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The Columns: Alumni Reviews


Bandmasters championship hits high note in marching band seasonU of M band playing

The music. The pageantry. The precision. The Bandmasters Championship, an annual high school marching band competition sponsored by the University of Memphis Band Alumni Chapter, is becoming a premiere event in the Mid-South marching band season.

In the weeks leading up to the 2007 Championship, Internet message boards, blogs and band rooms were abuzz about the lineup of bands, considered one of the strongest ever. Predictions were for super-charged performances and close final scores. The 5,000 who attended on a sunny October afternoon weren’t disappointed as Munford High School claimed an unprecedented ninth Grand Championship with its high-energy show. But the win wasn’t an easy one; 2006 winner Houston High School nearly pulled off the repeat, scoring just .005 behind Munford, the closest spread possible short of a tie.

“It’s gotten rather competitive,” says Greg Nelson (BA ’88), a band alumnus and sponsorship/communication coordinator for the event. “They want to knock each other out.”

The 2008 Bandmasters Championship will be held Saturday, Oct. 18, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Some 25 high school bands from around the Mid-South are expected to compete. The contest begins around noon and lasts into the evening. Proceeds from the event go to the U of M’s marching band, the Mighty Sound of the South. Earnings from past contests have been used for scholarships, uniforms and new equipment.

Originally know as the Mid-South Invitational, the Bandmasters Championship began in 1963 at Whitehaven Stadium. It was held at Crump Stadium through the ’60s and ’70s and at the Liberty Bowl in the early ’80s, before moving to Halle Stadium for many years. The Band Alumni Chapter took an expanded role in organizing the event in the 1990s, and the Bandmasters moved permanently to the Liberty Bowl after the 1999 contest. In the course of its history, the event has hosted marching bands from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois and Alabama.

“The Bandmasters is more than the musicianship, the marching and the great competition,” says Nelson. It provides a great opportunity to showcase the University to a large audience of high school students, their parents and others who attend. “We have our band out there, we have booths selling University of Memphis stuff, it’s in our stadium,” he says. “The U of M is on display.”

Small ensembles and groups from the U of M’s Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music play during breaks in the competition. U of M representatives are on hand to provide information on the music program and all aspects of the University.

Counting performers and audience members, there may be 10,000 people at the Liberty Bowl for the Bandmasters Championship. “We think it’s the highest attended non-athletic event at the University,” says Jeremy Stinson (BA ’02, MAT ’05), past president of the Band Alumni Chapter. “This is the first exposure to the U of M for a lot of them.”

Competitions like the Bandmasters may offer the most appreciative audience the young musicians encounter all season. During football games, many fans leave their seats at halftime and don’t hear the routines the bands spend hours rehearsing. At the Bandmasters, the performers take center stage. “One comment I get, especially from freshmen, is how quiet it is,” Stinson says. “When the bands are announced it goes silent, then they start playing. Some of them get kind of scared it’s so quiet.”

This will be the third year that the event will be televised. With the help of FOX 13, the Bandmasters Championship will be broadcast on WKNO Channel 10 around the winter holidays.

Visit for more information.

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