A day with the marching Tar Heels

Under the muggy haze of a Thursday afternoon, the Marching Tar Heels filed into Navy Field one by one.

With each member adorning a sweat-stained shirt and an instrument in hand, the 265-person band assembled in meticulous rows for what seemed like just another routine practice.

But throughout the past month, the University’s marching band has spent more than 62 hours revamping many of its tradition-bound routines.

And on Thursday night, the ensemble put those changes to the test, ironing out last minute details as the band prepares for its first debut of the school year on Saturday — during UNC’s football game against Elon University.

“We’ve completely redesigned portions of our show in an effort to engage the crowd more in what’s going on,” said Jeffrey Fuchs, director of the Marching Tar Heels. “We’ll be adding things to the show that are going to make the crowd just want to stop what they’re doing and sing along.”

Fuchs said the largest changes to the show will be the addition of dozens of new songs and a complete restructuring of the pre-game entrance.

The new songs will add to the band’s repertoire — which aims to feature a blend of new, popular radio songs and old classics that resonate with alumni, such as Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

“For this year, our goal for each game is for our music to connect with every demographic that attends our football games — from little children to our oldest fans,” Fuchs said.

Although Fuchs would not reveal the details of the pre-game entrance’s restructuring, he said fans will be entertained by its drastic changes.

“It’s going to be one of those things where people are going to want to start being in their seats a half hour before the game starts,” Fuchs said.

Jessica Edgar, a sophomore piccoloist in the band, said the changes would offer a refreshing edge to the band’s traditional routines.

“Since the band’s been doing some of the same things year after year, fans in the audience had started to build up resistance to our performances,” Edgar said.

“Because of these changes — especially our pre-game entrance — we’ll really be able to catch the attention of the stadium,” she said.

Matthew McClure, assistant director of the marching band, said that although the band will reduce the breadth of its marching formations this year, he is excited for the unique halftime performances that are lined up for the season.

Saturday’s halftime performance will feature a salute to Andy Griffith, who played tuba for the University’s marching band until his graduation in 1949, Fuchs said.

But changes in the program’s structure aren’t the only improvements to the Marching Tar Heels, McClure said.

This year, the band gained more than 80 new members, he said.

“Even though we lost a lot of great seniors this past year, when people leave, there’s opportunity for others to step forward,” McClure said.

“And usually that makes the band even better,” he said.

But despite the advantages of revitalizing the performance, Fuchs said the time commitments associated with teaching new songs and routines presented challenges for the band.

“Despite some of the time constraints that we’ve suffered, it’s been worth investment,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs said teaching the band members how to perform for fans is the most valuable lesson.

“From cheering our team on to engaging the crowd, we’re the ones that are creating the experience for fans.”

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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