Washington Commanders’ new marching band ostracizes some former members


In July 2021, Xavier Summers, a sousaphone participant within the ensemble previously referred to as the Washington Redskins Marching Band, purchased a home in Prince George’s County, in no small half as a result of it was situated eight minutes from FedEx Area. The NFL’s oldest band had been sidelined through the coronavirus pandemic, however indications had been that it might return. After driving 218 miles spherical journey from his earlier residence in Delaware to Landover for weekly rehearsals and residential video games for 9 years, Summers appeared ahead to the simpler commute.

“The one thing you don’t want to give up is that thing you’re passionate about,” Summers, a guide whose father, Eric, was the band director till this yr, and whose brother was additionally within the band, mentioned of his long-distance dedication to the group. “Then they didn’t bring it back.”

To be clear, there will likely be a marching band at Washington Commanders residence video games this season, however even past the brand new uniforms and revised combat music, which the 60-person ensemble of part-time paid workers debuted at the team’s first preseason game this month, the group will bear little resemblance to the all-volunteer band that was twice as giant and offered the soundtrack for Washington’s NFL workforce for greater than 80 years.

Twenty members of the previous band, all of whom had been required to re-audition, had been chosen for the brand new band. Summers and lots of of his former bandmates declined the chance for myriad causes, together with what they thought of the workforce’s disregard for the previous band’s management. Whereas the Commanders have fun the return of one of many franchise’s most recognizable traditions and new members put together to construct on that legacy, some musicians from the previous band really feel discarded and lament what’s been misplaced.

“This isn’t the band coming back,” Lynn Haase, who joined the previous band as a tenor saxophone participant in 2016, mentioned just lately. “This is a band coming back.”

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‘The band is a family’

After relocating his workforce from Boston to D.C. in 1937, Redskins founder and showman George Preston Marshall invited native musical teams, together with the Chestnut Farms Chevy Chase Dairy Band, to carry out at video games at Griffith Stadium. By the next season, Marshall’s workforce had its personal band and a combat music, which was composed by Barnee Breeskin and featured lyrics by Marshall’s spouse, silent movie star Corinne Griffith.

The band was a household affair — within the figurative and literal sense — from the beginning. It remained that means for generations.

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Wendy Harrell, who performed the mellophone within the former band, met her husband, a trombone participant, shortly after efficiently auditioning for the group in 2001. They had been married in 2007 and have two musically inclined sons they figured would be a part of them within the stands with devices sooner or later.

“Up until covid hit, we thought we would be in the band for a long time,” mentioned Harrell, a lifelong fan of the workforce.

Few members of the previous band are extra revered than 93-year-old Don Bartlett, who joined in 1969 and whose oldest son marched subsequent to him throughout his last two years of highschool. Even after a coronary heart assault seven years in the past left Bartlett unable to hold his brass tuba, he continued to function line chief, attending each rehearsal and recreation.

“The band is a family,” mentioned Chris Howell, a saxophone participant who joined in 2009 after seeing the group carry out within the Better Manassas Christmas Parade. “It was an opportunity to belong to something more than yourself. From sitting in the locker rooms before the game and standing around at rehearsal, you really get to know an awful lot of people really well.”

The band, which totaled roughly 120 members earlier than the pandemic, was a mixture of enthusiastic amateurs who labored IT and authorities jobs by day and individuals who made a dwelling enjoying and instructing music within the D.C. space. The volunteer ensemble was a daily presence, spanning three stadiums and the workforce’s ups and downs. With the introduction of an in-stadium DJ and an elevated reliance on recorded music throughout video games in recent times, the band’s enjoying time diminished, however its loyal members cherished the camaraderie and the prospect to symbolize the burgundy and gold.

“Even when the team wasn’t doing well,” mentioned David LaMay, who performed clarinet and saxophone, “the band was.”

“Between us, it was the biggest party this side of New Orleans,” mentioned 60-year-old Jonathan Cooper, a saxophone participant who joined the band shortly earlier than the workforce left RFK Stadium after the 1996 season. “We loved playing with each other, and whatever the team asked us to do, we’d do.”

In March 2020, the band went on hiatus together with the remainder of the sports activities world. The NFL’s covid protocols restricted the variety of personnel allowed on the sector the next season, however Joey Colby-Begovich, who was employed because the workforce’s vp of visitor expertise that March, labored with drum line chief Myles Overton and longtime band liaison Tony Cardenas to prepare an 18-member drum line to carry out at residence video games. Staff president Jason Wright mentioned the marching band would return as a part of the workforce’s rebrand in 2022.

Staff management determined members of the brand new band could be paid, because the franchise’s cheerleading squad, which was changed by a coed dance workforce in 2021, had been for years. After consulting with navy and school bands about the way it might create a strong sound with a smaller, skilled ensemble, the Commanders settled on a 60-person band.

The workforce communicated these modifications to Cardenas, who shared them with members of the previous band. Haase created a personal Fb group for band alumni to keep up a correspondence and set up a reunion. She additionally contacted Colby-Begovich and, at his request, admitted him to the Fb group to subject questions from her fellow band members about what the modifications would imply for them.

