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May 20, 2011

New Band Director Plans Overhaul

GREENVILLE -- Without a doubt, Dr. Rebecca Phillips faces an enormous task.

Except for possibly the South Carolina offensive line and Innovista, nothing on the USC campus has been the subject of more criticism over the past several years than the Gamecock Marching Band.

Phillips looks to change that.

Phillips, who has been at USC since 2007, was appointed Director of Athletic Bands and Director of the Marching Band in March following the conclusion of basketball season. She replaced Steve McKeithen, who served as the Director of Carolina Bands in 2009 and 2010.

But like most coaches coming into a new job, she preaches patience.

In terms of numbers, USC had approximately 250 members of the Marching Band in 2010. Most of the larger bands in the SEC like Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU have well above 300 members. With close to 370 members, Auburn might have the biggest band in the SEC.

"One of the things I was charged with when I took the job is they wanted to see the band get bigger," Phillips told Gamecock Central earlier this week at Fluor Field. "But that's not going to happen overnight. I was just hired at the end of March, but the plan is to get the band as close to 300 for this year and then get it up to 325-350 in future years."

But just adding new members is just the first step. Phillips wants to add more brass players to the band, creating a louder and better sound.

"More people, more brass, larger drumline will all help," Phillips said. "And picking the right tunes and having them arranged right. It has to be the right music. I think you will see a marked difference right from the beginning, but it will take a little bit of time to get the band to where we need to be."

Band camp begins a week before the start of classes in August.

In order to help build the numbers, Phillips isn't sitting back and just hoping new members walk through the door. Instead, she's taking an aggressive approach by visiting high schools around the state to market and promote the Marching Band, and seek out the best and brightest musicians to wear the band's trademark garnet and black uniforms.

"It's going very well," Phillips said. "One of the first things we did was to try to get kids already at the University of South Carolina to come back or join the marching band. We've accomplished that. Now we're looking to get the freshmen already committed to USC to come play with us. We'll know more in July and early August about where the numbers stand."

Each student in the marching band receives a $400.00 scholarship, while out-of-state students enjoy a tuition reduction.

Phillips isn't afraid of receiving feedback from the fans, which is why the band has set up a display at each of the Gamecock Fan Fest stops and invited input from eager fans ready for the band to catch up to competing schools in the SEC.

"I'm getting a lot of e-mails from people saying why don't we try this or that," Philips said.

Unlike the past, Phillips promises a different halftime show for each home game. Considering USC has four consecutive home games stretching from late September into October, that won't be easy to pull off. But Phillips isn't flinching.

"We're going to be doing a different show for every home game," Phillips said. "No more repeating of shows. We're going to hit a different genre for each week. If you like this kind of music, you'll like a certain a show. If you don't, we'll hit something new next week. It's going to be difficult, but it's something the fans want and we're going to do our best to provide that for them."

USC will also feature an improved pre-game show with more audience participation, as well as coordinated (situation specific) songs at specific times during the game.

"We're going to have a new routine in the stands during the game," Phillips said. "We'll have specific cheers for specific downs so that the crowd knows what's going to happen and be involved in the cheering. I think it's going to be great."

The band plans a pep rally on the Horseshoe the night before the first home game Sept. 17 against Navy to teach USC students the new cheers.

In addition, Phillips hopes the Marching Band will be able to play a concert in the Farmer's Market area before each home game to teach the new cheers to Gamecock fans, and then march into the stadium. Hopefully, the fans will follow, Phillips said, and begin filling up the stands earlier.

"Our stands are usually empty during the pre-game, and we want to create an exciting environment," Phillips said.

After graduating from Florida State, where she was a member of the Seminoles marching band in the early 1990's, one of the largest in the country, she helped in the formation of the South Florida Marching Band in 1999.

After that, she worked with the LSU Marching Band from 2004-2007 before coming to USC, where she started as Associate Director of Bands and Assistant Professor of Music.

"I've been in almost all the SEC stadiums," Phillips said. "How USC compares to other schools to hard to say. This will be my first year, so give me a year to get us closer to where I want us to be and then we can make comparisons. Auburn and LSU are really setting the standard for quality of performance. We want to remain us, but we want to have that quality."

Scott Weiss, USC's Director of Bands, said he hopes the appointment of Phillips marks the start of a new era for the Gamecock Marching Band.

"Her background at Florida State, South Florida, and LSU will be a tremendous asset as we look to the Carolina Band to have a much greater impact on the game day experience," Weiss said. "She has a comprehensive understanding of the things that need to happen with the Carolina Band. I have total confidence in her ability to take our athletic band program to the next level."

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