The Redcoats are coming. Whether a Bulldog or a loser donning the opposing team’s colors, when you hear those words echo through Sanford Stadium, you get excited. It’s important for us to talk about The Redcoats. Why? Because the Redcoats as an institution has been around since “1905 as a component of the Military Sciences Department. Since that time the University of Georgia Bands have grown to include five concert bands and three athletic bands, which serve approximately 800 students from a wide variety of academic majors each semester” (Redcoats). That’s a lot of students and a lot of learning how to work together to make one collective sound.
If that doesn’t impress you, fast-forward to 2000 when the Redcoats were awarded the Sudler Trophy becoming the first SEC band to receive this award, “which recognizes bands who have “demonstrated the highest musical standards and innovative marching routines and ideas, and which has made important contributions to the advancement of the performance standards of college marching bands over a period of years.” According to University sources, a few years later the Redcoats became the first ever collegiate marching band to tour China. Today, the band has over 430 members and performs for nearly one million people in person each year. We’re like the Beyonce of collegiate bands. I had a chance to speak with a few Redcoats, as well as Dr. Mike Robinson, Director of Athletic Bands, and Dr. Cynthia Turner, Director of Bands for the University of Georgia, about what being a Redcoat means to them, here is what they had to say.
I asked Dr. Cynthia Turner, Director of Bands for the University of Georgia how she would describe the Redcoat Band. I felt this question most important, because what’s Georgia Football without the Redcoats, and vice versa? When I received Dr. Turner’s response I smiled, as it was nothing short of perfection. She said “the Redcoat Marching Band is a force. 430 positive and dedicated musicians who exemplify the best things about ‘spirit’ and ‘community,’ and who represent the University of Georgia and the Hugh Hodgson School of Music with excellence and pride. UGA would not be UGA without them.” The next question, not as exciting, but still necessary, was about the role music plays in the Georgia Football experience? Dr. Turner didn’t hesitate to express her feelings, saying “…I have observed, and continue to observe, the rise of loud recorded pop music before, during, and after the games. So, in fact, I do worry about the sustainability of acoustic marching band music when Athletics choose to play the recordings.”
But those recordings are not live music, nor do they visually or aurally represent anything unique about the University of Georgia. It is the Redcoats with both their enthusiastic stand UGA pep songs, and their groovin’ and superbly executed field shows, that infuse the crowd with energy and spirit. There is no substitute for live music. The live music she speaks of is the reason we as a crowd on Saturdays get on our feet. (Quick writer’s admission: I did JuJu a little bit in Jacksonville, however it was nothing in comparison to the emotion I felt when the Redcoats took the field and killed their ode to Justin Timberlake.)
I asked Dr. Turner, as well as Director of Athletic Bands, Mike Robinson, if they could sum up the Redcoat Band using only one word, what would it be? You’ll never guess what they said.
Dr. Turner: “Mike Robinson will probably say “family,” so that’s taken. How about “sweaty.” No, just kidding…well, not really. Here we go…”commitment.”
Dr. Robinson (unbeknownst to Dr. Turner): “That word would be family. The Redcoat band is a very tight knit group of students who really take care of each other and treat each other like brothers and sisters. The respect and pride within the group is amazing. This feeling of family continues after graduation as they continue into the Redcoat Alumni ranks. Once a dawg, always a dawg, forever a Redcoat.”
I took that same question to two outstanding members of the Redcoat band Hannah Cavendar and Jacob Weinstein, both nominated by Dr. Robinson. Cavendar replied Family, and Weinstein, Tradition. Are you starting to see a common theme here?
After speaking with everyone individually, it was easy to see that this family likes to have fun. My last question was to ask their favorite game memory. Without hesitation Dr. Robinson told the story of when “[their] Drum Major Christina Swoope was crowned homecoming queen in 2009 with the band behind her on the field! The Redcoats were so thrilled for her that they erupted into a song. For Cavendar it was running out of the tunnels for her first pre-game show in 2014 at the UGA vs. Clemson game in Athens. For Weinstein, it was playing the Battle Hymn with his band family for the first time that season.
