If juggling were a collegiate sport, members of Southern University’s Human Jukebox Marching Band would be the national champs.
As it is, their juggling of finals and nighttime rehearsals are dedicated to support of a Southwestern Athletic Conference championship for the Jaguars.
Add to that the fact that many marching band members also are putting in rehearsals with the Southern University Wind Ensemble for the school’s annual “Yuletide Gift of the Spirit” concert, and there’s no time for a breather.
But that concert won’t be performed until Saturday, Dec. 13. First comes the Jaguars’ football game against Alcorn State University in Houston’s NRG Stadium on Saturday. The game begins at 3 p.m., but the band will be leaving at 9 a.m. Friday.
“We’ll be performing at a battle of the bands competition, along with the game,” says Nathan Haymer, director of bands. “It’s a high school competition, but we’ll put on a special performance for them, because it’s a great recruiting tool for us.”
But that’s something extra. The championship game is the main priority, and the band has spent the past week putting together a halftime show for the occasion.
True, the band hasn’t had much preparation time between the Jaguar’s goal-line stand Bayou Classic victory over Grambling State University and its departure for Houston. The band not only performed at the game but at a Battle of the Bands and the New Orleans Thanksgiving Parade over the weekend.
And it’s also true that band members were facing finals upon their return.
So, Haymer has created a halftime show filled with the “best of” moments from the past season.
“We’re only going to be allowed seven minutes for halftime, so we really had to edit it down,” Haymer says. “And I didn’t want practice to interfere with finals. The students needed time to study, and we worked practice around that.”
So, the band met each evening at 6:30 and rehearsed until 9, polishing such familiar tunes as “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” Pharrell’s “Happy” and Louisiana favorite, “Do What You Wanna,” and their accompanying marching formations.
“This has really been a short rehearsal time for us, but the students are dedicated,” Haymer says. “And we want to be there for the team — we really need this win.”
Yet the band will not be slowing down upon its return. Wind Ensemble members will be staying on campus in the week after school closes for the Yuletide concert. And after Christmas break, the entire band will come together in January to rehearse for the 2015 Honda Battle of the Bands on Jan. 24 in Atlanta.
“Only eight bands were invited to compete in this Battle of the Bands,” Haymer says. “So, we’ll still be going at full speed.”
After that, the Human Jukebox will march in the Krewe of Bacchus Parade on Feb. 15 in New Orleans.
Haymer pauses, then laughs. Haymer was an assistant band director at Southern until being named director upon Lawrence Jackson’s retirement last May. So, this is his first year leading the band through a football season and its surrounding events and competitions.
“This is the toughest job I’ve ever loved,” he says. “I’ve been going 100 percent since last May, and I know as I get older, I’m going to start getting tired of attending all of the battle of the bands competitions. But I also have to remember that the band changes each year, and not all of the students will have experienced this. See, I get older, but the band stays the same age. So, I have to keep in mind that even though I’ve been to the competitions, a lot of them haven’t, and we need to keep going.”
And not all band members have experienced performing at a conference championship game. But they’ll be there on Saturday with drum major Keith Morgan setting the mood with the traditional back bend, signaling the band to enter the field.
That will set off a cheering frenzy among Southern fans, which will only add to the Jaguar Nation spirit, setting the stage for a Southern victory.