It happens every year: the transition to full-time basketball band.
As the football season ends, the Marching Tar Heels break out their athletic band uniforms, opting for polos and slacks instead of bibbers and thick coats. Yes, there’s some overlap between the end of football and beginning of basketball, but normally, the band’s main focus is finishing off the year’s slate of halftime shows.
With this transition, though, comes a new slate of performances at Carolina men’s and women’s basketball, as well as wrestling matches, lacrosse games, and the occasional baseball games. Students turn towards memorizing as many of the 55 available tunes that could be called at any second during a timeout. And each year, like the changing of the uniforms, there’s changes made to the music playlist.
A handful of new songs have already been added to the band’s repertoire and performed at the Tar Heels’ loss to Louisville and wins against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Each new song often turns a few Carolina fans’ heads, as they think, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play that before!’
But how do these songs get selected to the playlist of the UNC pep band?
It’s something North Carolina band director Jeff Fuchs almost constantly has in mind. In between his busy schedule, he always tries to find time to add to his ongoing list of tunes he’s considering. And the research he does for his job is very different from most other Carolina faculty. Instead of working endless hours in a lab or a library, he’s more likely to be found somewhere where music is being played.
“I go to bars,” he says with a grin. “I listen to the music played at wedding receptions and places like that. I like to sit and see what people react to the most.”
And although the songs he picks typically aren’t like ‘Mo Bamba’ or the latest hit from Ariana Grande, Fuchs thinks his selections engage the widest audiences. He sifts through his compiled list each year and submissions from their music suggestions form to find tunes that bring a new elements. The band’s playlist features a variety of genres, spanning different eras and styles of melody, aiming to find songs people of all ages can connect to.
“Our goal is to be playing songs at the games that people will hear on the radio as they drive home,” he says. “I keep an eye on the Billboard charts and we aim for songs on the rise. That way, by the time we put an arrangement together, the song will hopefully be peaking in popularity.”
Most of Fuchs’ work on these songs are done in partnership with Stephen Lytle, who is the associate director of West Virginia University’s bands. Having worked together for many years, Fuchs credits Lytle with being a great sounding board for potential tunes to work into the playlist and for arranging the songs for UNC’s band.
With the addition of songs, though, comes the inevitable removal of songs from the playlist, which often elicits different reactions from band members. Sometimes the rehearsal hall is filled with surprised cries of anguish and pleas for Fuchs to change his mind. Other times, it’s full of cheers as sheet music is ripped out of hundreds of flip-folders. Every now and then, a song’s removal is met with silence and confusion, as students whisper, ‘I thought we’d already gotten rid of that one,’ or ‘how does that song go?’
Fuchs usually expects these reactions from band members, but the decision to drop certain music is broader than which tunes are fun for them and other students.
“While the students may only hear the tune for one or four years,” Fuchs says, “there are fans who come to every game, year after year and they get tired of hearing the same thing over and over. It is a balance between what the kids like to play and what the fans are tired of hearing.”
He says there are a few selfish reasons for the music he adds too, since he hears these songs performed more than anyone else.
“It keeps things fresh for me,” Fuchs says. “It scratches my musical itch to keep listening and finding new tunes that will be fun to play and hear.”
The band is adding ten new songs this year, and like usual, they’re a diverse mix. Here they are:
Ain’t it Fun (Paramore)
All the Small Things (Blink-182)
Baby, I’m Yours (Breakbot featuring Irfane)
Boogie Wonderland (Earth, Wind and Fire)
Can’t Hold Us (Macklemore)
High Hopes (Panic at the Disco)
Misery Business (Paramore)
Natural (Imagine Dragons)
Radioactive (Imagine Dragons)
Word Up (Cameo)