That homecoming queen, the one Dr. Robinson spoke of earlier, is Christina Swoope. Christina was later voted one of UGA Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40 and now works in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget as a Medicare Program Examiner. She happily made time to speak with me about the Redcoat band, and like the others had nothing but good memories to share. One thing Christina said especially resonated with me. She said Larry Munson described the Redcoat band as “the heartbeat of the Bulldawg nation.” With that my quest was over. It all made sense. We love Georgia Football, because the Redcoat’s beat within it. Win or lose, the Redcoats are there to cheer us on.
MEET HANNAH CAVENDAR
FRANKLIN, TN | SENIOR
WHAT INSTRUMENT DO YOU PLAY? I play the saxophone, but I serve as one of the drum majors for the Redcoat Band.
WHAT’S ONE WORD YOU WOULD USE IF ASKED TO DESCRIBE THE REDCOAT BAND? Family.
FAVORITE POST-GAME THING TO DO? Eat all the food. More specifically, all the pizza rolls.
BIG PLANS AFTER GRADUATION? I hope to become a band director and change the lives of young students through music the same way my music teachers changed my life.
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST RIGHT NOW? Some of my favorite groups out there right now are Lake Street Dive, Ben Rector, The Oh Hellos, and Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN ATHENS? Big City Bread Cafe. Their french toast is to die for.
ADVICE FOR A FUTURE REDCOAT? Make the most of it. Even when it’s 105 degrees outside and the game is looking grim. Being in Redcoats is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve met so many amazing people that have become my family. Take advantage of the incredible opportunity to get to cheer on the Dawgs, win or lose, with the finest band in the land.
MEET JACOB WEINSTEIN
CONYERS, GA | JUNIOR
WHAT INSTRUMENT DO YOU PLAY? Mellophone in Redcoats, French horn in concert bands
WHAT’S ONE WORD YOU WOULD USE IF ASKED TO DESCRIBE THE REDCOAT BAND? Tradition Favorite post-game thing to do? Play the “After the Game” concert in the stands for all the fans!
BIG PLANS AFTER GRADUATION? Go straight through school and get a masters degree in music eduction, teach high school band a few years, work full time on a doctorate in music and hopefully come back to UGA to teach the Redcoat Band.
FAVORITE IG ACCOUNT YOU FOLLOW? The Redcoat Band’s Instagram!
WHAT’S ON YOUR PLAYLIST RIGHT NOW? Every kind of jazz, vintage Dixie Redcoat Band albums, R&B, most classical music, NPR World Music … I am really open to learning about and appreciating most any type of music- I want to be as knowledgeable as possible on all music in order to reach the most students I possibly can as a future music educator.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN ATHENS? Catch 22 Burgers.
ADVICE FOR A FUTURE REDCOAT? Soak in every moment and take every chance you can to learn why we do what we do as an organization. As soon as you step onto the field, you are immediately a part of the amazing family of all Redcoats through the ages and the incredible tradition that we are tasked each day with upholding and improving. At the end of the day, our job is to put a happy smile on each fan’s face with our music. “ … and the world is somehow a much happier place because the Redcoats are a part of it …”
MEET CHRISTINA SWOOPE
FORMER REDCOAT DRUM MAJOR, UGA HOMECOMING QUEEN 2009, and UGA ALUMNI ASSOCIATION 40 UNDER 40 HONOREE
How would you describe the Redcoat Band to someone unfamiliar with the University of Georgia?
I think Larry Munson said it best, the Redcoat Band is “the heartbeat of the Bulldawg nation”. Whether it is before, during or after a game, football season or not, the Redcoats find themselves at the heart of many UGA traditions and that is no coincidence.
What part does music play in the Georgia Football experience?
