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Image of Marching band practicing with Carolina Choir
The Marching Tar Heels rehearsing the Notre Dame halftime show with singers from vocal ensembles including the Carolina Choir. Photo by Alessandro Uribe-Rheinbolt.

By Parth Upadhyaya

Over the years, the Marching Tar Heels have been known for cheering on UNC athletic teams, spelling out Carolina in cursive, and leading 60,000 fans in “Hark the Sound.”

This year, the Pride of the ACC is adding a new dimension to spice up the traditional halftime routine by bringing other student organizations onto the field at Kenan Stadium.

“We’ve been looking for several years to find something that would be more interesting, more topical,” said marching band director Jeff Fuchs. “I think with as much stimuli as we have in our world right now, for college bands, it’s hard to stay fresh and current.”

These collaborative performances will take place during halftime of three upcoming UNC home football games — Notre Dame on October 7, Virginia on October 14, and the Miami game on October 28 – and will include 11 student dance groups, eight student vocal groups, the UNC Club Gymnastics team, and one unicyclist.

Each performance will have its own unique theme. The Notre Dame game halftime show will help kick off the university’s “Campaign for Carolina,” the largest fundraising campaign in history by a university in North Carolina and the Southeast. For the Virginia game, the Marching Tar Heels will give fans a cultural experience with a Bollywood-themed performance. Lastly, for homecoming against Miami, the band will put on a circus-themed show.

Fuchs said he was inspired to add new elements to the band’s halftime shows when former assistant band director Matt McClure resigned last year. 

“Matt and I had worked together 13 years and talked about this concept many times,” Fuchs said. “When he resigned, I wanted to continue the work we had started and honestly, found pursuing this new approach to be very therapeutic.”

Fuchs traveled around the country last summer, learning about performance production and reimagining how the band could use the space in Kenan Stadium.

“I spent time with producers on Broadway, I spent time with producers at Disney, I went to drum corps guys, [and I] went and saw the new ‘Blast’ show that’s now touring in Japan — they were doing it in Nashville, so I spent two days with them,” Fuchs said.

In the Notre Dame show, singers and dancers will complement the marching band. The vocal groups involved include the music department’s own Carolina Choir, Chamber Singers, and Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs, in addition to the Achordants, Clef Hangers, Harmonyx, Psalm 100, Tar Heel Voices, and the Tarpeggios. Dance groups that will also take the field include the UNC Dance Team, Blank Canvas, the Carolina Style Dance Company, Carolina Vibe, Kamikazi, and O.A.S.I.S.

For this performance, there will be four dance “stages” set up around Kenan Stadium. As the band plays Daft Punk tunes, a different dance group will perform. Throughout the show, a pyrotechnics display will add a visual flourish. The performance will conclude with everyone on and off the field singing the alma mater, enhanced by a 20-second fireworks finale.

Carolina Choir will form the core of the vocal ensemble singing “Carolina In My Mind” and “Hark the Sound.”

“It was wonderful to put all the singers together from all the different choral ensembles on campus,” said UNC’s Director of Choral Activities Susan Klebanow. “That’s not anything we’ve ever done before. It was thrilling to hear [Carolina In My Mind] sung with so many great voices and with so much enthusiasm [during a recent rehearsal]. I can only imagine it will be all the more thrilling to sing the song on the field with the marching band.”

The Bollywood-inspired halftime performance for the Virginia game is nothing new for most of the marching band members.

“We had [the Bollywood show] ready to rock and roll last year for the Virginia Tech game,” Fuchs said. “Then Hurricane Matthew came in and we got six and a half inches of rain during the game, so we put it away. It was so good, we wanted to bring it back.”

The Indian dance groups working with the marching band to put on the cultural spectacle will be Bhangra Elite, Tar Heel Raas, and UNC Chalkaa. During the show, the three groups will be split up — one facing the home side of the stadium, one facing the away side, and one facing the student section.

“It should be spectacular with their colored costuming,” Fuchs said. “It should bring quite a different look to the field.”

Halftime during the Miami game will feature the last collaborative show of the year for the Marching Tar Heels — the circus-themed show. The students and clubs involved for this show will include the UNC Club Gymnastics team and the last-minute inclusion of student-unicyclist Ryan Holmes, who Fuchs described as “some dude riding through rehearsal one night.”

In the circus-themed show, the band will open with a classic circus march, “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite.” Then the members of the gymnastics club will perform high aerials and vaults using two trampolines and a vaulting table on the field. The color guard will use rifles, hula hoops, and beach balls in their part of the performance.

Long-time fans of the band might remember circus-themed shows around the turn of the century. The Marching Tar Heels performed a similar show back in 1997 and 2001.

Fuchs hopes working with certain student organizations this year will open doors for years to come.

“I hope these collaborations will be enjoyable for the fans and endear the band even more to the student body,” Fuchs said. “Our goal is to continue collaborating and exploring new ways to entertain Tar Heel fans.”

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