Band pageantry next on UNCC 49ers’ agenda

mwashburn@charlotteobserver.comDecember 10, 2013 


The UNC Charlotte 49er Drumline plays for fans outside the Judy W. Rose Football Center before the inaugural football game Aug. 31.


Football team. Check.

New stadium. Check.

Marching band. Working on it.

When the UNC Charlotte 49ers take the field in 2015 in Conference USA, they’ll do it to a new beat. A marching band will be the latest addition to the university’s football program, but there’s still a lot to do.

It needs a director, uniforms, instruments, a color guard, and of course, a name. But that should all be arranged next year, says Jay Grymes, who’s already been thumbing through music catalogs.

“I’d forgotten how obsessive, fanatical people are about marching bands,” says Grymes, interim head of UNCC’s music department. “There’s so much excitement from our students and across the university.”

Nothing injects energy into the crowd quite like a band, Grymes says. If there was ever a time when being in a marching band was considered geeky, those days are long gone, he says.

For one thing, geek is now in, he says. For another, the university’s new drum line of about 20 – drawn from students in a range of majors including nursing and architecture – is a hit on campus when it pounds away for games.

“They’ve become rock stars, Facebook stars on campus,” Grymes says. He started in marching bands as a drummer at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

Raising money for program

UNCC has set a $4.5 million goal for a band endowment that will help pay for instruments, uniforms and scholarships for those in the band. Eventually, the university hopes to have up to 100 scholarships to attract talent.

In its inaugural year, the university expects to have about 150 in the band. Grymes says that’s on the smallish side for a university with an enrollment of about 27,000. A rule of thumb is that a mature marching band program fields about 1.5 percent of the campus population, and a long-term goal would have the university’s band at 350.

Marching bands are going through a renaissance in popularity these days. Ohio State University’s band has become a YouTube sensation with its halftime showmanship, most recently creating the form of a T-Rex that snapped up a student dressed as a player from rival Michigan.

Other top bands in the nation include Louisiana State University, University of Illinois, West Virginia University and the University of Michigan.

Technique and technology

Technology has helped band leaders choreograph ever-more complicated moves, says Shawn Smith, UNCC’s director of bands. He got started in marching bands as a student at Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho.

“Software for writing drill formations is quite incredible now,” he says. “Playback even has little people marching in uniforms.”

Members of Ohio State’s band, for example, learn their routines before rehearsal on iPads.

Being in a marching band draws on a number of special skills, Smith says. Students must be dedicated to showing up for every practice, and during performances have to concentrate on both their music and every footfall. Some musicians carry up to 30 pounds of equipment.

“There’s a skill involved in that that you don’t have in concert music,” he says. “You have to know where you’re moving and when you have to get there. It takes a certain kind of mental and physical energy.”

Washburn: 704-358-5007

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