By Jamie Dickson
Ring out the victory song! Mercerians will welcome back their marching band after a 72-year hiatus this fall. Uniforms and instruments have been ordered and band camp is scheduled for Aug. 4-17. The band will not only perform during all eight of the Bears' home football games in 2013, but also will attend select away games, exhibition performances and participate in marching band competitions.
While the organization is finishing up its recruitment efforts for the 2013 football season, the band is still looking for new members, said Emory Dunn, director of athletics admissions. "Our goal for 2013 is to have 60 new incoming freshmen in the marching band, with an overall goal of having 150 in the band for the first year," he said.
Doug Cowden, director of athletic bands, got his start at Mercer in 2005 as director of the basketball pep band. Now he's in charge of bringing the marching band back to life and said he and his students are looking forward to the fall.
"[The students] have a lot pride in what we're going to do," he said. "Come Aug. 31 we're going to give the fans a great show."
Jim Cole, director of athletics, said he believes the marching band will bring the same spirit to the football stadium as it has to the basketball arena.
"The athletic department is so excited about the start up of our marching band program," Cole said. "We have seen the immense benefits that a successful pep band brings to the game-day environment in basketball. We tasked Doug Cowden with bringing that same energy and spirit to the football games via the new marching band. He, as well as his band members, are more than up to the task, and we can't wait to hear them on Aug. 31."
Thanks to the generous support from the Carolina Crown, a drum corps based out of Ft. Hill, S.C., the band saved more than $150,000 on the cost of instruments. "They came through in a big way," Cowden said. "They heard we were starting from scratch and asked, 'what can we do to help?'"
Mercer's marching band is modeled after bands like the Carolina Crown, which features powerful, precisely tuned horns and intricate marching drills. "We're going to do a lot of things that other college marching bands won't do," Cowden said.
Band Captain Dillon Watkins, a junior from Gordon, said he's excited to be a part of Mercer's history.
"The announcement that Mercer would officially get a marching band was definitely the highlight of my year," he said. "After 72 years, there is finally another marching arts program at Mercer."
Watkins said he is eager to showcase the band's unique style.
"I think one thing I am looking forward to would be stepping off for the first game," he said. "So many question arise with starting new programs. 'Will they be any good?' 'How many people will they have?' 'What kind of shows will they do?' We are going to be a very surprising band."
This fall, the band will perform a halftime show titled "Resurrection," which tells the story of the return of football and the marching band. The show will feature three songs: "Gloria," by John Rutter; "The Humming Chorus," from the opera "Ivan the Terrible" by Sergei Prokofiev; and "Berceuse and Finale" from "The Firebird Suite," by Igor Stravinsky.
The current marching band is actually the fourth iteration in Mercer's history. The band was first formed in the early 1900s and dissolved in the 1930s. The band was restarted in 1940, but, due to World War II and the subsequent cancellation of football, it too dissolved after two years. In 1944, the ROTC program at Mercer started a band, and since there was no football due to the war, it was a military-style band that was used strictly for parades. This band was reported as being one of the best in the country.
Doris McCamy Jones was the marching band's drum major in 1941. She said she has fond memories of her time with the band and is excited to see the new band perform this fall.
"I enjoyed marching in a band and participating in a band program as much as anything I've done in my life," she said. "I would recommend any young person who likes music to participate in a marching band. I think it's great that it's coming back."
Cowden said the band plans to honor its history not only through this fall's halftime show, but also through its uniforms. The chevrons on the right sleeves of the new uniforms pay homage to the military version of the band circa 1944.
"All of us are shaped by our past. It forms our personality," Cowden said. "We must honor those who came before us."
And while the band is taking steps to salute its past, it also plans to start new traditions of its own. For example, the band will lead fans to the stadium in a "Bear Walk" each game.
"Everyone knows that football comes with many traditions," Watkins said. "Marching band will be leading the charge with this at Mercer. Whether it is playing the fight song at a pep rally, playing "Georgia On My Mind" at the end of a game, or playing marches and fight songs during pregame, we will be the first to start new traditions and the first to bring back some old ones."
The band will host a Sounds of Summer clinic, presented by Yamaha, June 5-8.This intensive, four-day workshop is open to recent high school graduates who have yet to decide where to attend college, as well as current high school students who might be interested in attending Mercer upon graduation.
For more information about the marching band or the Sounds of Summer clinic, visit www.mercerbands.com. Registration for the clinic closes May 20.