Get ready, Big Orange Country, because the Tullahoma High School Band is coming to Knoxville.
According to band officials, the THS Band has received an invitation to perform with the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Marching Band during a home football game on Sept. 7 against Brigham-Young University.
All last week THS Assistant Director of Bands Lisa Burden posted clues in the band’s Facebook group hinting at a special performance in the fall. The clues, which included references to the UT Band program in myriad ways, led up to a special video announcement from Michael Stewart, the associate director of bands for UT.
In the video, Stewart said the UT Band has “always had a great tradition with the Tullahoma Band program,” as “lots of students have marched with us.”
Thanks to a partnership program started at UT several years ago, Stewart said, The Pride frequently invites high school bands from around the state to come perform in Neyland Stadium.
It is through that program that UT wanted to invite the THS Band to come experience a crowd of 100,000 people during a home football game.
“This is something we’re really excited about,” Stewart said in the video. “We can’t wait to get you in Neyland Stadium. You will be on the field with us, playing right next to the band in front of over 100,000 people. We look forward to seeing you here in Knoxville. Go Vols!”
Both ensembles are excited for the opportunity to get together and make music together. According to the UT Director of Bands Don Ryder, bringing in the THS Band was an easy decision.
“Over the years … some of our strong musicians have come from Tullahoma,” he said. “I’ve had a past drum major from there and some very good players.”
Some of the things the directors at UT look for when inviting band programs to come perform with The Pride include the size of the ensemble and the quality of the group as a whole, Ryder said, and Tullahoma checked all the boxes for him and his colleagues.
Ryder also has a previous relationship with some of the band directors in Tullahoma, he said. Ryder said he’s known both Burden and Middle School Band Director Atticus Hensley, so “it’s nice to help them out, too.”
According to Ryder, the high school performances have only been happening “about the last eight years,” but they’ve been great opportunities for both the bands invited and The Pride as well.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for the kids to be in high school and get to perform with The Pride,” he said. “They’re going to march to the stadium just like we do, and then also they’re going to get a chance to perform in front of 100-some-odd thousand people. It’s a neat day.”
Another benefit comes to the community at large, according to Ryder. He joked that the director of the last band to be invited over to Knoxville “could have run for mayor” when the performance was announced.
“It was a big deal for them,” he said.
That same enthusiasm can also be felt here in the community. Burden said her student musicians are incredibly excited to be invited up to Rocky Top for the performance of a lifetime.
Not only is the performance a great opportunity for the students and the community in general, Ryder also said the performances serve as a recruitment effort for The Pride.
Ryder said he tries to “break it up geographically” when determining which groups get invited to perform with The Pride.
For example, he said, the last band to be invited was the Elizabethton High School Band, from the Bristol area. This was an area from which UT hadn’t previously recruited student musicians, Ryder said, but the performance changed that quickly.
According to Ryder, the music for the joint performance will most likely be completed by June or July. Once it has been selected and arranged for both programs, Ryder said he will send it down the highway to the high school directors so the THS Band members can start rehearsing.
Additionally, once the new crop of student musicians convene for band camp in July, The Pride will start working on creating the drill for the performance.
“Once their kids come in and they start band camp … we’ll have their numbers, because we chart their drills, too,” Ryder said.
The drill shouldn’t be too complicated, Ryder said, as the Tullahoma students will only have one practice to learn the steps before the game.
After their game day rehearsal, the THS Band will get to experience a Saturday in Knoxville just like The Pride does, from the iconic march to the stadium to performing stands tunes in Neyland Stadium and marching on the field at halftime, Ryder said.
“They’ll get the chance to play a stands tune or two during the game,” he said. “We let them play, as well.”
The two bands will perform together on Saturday, Sept. 7 during the UT-BYU game. Kickoff time for the game will be announced closer to that date.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.