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Southern Pride band offers sneak peek as season begins

Southern Pride band offers sneak peek as season begins

Southern Pride band offers sneak peek as season begins

Drums roll and a color guard member s...

When the musicians marched, it was more of a walk at times, and they did not yet attempt portions of the halftime drill.
But from the opening fight songs to Georgia Southern University’s alma mater, through Bruno Mars and a little Puccini, they played with spirit and seeming ease.

At the conclusion of a grueling week known as band camp, the Southern Pride Marching Band put on a sneak preview of its 2013 debut shows Aug. 16. Going very informal, the students wore a motley selection of T-shirts and shorts. The main audience was the Aging Eagles Club, a booster group made up of Eagles fans around retirement age.

The staff led by Dr. Colin McKenzie, now starting his third season as Southern Pride director, had put the 200 band members through more practice than seemed possible in eight to 10 days. The drum line, color guard and majorettes had arrived Wednesday of the previous week. Winds players had arrived that Friday, and now it was Friday again. They had practiced more than 12 hours each day, from 8 a.m. till 9:30 p.m., except for a “short” 1:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Perched on a tall stepladder, McKenzie praised the young men and women for working very hard and exceeding his expectations. He also gave a weather report.

“It’s been hot and gross and then raining and freezing cold, and they’ve been out here through all of it,” McKenzie said. “We rehearse in the rain because we perform in the rain and we need to get conditioned for those kinds of elements, and I can’t even begin to tell you how overwhelmingly proud I am of the students on the field right now.”

More than two dozen Aging Eagles heard what a much larger crowd will experience when the football Eagles play their season opener Aug. 31 against the Savannah State University Tigers at Paulson Stadium. By then, McKenzie promised, the halftime show and visuals will be complete and the music more polished. The Southern Pride actually performs three shows at each home game – pregame and postgame shows as well as the halftime show.

The pregame show consists of fight songs and other peppy tunes, plus “Georgia on My Mind” and the national anthem.

Six halftime shows
Each of the six home games will bring a different halftime show. The first show, which was the only one previewed, features the music of Bruno Mars, the pop singer-songwriter whose songs have topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts repeatedly since 2010.

McKenzie admitted he did not know Mars’ music until his wife introduced him to it earlier this year. But he said the Mars tunes — including “Runaway Baby,” “Locked out of Heaven,” “When I Was Your Man” and “Treasure” — were chosen to appeal both to students and older fans.

“It’s also relatable music to many of our fans,” McKenzie said. “They listen to his music. His music is kind of retro in a way, and so they can relate to it much easier than they can a lot of current pop kind of stars.”
The second halftime show of the season will be a 1990s rock show. The third show will be “The Music of Les Miserables.”

McKenzie encourages Eagles fans to linger after each football game to hear the postgame show. Done standing still, it includes a recap of the halftime show, sometimes a preview of an upcoming halftime show, and a featured tune. By tradition, the Georgia Southern band also plays “It is Well (With my Soul)” after each game, and will both play through and then sing the alma mater.

At the preview, students sang the alma mater in four-part harmony. After some concluding remarks for band camp week, they sang it again, more informally but with added emotion.

This year’s featured postgame number is “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s opera “Turandot.” One of the band’s two drum majors, Adam Youngman, 20, a junior from Flowery Branch, conducted “Nessun Dorma” in the preview.

After the show, Youngman said band camp had been “one of the most incredible weeks ever” after his two previous years with the band. This is his first season as drum major. This was also, by all accounts, the first time in three years that the band had so much of the opening shows ready after camp.

“The drive and the determination of this group really stands out more than past years,” Youngman said. “So to get all that done in band camp really says wonders about our band program and our university, so we’re really looking forward to this season.”

Returning as drum major, senior Laura Goodwin, 21, from Suwanee, conducted during “It is Well.” But she thinks the halftime show, with the Bruno Mars tunes, will be a good in a match-up with Savannah State, whose band is known for high-energy performances.

“Savannah State, because of the kind of music that they play, they have a large crowd appeal, and we want to match that and show them that we may march differently, we may play different kinds of music, but we’re still just as good,” Goodwin said. “And in my opinion, we’re even better than Savannah State, no offense to Savannah State or anything.”

Three-fourths of Southern Pride members are majoring in subjects other than music, McKenzie noted. Youngman is majoring in music education, but Goodwin’s major is early childhood education. GSU does not offer marching band scholarships.

The trombone project
After the preview at their practice field on Old Register Road, young band members and Aging Eagles shared a picnic in the nearby pavilion. Formed as an informal group of friends several years ago, the Aging Eagles Club organized as a nonprofit corporation for tax-deductible donations in spring 2012 and chose support of the GSU athletic bands as its continuing mission.

The group had 103 members and had raised nearly $10,000 prior to the preview, said Aging Eagles President Paula Tompkins. In its most recent project, the Aging Eagles Club is raising money to purchase an identical set of trombones for the band. Trombonists currently perform with their own instruments of varying types, and an identical set should provide a more uniform sound, according to McKenzie.

The band needs at least 20 trombones, he said. They cost about $1,300 each, and he expects that accumulating a full set will take several years.

At the preview picnic, an ensemble of trombonists played some jazz. Aging Eagles members then placed checks totaling $2,600 in an open trombone case. Another couple had promised a $1,300 matching gift, and the club had already budgeted to buy two trombones from its dues. So the club will now purchase five trombones for the band, Tompkins said.

There is no age requirement to join the Aging Eagles Club. Members get a T-shirt with payment of their $50 annual dues. The email address for more info is

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