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Colby-Begovich shared details about compensation ($20 an hour for rehearsals and $25 an hour for efficiency days) and worker advantages, together with entry to a human assets consultant, and mentioned the band would obtain related consideration because the dance workforce going ahead. He talked about the workforce would rent a music director and defined that anybody occupied with being a part of the brand new band could be required to audition just about. These chosen could be required to re-audition yearly. (The previous band held auditions for a choose variety of spots that opened up after every season, however present members weren’t required to re-audition.)

“I have no ill will toward them,” Bartlett mentioned of the modifications, “but I was sad and disappointed that all of a sudden our traditional band was just cut off.”

A number of band members expressed frustration that Overton — who had greater than 35 years of expertise as a drummer within the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the U.S. Military Band — and his equally certified fellow band leaders, together with Eric Summers, Cardenas and longtime drum main John Carpenter, weren’t given any particular consideration for his or her many years of dedication and institutional information, although all had been invited to use for the music director place.

“We were stunned,” Haase mentioned of the dearth of continuity in management.

“Once we found out our leaders were not being asked to return and they were hiring people who were never in the band and didn’t understand our history, we were upset,” Harrell mentioned.

Eric Summers joined the band as a sousaphone participant in 1982 and have become the ensemble’s second Black director after George White died in 1998. He mentioned he didn’t study that he wasn’t a part of the workforce’s plans for the brand new band till the music director place was posted in March. The itemizing indicated the music director was answerable for deciding on the band director, the position Summers had held for greater than twenty years.

“It would appear that if I would have been there 23 years as a leader, if I would have to reapply for something that I had been doing very effectively for all those years, I would have gotten notice,” mentioned Summers, who grew up a couple of blocks from RFK and used to look at Washington’s band follow behind D.C. Normal Hospital. “That’s why it feels like such a slap in the face.”

Xavier Summers wrote a letter to Colby-Begovich advocating on behalf of his father. He mentioned Colby-Begovich later apologized for the miscommunication, however by that time the workforce had already employed Jeffrey Sean Dokken, the maestro and conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia, as music director.

Eric Summers, who retired in June after a greater than 40-year profession as a band director and assistant principal in D.C. and Prince George’s County public colleges, opted to not apply for the Commanders’ band director place as a result of it was extra akin to the drum main’s position within the former band.

“It is important for all band members to know — past and present — that they are a part of our team’s history and legacy, and we honor and respect that legacy,” Colby-Begovich mentioned by a workforce spokesman.

Greater than 100 musicians auditioned for the Commanders’ band, together with husband-and-wife mellophone gamers Corey and Elle Emerson. The couple had been members of the previous band since shifting to the D.C. space in 2018, and each made the minimize for the brand new ensemble. After the uncertainty of the pandemic, Corey Emerson mentioned he was excited to study that the band was returning, albeit with a special look.

“We’re still getting to know each other, whereas when we joined the band before, there were people who had been in there for decades,” Emerson mentioned. “That part, I think, will come in time. Everyone is very positive, and we’ve come together as a group pretty quickly. I’m excited about where we go from here.”

“I hope they have as great an experience as we did,” mentioned Harrell, who hasn’t dominated out auditioning sooner or later. “I also know it takes time to form those bonds and become the type of group that we had been for so long.”

Saxophone participant Kevin Epps, who graduated from Bridgewater Faculty in Might, is among the new faces within the band, which is one in every of two within the NFL together with Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. He described the expertise to date as “phenomenal.”

“The section leader for the saxophone section is a member of the old band, and he’s been really accepting of us and more than willing to help us out,” Epps mentioned.

Xavier Summers mentioned his father wouldn’t have discouraged him from auditioning for the brand new band, however he in the end determined in opposition to it. He additionally declined an invite to the “Hail and Farewell” banquet the workforce hosted at FedEx Area on June 25, an occasion that was organized after a former band member contacted Commanders co-CEO Tanya Snyder. Following a catered reception on the membership degree, greater than 50 former band members gathered on the concourse to carry out quite a lot of acquainted tunes, together with the workforce’s unique combat music.

“Every song we played, we looked at each other and realized that this was the end,” Haase mentioned. “We’re not going to be together anymore.”

Within the weeks for the reason that occasion, former band members have kicked across the thought of building an alumni band that would carry out at occasions within the space. A number of former band members have deliberate a postgame jam session in a parking zone close to FedEx Area after the Commanders’ season opener Sept. 11.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll have the majority of the band there, because that’s the kind of family and the culture that was cultivated,” Xavier Summers mentioned.

Bartlett, who didn’t audition for the brand new band, has happy his musical repair over the previous three years by enjoying within the Kena Shriner’s Band in Manassas, utilizing an previous fiberglass sousaphone that’s considerably lighter than the brass instrument he carried round on Sundays in his youthful days.

“I don’t think they’d be interested in having an old line chief who can’t march,” Bartlett mentioned of a doable return as a member of the Commanders’ band. “But I’d be first in line if we could ever get the old band back together.”

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