Started from the bottom: Mercer’s marching band rises from nothing to a growing program


Image: Sterling Neill

The view from the Mercer stadium as Mercer’s marching band practices their routine.

Emma Peel, Staff Writer

​The Mercer University marching band was dissolved along with the football team in 1941, shortly after the tragic attack on Pearl Harbor.

But in 2013, President Underwood officially announced that Mercer would bring back the football team and with it would come the marching band.

Band Director Doug Cowden was hired in November of 2012, and he recalls that preparing for the band’s first performance in over 70 years was quite the ordeal.

“After they hired me, I basically I had nine months to start from scratch,” he said. “I didn’t have an office or a phone and was basically just told, ‘Okay, go!’”

Getting the marching band off the ground, however, was anything but easy. The logistics of buying instruments and uniforms was difficult for Cowden and those helping him.

“It was primarily a matter of getting the instruments,” Cowden said. “What we ended up doing was purchasing our instruments from the drum and bugle corps, which are professional marching bands all over the country who — every year after their world championships — sell off their horns, drums, and ensemble equipment to high school and college marching bands at reduced prices.”

After obtaining the instruments, Cowden was tasked with the responsibility of finding eye-catching and inexpensive uniforms for the entire band.

He said that after having several meetings with the athletic department, he found a uniform that everyone agreed on, and then he obtained President Underwood’s approval to make it official.

Recruiting members for the band was difficult at first for Cowden, too.

In their first season, he was able to recruit about 40 members, most of whom were already members of the music school. Now that the band is in its third season, however, they are able to travel around the state and actively recruit new members from high school bands.

“A big part of [the recruiting process] is when our marching band goes to high school marching band competitions all around the state to perform. This gives [Mercer’s] marching band students a captive audience and allows high school band members to see what we’re about,” he said.

Although the marching band does not currently offer scholarships to its members, many of the students are enrolled in the music program at Mercer and are able to secure scholarships that way.

In addition, Cowden said that, “The administration has been incredibly supportive, and they recognize the hours and hours of hard work that band members put into creating shows.”

Since their first performance in 2013, the marching band now has 100 members who are split into several different sections: the horn line, percussion, the front ensemble, and the color guard.

Ali Lambright, a senior from Marietta, Georgia, serves as the Head Drum Major in the marching band, and she has been in this position for the last three years.

“Being in the marching band is a time commitment, just the same as any other activity on campus,” Lambright said. “In order to get a good product, you have to put the time and effort into making it. For example, the football team must practice hours on end to win their games just as we have to practice to make a show that people enjoy.”

Lambright said that on a typical day, the band practices for about two hours.

“We stretch all together as a band for about five minutes, then break off into our individual captions for warm-ups. [We then] come together as a full band again and begin working on whichever part of the show is prescribed for that day,” she said. “During the last 15 minutes of practice, we do a full run-through of the show to solidify the changes from that day. At the end of practice, we all crowd into the 50-yard line and listen to announcements. Finally, at the end of every single rehearsal or performance, we sing the song “Abide with Me” together in a circle then shout our dismissal chant.”

The marching band also performs at basketball games.

Lambright said that her favorite memory during her time as Head Drum Major was performing at the Duke versus Mercer basketball game.

“Throughout this experience, we were treated like royalty. After our chartered flight, we arrived at the hotel in Raleigh with our fight song playing and the entire lobby decorated in Mercer gear. The Duke game itself was an amazing experience. All of the hundreds of Mercer fans made the night one of the most exciting games I have ever experienced,” she said.

Both Cowden and Lambright see the program growing in size and talent in the years to come.

Cowden said that he hopes to expand the band to 150 members while Lambright said she would like to leave a meaningful mark on the program.

“In the years to come, I hope to see the marching band grow to be a powerhouse in the region,” Lambright said.

“There are many great college marching bands in the South, but they are all large public schools. It is very rare for a private school to have the base of people [for] a great band, but I think Middle Georgia will be a good host for this growth. In all, the Mercer University marching band is on a path to grow and become a great place for music performance,” she said.