The first order of business is to teach them how to march.
It’s not that incoming freshman don’t know how, some just don’t know the Southern University way. And those who think they do, well, they don’t know everything.
First there’s the elbow position when holding the horn, always parallel with the ground. Then there’s the high eight-to-five step. That’s eight steps to every five yards, each at 22½ inches. And each with the thigh parallel to the ground.
Finally, when these things harmonize, the Southern rock is added. That’s the sway from side to side.
It’s the signature move, and you have to know it to march with the Human Jukebox, the nickname given to the Southern University Marching Band. Not everyone who knows how to do the rock will become a member.
At preseason band camp, the band’s numbers are whittled down to its 215 membership. Competition is stiff, and all spots are up for grabs.
So everyone shows up at 5:45 a.m. on the first day in plain white T-shirts, dark shorts, white socks and tennis shoes for calisthenics, running and instruction in the correct marching technique from the first step.
A week before Southern’s season opener against the University of Houston, all is done. The band will make that trip, but it’s the Jaguars’ game against Prairie View on Sept. 14 that’s most anticipated.
That’s when the band makes its first appearance of the season in Mumford Stadium and when Keith Morgan will execute his first backbend for the home crowd.
Morgan is the band’s drum major. He’s from New Orleans, and it’s been his dream to lead the Human Jukebox since his sophomore year in high school, when he first saw the band perform live.
“The great Mr. Isaac Greggs (Southern’s retired band director) gave me some great advice,” says current band director Lawrence Jackson. “He said, ‘You pick your drum major.’ They have to be a certain height, they have to have leadership ability and they have to know how to do the back bend.”
The back bend is as much a signature as the Southern rock. Even more so because the drum major sets the pace when he takes the field, then bends backward and touches his hat on to the field.
Which Morgan will do in the first two games, when the band performs selections by Daft Punk, Madonna and Chris Brown. All have been arranged by Nathan Haymer, assistant director of bands.
“It’s my job to make sure that the band plays music that appeals to everybody and all ages,” Haymer says. “We play pop, R&B, hip hop, classical, everything. And the first show will have some surprises.”
Helping to put all of this together are the band’s section leaders, each heading one of the instrument sections. Senior Joshua Blueford, of Monroe, is over drums; senior Tony Hunter, of Shreveport, heads up saxophones.
Both talk about helping their sections understand the overall concept of the music, about how it blends with the bigger picture that makes up the band. Blueford’s work with the drums is a little different.
“We have to learn the cadence,” Blueford said.
Which requires more time, but it’s worth it. Students wouldn’t be vying for positions in the Human Jukebox if it wasn’t.