January 29, 2015

UAB Marching Blazers heading to Hawaii, ready to explore new opportunities

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Students in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Marching Blazers are preparing for a trip of a lifetime: traveling to Hawaii on March 21-28.

Set to go on the trip are 110 members of the 220-strong Marching Blazers. They will perform on the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. While there, students will explore the island and enjoy five nights in Hawaii.

The band enjoyed immense success on a 2013 trip to Ireland, where they competed against 17 bands from Europe and North America and were named the winners of the International Band Competition held in Limerick. This year’s trip will continue their large group-travel experiences, says Marching Blazers Band Director Sue Samuels, Ph.D.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for our band to gain national and international exposure and a wonderful cultural experience for them,” Samuels said. “We’ll be performing for a gathering of military personnel, so we will be there to play the national anthem for the raising of the flag and then some other patriotic and popular selections.”

The Department of Music, the National Alumni Society and the university have contributed significant financial support to pay for students’ airfare, while students have worked hard to raise money to pay for their expenses on the ground.

With the discontinuation of UAB football, the band is moving forward, developing new ideas and programming. Those could include performing at other UAB sports events, professional sporting events such as NFL games, major parades, elite competitions and exhibitions, and more international travel.

“We will continue having great bands and entertaining audiences. We just will do it in different venues than we’ve been used to doing here. We like to perform. We enjoy being close to a crowd and the interaction of a crowd, so that is a big part of what we are always doing, looking for what’s the next great thing that we can do to give our students positive experiences.”

“We will continue having great bands and entertaining audiences,” Samuels said. “We just will do it in different venues than we’ve been used to doing here. We like to perform. We enjoy being close to a crowd and the interaction of a crowd, so that is a big part of what we are always doing, looking for what’s the next great thing that we can do to give our students positive experiences.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., says the goal is to support students.

“We are so proud of the Marching Blazers,” Palazzo said. “In fact, many of our best students are in the band. We love them and are working hard to ensure they remain successful in everything they do, both in music and in their other academic accomplishments.”

Samuels says marching at football games has historically been one of many opportunities for band members.

“The typical marching band student is probably in four or five other bands within the department,” she said.

Students in the Marching Blazers play in pep bands at both the men’s and women’s basketball games. Members perform in two concert bands, the Wind Symphony and the Symphony Band, which feature classical music with band instruments. The concert bands perform several concerts each semester in UAB’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center — the next concert is set for Feb. 24 — and travel and perform at local high schools or on tour; recent tours have been of the Southeast, to Washington, D.C., and to Chicago, Illinois. They perform in the UAB Jazz Band and Jazz Combos, the Percussion Ensemble, Clarinet Choir, and other smaller groups called chamber ensembles.

UAB Music hosts annual outreach events for the community and for middle and high school students, including marching events, festivals, symposiums, clinics, concerts and summer camps. More than 1,000 high school students visited the department in December. For these events, Marching Blazers students act as counselors and handle everything from organization and guidance to coaching students through music and playing in rehearsals.

Meanwhile, the band is planning its future: 2015 color guard auditions are scheduled for April 11 and Blazerette and majorette auditions are April 12. Woodwind and brass auditions are to be held April 24. UAB Drumline auditions are scheduled for May 2 and June 5. 

“I know students are getting very excited about the new opportunities,” Samuels said. “They of course are disappointed and a little bit hurt by the loss of football, especially because they grew up thinking football and marching band go hand in hand, and that’s an understandable approach. But they are willing to learn a new way to do it, and we are going to learn a new way. We are going to get out there and be successful and set the standards for a new concept of college marching band. And we can, and we will, get out there and be seen and continue to entertain the crowds.”

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