Horns singing and drums pounding, the Marching Tar Heels led fans at the Dean E. Smith Center in a rousing chorus of “Hark the Sound” at the end of Saturday’s Duke loss.
Dressed in black and Carolina Blue uniforms, the band performs arrangements from tedious formations on the football field to rallying cheers next to the basketball court.
“Especially when it's a sold-out stadium, it's so electric,” Sophie Hazuka, a first-year band member, said. “Sometimes, if I go to a game and I'm not in a band, it feels weird being on the other side.”
Hazuka said she decided to join the band out of a combined love for music and making new friends. Though she was nervous for her first game at UNC, Hazuka said being a part of such a big group helped to calm her nerves.
“You're part of something bigger than yourself in that moment,” she said.
Hazuka plays piccolo and flute in the band alongside sophomore Alyssa Wilson. For Wilson, the Marching Tar Heels became a place of “automatic community” from her very first practice.
“I thought that I would be really nervous, but I felt comfortable as soon as I got there, and I just remembered I wanted to talk to everybody,” Wilson said.
The Marching Tar Heels are made up of approximately 275 students and are open to all students, regardless of major.
Jeffrey Fuchs, the director of University Bands, said the Marching Tar Heels is a group of students dedicated to supporting the University community through being in the band.
“It's a pretty close-knit group of students and staff that work together to achieve the goals of the organization,” he said.
The large group of students is divided into smaller bands depending on the type of event they are playing. Fuchs said the group's goal is to always make sure they are providing a quality band.
“There's not any auditions or anything, and every student at Carolina could be in the band as long as they play an instrument,” he said.
Among other perks, such as receiving guaranteed seats at games and class credit, students involved in the band also have the opportunity to travel with University sports teams for games.
Traveling with the UNC football team to San Diego in December 2022 for the Holiday Bowl Game was a favorite memory for Fuchs, Hazuka and Wilson.
“That was a bucket list item I didn't know I needed until then,” Hazuka said.
Fuchs said that the Marching Tar Heels are important because it allows students to show school pride. Their “soundtrack” is a game day tradition, he said.
“Those are the things that have most affected me,” Fuchs said. “Where we can engage the audience, no matter how large. Whether it's 150 people in volleyball or 52,000 at football, we can pull all the fans together in one way.”
Wilson and Hazuka said the hardest part of being in the band is time management between rehearsal and other activities. The practice schedule of the Marching Tar Heels varies depending on the sporting season and events band members are preparing for.
“Sometimes balancing college schedules can be hard, but at the end of the day, it's something that's so fun to me, and it's so important," Wilson said. "So I just tell myself that we have to power through."
Though it’s not an easy commitment, Hazuka said the friendships and experiences she has had in the band have made it “100 percent worth it.” She said that she has only had positive interactions with fans while in the band.
“People will randomly come up and take pictures with us," Hazuka said."We’re like little mini mascots."
Wilson said she feels the band is appreciated by fans and said that performing at games is invigorating. Her biggest advice to students thinking about joining is to give it a try.
“If it doesn't work out and you don't want to come back or you can't come back, at least you can say that you had the experience,” she said. “I don't think it's something anybody would regret because it's my favorite place to be.”
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