Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band is the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Sudler Trophy, the nation’s highest and most-coveted award for college and university marching bands.
Western Carolina is the first institution in the state of North Carolina and the first member of the Southern Conference selected for the award, which has been called the “Heisman Trophy” of the collegiate marching band world. Past recipients of the honor include the universities of Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, and Ohio State, Louisiana State, Penn State and Auburn universities.
Announcement of WCU’s selection for the trophy, awarded by the John Phillip Sousa Foundation, came Monday, May 18, from Paula Crider, chair of the Sudler Trophy Committee and director emeritus of the Longhorn Bands at the University of Texas.
“The purpose of the Sudler Trophy is to identify and recognize collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life,” Crider said in a letter notifying WCU band officials of the selection. “After seeing a DVD of your exciting and innovative performances, there is no doubt that the Pride of the Mountains is most deserving of this singular honor.”
Established in 1982, the trophy is presented to a college or university marching band that has demonstrated the highest of 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 number of years.
“This award is especially meaningful because it recognizes the extended record of excellence achieved by the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band under the leadership of legendary band director Bob Buckner. The band has been one of the most important emissaries of WCU for more than a decade,” said John W. Bardo, Western Carolina chancellor. “Western Carolina is about students learning how to make a difference in their world. The Pride of the Mountains is certainly making a difference for WCU.”
Western Carolina’s marching band program has a long and storied tradition dating back to 1938, when 23 students made up the first band of Western Carolina Teachers College. In recent years, under Buckner’s direction, membership in the band has exploded, with as many as 350 students expected to participate this fall, Bardo said.
The WCU band is widely regarded as one of the top marching bands in the Southeast for its elaborate field shows. Often called “the world’s largest funk-rock band,” the unit performs a crowd-pleasing medley of up-tempo pop tunes, with electric guitars, singers and other musical elements not typically associated with marching bands.
As he inducted Buckner into the Bands of America Hall of Fame in 2005, the organization’s president and chief executive officer, Scott McCormick, praised the Pride of the Mountains as “the most innovative and exciting marching band in the Southeast.”
In addition to performing at WCU football games and providing exhibition performances throughout the Carolinas, the band has been featured three times as an exhibition band at the prestigious BOA Grand National Championships (a showcase for the nation’s top high school marching bands) and at four BOA regional competitions in Atlanta. WCU’s own Tournament of Champions, an invitational competition that brings 27 of the Southeast’s leading high school marching bands to campus every year, attracts some 10,000 musicians and spectators.
Formal presentation of the Sudler Trophy is scheduled to take place during the fall at halftime of a home football game. Members of the Sousa Foundation will be on hand to present the trophy, which consists of a bronze drum major astride a football stadium and mounted on a marble base. At 22 ½ inches tall, the trophy is the height of a typical marching band step. The traveling trophy will remain on display at WCU for a year. It is named for Louis and Virginia Sudler, patrons of the arts and music who created a series of awards in cooperation with the Sousa Foundation to recognize and encourage excellence in various aspects of band work.
“We hope that all past members of the Western Carolina marching band will come back for the award presentation this fall because this honor is an achievement made possible by everyone who has ever been a member of the band,” said Buckner. “This is an incredible tribute to all band members, past and present.”
WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band will perform an entirely new show in 2009 – “Born to Be Alive,” featuring the music of the Black Eyed Peas, Pearl Jam, Motley Crue, Chick Corea, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Maroon 5 and Patrick Hernandez.