Before I graduated I had the opportunity to sit on a selection committee for the student commencement speaker during which we briefly interviewed each candidate and asked them about their favorite UGA traditions and memories. It was amazing to hear nearly every student describe a tradition in which the Redcoats played a major part. We heard everything from throwing their hands in the air for Krypton to start the 4th quarter, attending the dawg walk before the game with friends, sitting next to the band at the football games, battle hymn and hearing the soloist play from the upper deck’s southwest corner, joining in on the band’s chant as they enter the stadium yelling “Hey what’s that coming down the track!” and the list went on and on. I think that goes to show that the music that the Redcoats play on any given afternoon does not just set the atmosphere for the football game and hype up the fans and the team, it’s essentially the soundtrack to most student’s favorite college memories.
If you could sum up the Redcoat Band using only one word, what would it be?
Without question the word would be “Family” – and that is not just due to the high frequency of Redcoat weddings that tend to take place after graduation. Given the size of the band, people would be surprised to find that most students know each other by name. With the number of hours we all spent together, you got to know your section members better than your roommates, in fact they often became your roommates.
With representation from high schools all across the state and country, and the majority of students having majors outside of the school of music, Redcoats is an incredible network in which you can pretty much find someone willing and capable to help you with just about anything.
While the Redcoats are an extremely diverse group, we all (alumni included) have one thing in common and that is a love for music and performance. It is that common passion that caused all of our paths to cross as members of the Redcoat Band but it is the shared experiences, respect, and dependence on one another that united us a family. The camaraderie built from spending hours working together both on and off the field is truly remarkable. We’ve endured extreme rain, heat, and cold together, celebrated each other’s achievements and comforted each other in hard times, found collective humor in the challenges of our demanding schedule, discovered new heights to our talents and abilities, cheered the football team on through their highest and lowest of moments, and pushed each other to grow in ways we otherwise never knew we could. While these things were not always fun or easy, and had our fights with each other along the way, our passion for what we do and a sense of belonging to something much bigger than ourselves always made those tough times worth while. The alumni have a saying that captures it best, “Once a Dawg, Always a Dawg, Forever a Redcoat!”
The Redcoat band is a lot of things, a Sudler trophy award winning group, a source of some of the University of Georgia’s greatest traditions, and a wild and courageous group of Georgia fans. But, it will always be first and foremost a family.
What year did you participate in the Redcoat Band? What instrument?
My freshman year (fall 2006) I marched in the alto saxophone section. I then served as a Redcoat Band Drum Major during the 2007-2009 football seasons. I then worked as a member of the Redcoat staff during the fall of 2010.
What did you learn from being a member of the band that has served you well in your later endeavors, with business, etc.?
There are 2 specific things that come to mind, the first being that fear of failure will cause you to miss out on some of life’s greatest opportunities. As a freshman I signed up to audition to be a Redcoat Band Drum Major, a position I had dreamed about since high school and wanted probably more than words could express. The thought of auditioning was exciting to me until I realized that auditioning in front of over 400 of my peers in a stadium full of people was probably one of the largest stages on which to publicly fail (which I ridiculously defined as making any type of mistake). Unbeknownst to most, I had let that fear convince me to back out of my audition. Fortunately for me, after some much appreciated persuading from a dear friend, I gathered up the courage to go for what I really wanted.
Today, I am proud to say that I was the first African American female Drum Major of the Redcoat Band in its then 111 years of existence. Ironically, it was that choice to not let fear dictate my path that set my current career trajectory. Through my experiences as a Drum Major I found my passion for public service as knowing my work made a difference in the lives of over 400 people invigorated me and showed me I needed a profession that allowed me to impact the lives of millions of people at a time, not just those that I could physically put my hands on.
I chose to attend to Johns Hopkins for graduate school because it was the one school I applied to that I thought I may be in over my head at. Attending Hopkins relocated me to Baltimore for school where I applied for an internship at the White House because I never thought I’d get it. Two years later, I accepted an offer to return to the White House because it was the one job I knew would push, and potentially break, the limits of what I thought I could achieve.
