For the past 100 years, the UF marching band has been making strides toward excellence and giving the Gator Nation even more to be proud of.
With many accolades to its name — such as being the first to perform at Walt Disney World during the yearlong series for opening celebrations, to being the first non-British band to perform outside of Buckingham Palace during its trip to the London Olympics in 2012 — the Gator band continues to achieve monumental moments.
John Watkins, associate director of bands at UF, as well as the director of the Gator band, said that when he got the call to be a part of the program he knew it would be a great opportunity.
“The 2006 and 2008 championship seasons were awesome,” Watkins said. “Being able to take the band to London for the Olympics was really a life-changing experience for the students, as well as being able to put UF on an international stage.”
In addition to performing well on an international scale, UF’s bands continue to keep spirits high during collegiate events.
“The band really creates, especially at the college level, the unique atmosphere at college events — it’s done by a student band playing live music,” Watkins said. “We’re constantly leading the cheers and all of the energy in the stadium. I think that’s what really makes college sports, college sports.”
Florence Cline, a member of the symphonic, marching and concert band from 1958-1962, still resides in Gainesville and said she specifically came to UF so she could play.
“I was a member of the band in high school and that’s the reason I came to Florida, because I wanted to be in the Gator band,” Cline said.
She said her time as a band member at UF are some of the best and most significant memories of her life.
“One of my best memories is being on all the bus tours and watching the man, (the then band director Richard Bowles) in the middle of the tour composing great music,” Cline said. “He could talk to us, carry on a conversation and write down renditions for the next song. He was an amazing man and watching the camaraderie around him was amazing.”
Karen Eilers-Lahuy, who now lives in Atlanta, was a member of the marching and symphonic band from 1959-1963. She said that during her time at UF the school had only recently changed from an all-men’s institution.
“Most of the band members were men, so I don’t think there were any more than a quarter of women at most. We were still very well accepted in the band with no problem,” Eilers-Lahuy said. “Most of us did play clarinet or flute, the smaller instruments. It was a tight-knit group, though, with camaraderie.”
Both Cline and Eilers-Lahuy discussed a constant theme that still runs true in the band today: family and friendliness.
Watkins also agreed this is what makes the bands so special.
“We also really work hard to create a great family environment within the program,” he said.
Watkins has high hopes for the future of the band.
“I’d like to see the program continue to grow to the point that we’re able to be really selective on membership and ideal instrumentation with the exact balance that we want,” Watkins said. “I’d like to have UF provided instruments for all the students, and get the rehearsal facilities and other things up to the standard that everything else is at UF.”
Out of the 365 students who make up Gator band, only about 8 percent are music majors, said Watkins.
“We have 365 of some of the hardest working students on campus and the majority of whom are not music majors,” said Watkins. “And they’re not on scholarship — they just do it because they love it.”
Disclosure: WUFT News is a service of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.