a privilege I have always cherished and an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. After visiting the 2013 band camp I was heartened to know that my kind of folks still have the passion, the drive, the talent, and the cheek that I remember, and that future editions of the Redcoat Band probably won’t be any different.
And with that, this VERY sappy Redcoat almuni is putting it out to you….were you a part of your school’s band? What was your experience like? Did you witness any special moments from the sidelines that most fans don’t get to see? Sound off below!
In next week’s post……I invite you to take the last week of the offseason and completely tune out! Look out for it…
–Jennifer Rohner, Chief Cultural Correspondent