“Last year there was an 8 a.m. rehearsal before the football game. It was pouring rain, freezing cold outside. It was miserable, but so memorable to me because regardless of the conditions, everyone pushed to make our performance better. How many places can you say that in the worst possible conditions, people try even harder?” – Nat Duong, Colorguard
The Marching Royal Dukes, better known as the MRDs, are an integral part of the JMU community. The MRDs are one of the largest college marching bands in the country, with membership ranging between 450 and 500 students each year. They have made two appearances at the Bands of America Grand National Championships, performed three times in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and represented JMU worldwide with 6 trips abroad, including a performance for the Pope at the Vatican.
Most people know the MRDs by the amazing energy they bring to every JMU football game. However, within the large mass of purple and white uniforms lies individual students with hopes, dreams and fears, just like you.
I had the opportunity to meet with a few MRDs this past week who gave me some insight on what it’s like to be a part of what every interviewee called their “family.”
Hometown: Williamsburg, Virginia
How do you balance your school life and your life as an MRD?
HC: Very carefully. *laughs* I kind of use band as my relax time because I know I’m with friends and it’s a laid back environment. Even though the MRDs are very fast paced and we have to learn a lot quickly, it just comes naturally to me so I kind of use this time to relax and get my head out of nursing for an hour and a half every day.
How would you describe your experience as an MRD?
HC: It’s been amazing. I’ve been doing it for 4 years now and each year it’s gotten better and better. I’m on leadership this year so it’s a whole different perspective then I’ve had the past three years. It’s opened me up as a person and I’ve gotten to know so many people. It’s been a really awesome experience.
What does your role entail in leadership as a visual section leader?
HC: Myself and the three others in my section are in charge of the marching portion of marching band. So we work on marching technique, we help out when we’re setting drill on the field learning our show, and we’re there to give guidance to those around us.
What’s has been your favorite moment in the MRDs?
HC: My favorite moment in the MRDs was my freshman year when we got to march in the Macy’s Day Parade. I was absolutely exhausted and drained completely because I didn’t sleep for like 24 plus hours, but it was the most amazing experience that I have ever had.
Major: Music Education
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
How would you describe your friends in the MRDs ?
CM: They are some of the closest friends I have. I spend the majority of my time with these people-at least 8 hours a week with them and then a four hour football game almost every weekend. I’m really close with a lot of [the baritone] section members and also people in other sections. I think it’s a great opportunity to get to know a lot of different people very fast and bond over the same type of activity.
How is your schedule during the season?
CM: We have a lot of opportunities to support our football team which is really, really awesome and I think that’s part of what keeps us so busy. I’m at about 22 credit schedule this semester so it’s another thing to add on. [Our director], Mr. Rikkers devotes a lot of his time to the MRDs so I think it’s only fair that we devote as much time as he does. It’s really hectic and it’s really busy, but it’s all worth it in the end.
How has MRDs shaped college experience?
CM: It’s taught me a lot of tangible things, like time management and responsibility. But mostly it’s a lot [about] dedication. We have a really busy schedule all the time so if you’re not in it for the long haul, you’re not going to learn as much from it. It also got me used to talking with people. In college it’s easy to form a group and not really expand out of that but by joining extracurricular things, especially the MRDs, you really get a sense of who people are. Who do we perform for? People. Who do we work with? People. It’s all trying to bring everyone together through one commonality and that happens to be music in this circumstance.
Do you think that inspired you for teaching and working with people in general?
CM: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m also on the leadership team for the baritone section and that’s been a great outlook for me to try various teaching [techniques]. Mr. Rikkers gives us a really great opportunity to form ourselves. He’s not trying to make great marchers, he’s not trying to make great musicians, he’s trying to make great people. I think he does a really great job of that and I’ve definitely benefited from everything that he’s done for us.
Major: Studio Art with a concentration in Fibers and Weaving
Hometown: Forest, Virginia
How would you describe your relationship with the colorguard section versus the organization as a whole?
ND: I have a super close relationship with my section. I feel like there’s a really good rapport between the guard and the rest of [the MRDs]. The other sections – hornline, drumline, front assembly – really respect what the color guard does. So if we have choreography that’s close to them, drill that moves through them, or if we have equipment set by the front assemble, everyone is really accommodating to help us out, which is really awesome.
How much of a time commitment is colorguard and how do you balance that with school?
ND: It’s a huge time commitment…but I don’t worry about balancing it so much as I just focus on getting everything done. I usually have about an hour after class before marching band, then after marching band I get food and immediately go to the studio. I’ll stay in the studio until about 1 a.m. If you really love something you don’t care what you have to do to get it done. I don’t think of it as a balancing act I just think about it as doing what I need to do to enjoy my life.