And now, I’m heading into year two of a career at the White House serving millions of America’s most vulnerable through my work on the Medicare program. To say that I value the learning experiences afforded to me through the Redcoat Band would be an understatement. Redcoats informed my understanding that fear of failure will cause you to miss out on some of life’s greatest opportunities and, what I consider the other most important thing I learned from Redcoats, regardless of how much you achieve, people will not know how much you know until they know how much you care.
What do you do now?
Currently I work at the White House Office of Management and Budget as a Medicare Program Examiner.
What is your fondest memory?
My fondest Redcoat Band memory is a tough question because nearly every memory I have from Redcoats is a fond one or at least one that I can look back on and laugh. But, to be fair, I can name my top 2: Conducting Battle Hymn for the last time in Sanford stadium will always be one of my fondest memories from Redcoats. If you ask any recent Redcoat alumni they will tell you that the build up to this extremely emotional moment starts at band camp your freshman year when you sit down in the band with over 400 fellow Redcoats and start playing through all the iconic music. At that point you’ve been a Redcoat for less than a day and you’re immediately thrown into the mix, quickly attempting to pick up on the horn flashes that go with the songs, the random dance moves that have become section traditions, and are completely overwhelmed by all of the movement and energy in the room. As the energy picks up, the volume quickly follows, and the smiles and laughter in the room are contagious. Then a hush comes over the room, everyone removes their hats and, out of complete silence, you hear the beginning of Battle Hymn. You can immediately identify each senior in the room by the number of tears streaming down their face as they are aware that this Battle Hymn brings them one closer to their last. For many Freshman it is that level of emotion in the room that triggers an immediate awareness that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves or the group gathered in the room. They are officially a part of the Redcoat Family and the tradition of the Redcoat Band. Conducting Battle Hymn in Sanford stadium and being able to share that most cherished moment with so many of the people who had been essentially my family over the past 4 years will always be one of my most treasured memories.
Representing the Redcoats on the 2009 Homecoming Court was and always will be one of the biggest honors I have received. For me, some of the most amazing moments in my life have all taken place on the 50 yard line of Sanford stadium and never in my wildest dreams would have I have imagined that being crowned Homecoming Queen would be one of them. Exactly five years prior, I had been invited to conduct the Redcoats at homecoming as a high school junior, and I specifically remember thinking that conducting the Redcoats that day would be a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. Three years later, I marched onto the field for my first pre-game show as a Redcoat Band Drum Major, being the first African-American female in the history of this university to do so. In that moment in 2009 I stood on the field in total disbelief as a member of the 2009 Homecoming Court representing an organization that I can honestly say has had a large hand in making me who I am today. Very rarely can you say that something has truly changed your life, but I know that I am the person I am today and the leader I will be tomorrow because of the amazing experiences, relationships, and challenges I faced at the University of Georgia and particularly as part of this band.
Fortunately for Redcoat alumni, the fond moments and memories continue as the alumni band hosts events all year long, the most notable being the pre-game performance each year at homecoming. Few people know that the alumni band arrives in Athens early the morning of the homecoming game for one short rehearsal and, with some incredible assistance from the current Redcoats and staff, make that performance possible each year. It’s a nod to the dedication these alumni have to the university, their love for the Redcoat Band, and overall commitment to excellence that this organization has instilled in them. I can name very few things I would get up at 3am to stand in the dark and in the cold wandering around a field for but Redcoats is definitely one of them. It was a sacrifice we all made when we were in school and participating in alumni band signals to everyone in the Bulldawg nation that these damn good dawgs would do it again.
Favorite song? Battle Hymn. While I noted that the Redcoats provide the soundtrack to many UGA students favorite college memories, for me, that soundtrack could have one song on it alone and it would be Battle Hymn.
What advice would you give to a young woman/man who are thinking about playing an instrument or joining the Redcoat Band? Audition, audition, audition!!! It will be the best decision you ever made and, if you don’t, your biggest regret.