Million Dollar Band preps before classes

Mazie Bryant

Freshman Brandon Suttles applied to the University of Alabama in March with every intention of joining the ranks of the famed Million Dollar Band.

“I knew I wanted to be in the Million Dollar Band ever since I saw them perform a concert my junior year in high school,” he said.

Two weeks before classes started, Suttles packed his belongings and moved to campus, joining the ranks of hundreds of other prospective band members.

The following day, each prospect vied for a spot within the 400-member band, and two days after that, veteran members returned to protect their positions.

“All members must audition each year, with a music audition and a movement audition,” Randall Coleman, associate director of bands, said. “We like for our students to have solid concepts about the two areas that we deal with — music and marching. Each member performs sections of the music for the first halftime show and goes through a basic movement series that allows us to evaluate their proficiency in movement skills.”

Suttles was selected as a member of the trumpet line and now joins the band’s intensive pre-season training, which included three rehearsal blocks per day. Others were not so fortunate. Band members said for the first time in memory, cuts were made pre-season and some who auditioned were turned away.

“Pre-season training is intense, but fun,” Casey Sperrazza, a senior mellophone player, said. “In the end, the intense training is worth it because very few people have the opportunity to be as close to Alabama football as we do.”

The pre-season camp begins at 8:30 a.m., starting with stretches and followed by rehearsals and memorization of fundamental marching techniques. The band gets a two-hour lunch break, then returns for sectional rehearsals. After another two hours off for dinner, night rehearsals begin, and the entire band practices the musical element until 9:30.

Although the camp was exhausting, Suttles said he understands the need for rigorous demands.

“In high school marching band, preparing for competition was always in the back of our minds,” Suttles said. “In the MDB, it’s all about the entertainment value, and it makes the hard work very worthwhile. The MDB is also very good about correcting mistakes and doesn’t accept anything less than excellence.”

Coleman said while most SEC school bands hold pre-season camps, Alabama has one of the hardest when it comes to the level of intensity.

“I would say that our training is very intense, as we learn our first halftime show, as well as our pre-game show during this time period,” Coleman said.

This year marks the centennial celebration of the establishment of the Million Dollar Band, which was founded in 1912. In its 100-year history, the group has seen overwhelming success. The band won the Sudler Trophy in 2003, which is essentially a national championship within the marching band world and can only be awarded to a band once. They’ve grown, too, from the original 12 members to the 426 marching this year.

“In recent years, with the increased enrollment of our University as a whole, the membership in the band has also grown, as has the level of our new members,” Coleman said. “Being associated with championship teams helps to spread the reputation of the band on a national and even international level, which is quite different from those early days.”

To acknowledge its success and growth since its establishment, the band jump-started its centennial celebration with a 10-day tour of Italy in May, performing in parades in Padova, Torino and Florence.

This fall, the band is preparing a Centennial Celebration Weekend, which will honor its past and present successes with a concert, a silent auction and alumni performances.