So what would you say your favorite part is about being on colorguard at JMU?
ND: My favorite part with colorguard, especially here at JMU, is that they’re constantly pushing us to get better. And I think that’s the cool thing. We’re not a competition team, but I feel like I get better everyday that I do colorguard. No matter what, I’m always improving and working harder.
How has being in the colorguard changed your college experience so far?
ND: It’s completely changed my college experience. My first semester here [before I joined colorguard] I didn’t have that many friends, I had a couple and they were good people, but it’s hard to find your place in college and since joining the colorguard I have a place at JMU. I found my niche. It’s really great every year to have something you can depend on and somewhere you belong. And even when the team changes season to season, I know that I can always come back to the colorguard and it’s going to be my home.
Major: Double major in Anthropology and Spanish
Minor: Double minor in Latin American Caribbean Studies and Translation Interpretation
Hometown: Yorktown, Virginia
What made you want to join the MRDs initially?
RG: I come from a bigger high school band, we were about 220 which is pretty big for a high school so I’m used to being around bigger marching bands. But I think what sold me here I had never been to JMU until choices and the MRDs had a booth set up. I met the clarinet section leaders and I thought that was really cool. But then I think something what solidified it [for me] was hearing all 480 people on the first day of band camp, like our sound was amazing and I knew this is home for me.
How the MRDs have shaped your college experience?
RG: It has given me a sense of belonging. After every season in the spring semester I just miss everything. In high school I was in marching band, but I was also in concert band so you got band every day. For the MRDs you don’t necessarily have to be in another ensemble so when marching band ends [in the fall] you don’t see everyone that you used to. So in the fall semesters it’s something that I look forward to. It’s shaped me as someone who’s become a more appreciative person for the music program that we do have.
How will you stay connected to JMU and the MRDs post graduation?
RG: We have something called Alumni Band Day. It’s one of the last home games of the season, all of the alumni are allowed to come back and play with the MRDs so I hope to do that in the future. Also [staying connected] on social media, keeping friends updated about what’s going on and hopefully they’ll do the same for me. I’ll call, visit, wherever I am in the world I’ll keep in contact with everyone from JMU because I don’t like creating lasting friendships and relationships with people and not keeping it up.
So how would you describe the MRDs to someone on the outside?
RG: We work very hard. When it rains we are still practicing. When it rains we’re out setting drill. We work very hard at what we do. It’s not like a lot of university marching bands. MRDs for me is family. You meet everyone and anyone. You’re not going to remember everyone’s names, 450 people that’s a lot. But you get a sense of family and it essentially becomes your home.
Major: Justice Studies with a concentration in Social Justice
Instrument: Snare Drum
Hometown: Harrisonburg, Virginia
How would you describe your experience as a MRD?
DH: It’s a great balance of having fun and making music with my best friends, as well as being challenged ever week to put on a new movement or a new show for the crowd. It’s a great mix of all of those things.
What has been your favorite moment in MRDs so far?
DH: My favorite moment so far was my first Parade of Champions. We usually warm up by Eagle, but Drumline warms up at godwin during POC and that’s all of the same path that all the [high school] bands go. And we were standing and warming up and the snare line was facing towards the sidewalk and my hometown, the Spotswood Band walked by to go compete. They all marched by me warm up and I think that was just the coolest feeling because I remember walking by the drumline as a high schooler and just going ‘I just really want to be an [MRD].’ It was pretty amazing being on the other side watching them. So I think that was my favorite moment.
Will you stay connected with the MRDs and JMU after you graduate?
DH: I hope to visit as many games as possible. I know it’s a big tradition for drumline alumni to come back and watch drumline warm up. So I hope to be there for as many warm ups in eagle courtyard as I can.
How has being an MRD shaped your college experience for you?
DH: Being in MRDs has definitely given me the backbone that I have as far as a friend group. They are my go-to friends, they are who I am with probably 75% of the time. I think with the MRDs I’ve just gained a family.
The MRDs are a very special group on campus who carry the spirit of JMU in everything that they do. Despite the MRDs being a significant time commitment, many of the interviewees are also involved in other organizations around campus. However, the MRDs will always hold a special place in each member’s heart. Each member interviewed said they wanted to stay connected with the MRDs and JMU post graduation and come back for JMU Marching Royal Dukes Alumni Band Weekend.
Photography by Chase Conrad Maszle (’17) and Annie Franks (’18) contributing photography assistant.