Submitted Former Macon County High student Patti Hummel (foreground) is a member of the Middle Tennessee State University Band of Blue, one of five MCHS graduates currently playing in bands at area colleges and universities.

Submitted

Former Macon County High student Patti Hummel (foreground) is a member of the Middle Tennessee State University Band of Blue, one of five MCHS graduates currently playing in bands at area colleges and universities.

When the 350-member Pride of the Southland Marching Band stepped on to the playing surface at TIAA Bank Field last Thursday evening, Macon County was represented among the contingent.

University of Tennessee freshman Elijah Hale was experiencing his first bowl game as Tennessee rallied in the fourth quarter for a come-from-behind victory over Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, which was played in Jacksonville, Florida.

However, the saxophonist isn't the only Macon County High band member to be rewarded with a winter trip to a warm destination. Hale is just the only one this year.

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) senior Jaime Wright has actually been to two bowl games, with the 2017 Camellia Bowl having been played at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 2017, and the New Orleans Bowl having been played in December of 2018 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

"Marching band is super fun," Wright said. "You make many connections with a bunch of different people. There's people in the marching band from all the different places in the U.S. We have people from the Bahamas marching.

"It's people from all different majors, not just music majors. It's just a lot of fun."

However, though it's no less enjoyable, Wright's experience is somewhat different than that of Hale's.

"There's a lot more opportunities," Wright said. "Marching bands are different all around, depending on who your director is. Our high-school band was competitive. College marching band is not competitive. We just perform for the football audiences. We're a lot more laid back and lenient. We just have fun."

However, the goal for Macon County High band director Joey Wilburn is to prepare his students to be able to perform in a collegiate marching band if they choose to explore that route.

"Everything we do is to prepare them for that, all the way from our concerts, to our marching shows, to basketball pep bands," Wilburn said. "Those are all opportunities they have in college as well. I usually can try to catch it (if they're eager and talented) and try to push them toward that level, especially if I think they have the potential but they don't think they do.

"Our goal here really is to create lifelong musicians and students who love music. I love sports. We all love watching sports, but after a certain age, you are no long able to play sports. You can literally play music until the day you die. It's something that will never leave you."

For Hale, becoming a part of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band consisted of a tryout process.

However, at MTSU, it's simply requires signing up.

"My experience at MTSU was that anyone could sign up for the Band of Blue," Wilburn said. "Then, they had a concert band that met in the spring semester that anybody could sign up for.

"They did have other ensembles, mainly for music majors."

Wilburn is a Macon County High graduate who played in the Band of Blue, the wind ensemble, symphonic band, concert band, salsa band, jazz band and the orchestra at MTSU.

He's currently in his seventh year as the band director at MCHS.

"Even though I went to MTSU, it's a pretty good idea that Western Kentucky, (Tennessee) Tech and UT are all looking for that same type of thing (in a musician)," Wilburn -- who indicated that there are scholarships available for band members, though those vary from school to school -- said. "It's helped me try to steer them into a better path in college, even if it's not music. I want them to be successful in college. It's helped with advising the kids."

Wright and Hale are two of the five Macon County High graduates currently participating with college marching bands.

Freedom Nash is a sophomore trombonist at Cumberland University, and freshman tuba player Alexis Sullivan is also at Cumberland.

Sophomore clarinet player Patti Hummel joined Wright at MTSU.

"The band director, Joey Wilburn, came to MTSU, and I liked how he spoke about it," Hummel said. "I knew music wasn't going to be a career, but I wanted it to still be a part of my life in college. So, when I got here, I contacted the band director.

"Band is a passion of mine. I knew I wanted to be a part of the band here. It's one of the main reasons I came here. I mainly came here for the business college, but the band was just a plus because they're a family here."

Wright added, "The most enjoyable part for me is the connections you make while marching. We travel with the bands. You see a lot of new things and meet a lot of new people. It's a lot of different connections being made."

Wright found MTSU in much the same way that Hummel did.

"I started band in sixth grade," Wright said. "I just kept playing trumpet throughout my junior-high and high-school years. When I was in high school, if you were going to be in band, you had to do concert band in the spring and marching band in the fall. I loved it so much that I wanted to continue marching in college.

"I knew that I wanted to be a music teacher when I was in high school. I just explored different colleges. I just fell in love with MTSU and the Band of Blue. I wanted to continue my marching career and see where it goes."

Hummel pointed out that, while there are obviously similarities in marching band in high school and in college, there are some significant differences as well.

"The community is really similar," Hummel said. "In high school, it's really structured. In college, it's different. It's a community-based band. It's people who love playing music and love using it as a hobby.

"You're there to have fun. It's a great experience."

The Band of Blue -- which consistently is comprised of more than 350 members -- doesn't travel to all of the football team's road games, though they made trips to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this fall for the contest against Western Kentucky University and to Boca Raton, Florida, for the game at Florida Atlantic University.

"When you come into college, you only really have what people tell you about it," Hummel said. "Getting on the field and marching is euphoria. I let go of craziness and just let go.

"It's not like most colleges. You can go up to a random band member and ask for help, and they'll help you as much as they can. It's a kind of network and a nice support system to have."

Hummel, an economics and statistics major who also plays the oboe and is currently learning to play the piano and baritone, plans to be a part of the concert band in the spring.

At MTSU, the band practices three times per week for approximately two hours, but there is a lot of activity that takes place on the weekends, which often consist of half of the band performing.

"We dedicate most of our Saturdays to either performing for the public or at a football game," Hummel said.

Wright -- who has also been a part of the symphonic band, trumpet ensemble, concert orchestra and concert band -- is a music education major who has goal of becoming a beginning band instructor at the middle-school level.

And with graduation approaching, Wright is pleased with the decision that she made to be a part of the Band of Blue.

"I never regret a day I spend with the marching band or doing marching-band activities," Wright said. "The people are what make the difference. It's a fantastic opportunity.

"Anyone who would say, 'Hey, maybe I'll do marching band,' I would highly suggest you try it out. Some of the best friends you'll ever make are going to be right there in the marching band beside of you."