These students practice every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours and on Fridays for an additional two hours if there’s a home game that weekend.
Unlike high school marching band, where players have the entire year or season to perfect one halftime show, college marching bands perform a different show almost every home game, giving them only six to 16 hours to learn both the music and marches, according to senior and tuba section leader Megan Goldsby.
As a whole, marching band members spend nearly 10 hours of their Saturday at the game, which, including their practice, results in a 16 hour week.
“I would say on average you normally get there about five hours before the game starts,” Goldsby said.
Goldsby said these five hours are packed full with warming up, practicing, performing at Tar Heel Town, performing in front of Wilson Library, leading a mini parade to the stadium and then playing at the pregame.
Not to mention, on hot days the uniform is not ideal. If it’s extremely hot, they don’t have to wear them while practicing. However, on most game days, junior and piccolo section leader Nikki Newman said their uniform consists of shorts, a T-shirt, tall socks, bibbers (overalls), a jacket, a shield over the jacket, a backpack, ball cap and a shako (cap with the plume).
“Those uniforms suck,” Newman said. “In the heat, it’s awful they’re so hot.”
Of course, other weather extremes cause issues as well. Earlier this season, UNC played Virginia Tech during Hurricane Matthew. For the marching band, this meant wearing ponchos and playing their instruments in the rain.
David Michaud, a senior and marching band operational assistant, said he able to somewhat protect his clarinet by playing it underneath his poncho, but most members were not able to do the same with their instruments.
For sousaphone player Goldsby, the giant bell of her tuba collected water, making the 35 to 45 pound instrument even heavier.
“Because the bell is like kind of up, all the rain comes in and so like every 10, 15 minutes we had to drain it - so you just see like a pool of water coming out of the top of the tuba,” she said.
Weather aside, being in the marching band requires its members to attend all of the home football games. It’s important to note that this includes the games our UNC Tar Heels play during Fall or Thanksgiving break.
“The past three years, we’ve always had a game on the Friday or Saturday of Fall Break so you just like have to be there because it’s mandatory,” Will Schoeffler, a senior who plays the tenor drums in the drumline, said. “The day after Thanksgiving we have to come in and we have to be there at 8 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving.”
Marching band members do all this and more, and the class only gives them one credit hour. It doesn’t even provide them with the Visual and Performing Arts general education requirement.
Despite all this, its members continue because they love what they do.
“In the first two weeks I actually almost quit ‘cause it was so much work, but then the first football game happened and, even though it was like the longest day ever, it was like the most fun I’ve ever had,” Goldsby said. “
Being in the marching band also provides its members with several, unique opportunities.
“I mean we got to literally play for Obama and we get to go to all the stuff, like we get to show up 45 minutes before the Duke basketball game,” Goldsby said, referring to pep band during basketball season. “I’ve gone to the Duke game every year and I’ve never had to be in the lottery or anything like that.”
College Football Bowl games are not mandatory, but many members choose to attend during their Winter Break.
Schoeffler said this means they may have to leave on Christmas Day or come back on New Year’s Eve — but it balances out because the expenses are paid for and sometimes students are able to explore the city beforehand.
“All the opportunities for travel you get and the games are really fun,” Newman said. “They make it worth it and just the people make it worth it too because they’re your best friends.”