This time a year ago, Randall Coleman was planning his retirement.
Then-University of Alabama conducting professor and associate director of its well-known Million Dollar Band, he was starting the 40th year in his teaching career and thought after two more years he'd retire to the sands and sunsets of Florida. He'd already set that plan in motion with the purchase of a Florida condo and was marking off days.
Then two doctoral students, for whom he had been writing letters of recommendation as they interviewed for jobs before spring graduation, told him they were interviewing for a director of bands position at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Intrigued, Coleman also looked into the job. He saw the potential to rebuild a program back to its once-thriving heyday, he liked the proximity to his parents' location and it was just two hours to Birmingham, Alabama, where he directs the Alabama Winds.
"I called them in and asked them not to tell anybody, but I was going to throw my hat in the ring. They both withdrew, and both of them got jobs elsewhere," Coleman says.
Fast-forward to seven weeks ago when Coleman arrived in Chattanooga and hit the ground running. The UTC band had dwindled in size to 30 students, most likely due to a series of interim directors, which allowed little continuity in the program with those consecutive turnovers. By the time band camp started two weeks ago, Coleman had already upped the number to just under 70. He hired Robert W. Smith at Troy University to write new arrangements and tapped well-known color-guard director Tyler Edrington, an Ooltewah High alumnus, to work with UTC's flag corps.
"UTC is thrilled to have recruited Randall Coleman to help re-energize our band program," says Chancellor Steven Angle. "His experience as a high school band director and long tenure with the University of Alabama band coupled with his engaging, student-friendly approach make him a perfect fit for UTC."
Thursday night, it's time to face the music. The revamped Marching Mocs and Coleman will make their debut at UTC's home opener in Finley Stadium. The football team will take on Austin Peay at 7:30 p.m. Get there early because you don't want to miss the band's new pregame show.
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
Coleman's arrival was cause for a lot of excitement in area high school bands and generated a lot of buzz in Chattanooga's music circles. One main question kept surfacing: Why?
Why would a director of a 400-piece band leave to take over a struggling band with fewer than 40?
"When this opportunity presented itself, I thought one more challenge would be nice. When I began talking to the people here on campus, I just felt this real desire to improve the band program, to rebuild and get it back on track," Coleman explains.
"I taught high school band 25 years, and in every case I was rebuilding a band. In one, I was starting a band at a brand new school. I enjoy that challenge of getting something going again.
"This is like the one last hurrah before I move to that condo in Florida. I'll still go, it will just be a few years later than planned," he grins.
Coleman says this change isn't going to be made solely by himself, nor will it be overnight. "It's about everybody changing the narrative about the band program here, and encouraging students to go here. "
Although he's been here less than two months, he says he has spent a lot of time meeting area band directors and students, making connections — and his enthusiasm is spreading.
Molly Epperson, former UTC band member who's now director at East Hamilton Middle/High School, says Coleman has already agreed to conduct the All-County Band Clinic in the spring.
Joel Denton, band director of Ooltewah High for 37 years, says, "UTC needed someone who could create immediate credibility and be that shining light who draws people to the university. Randall brings instant credibility. Band directors from all over the Southeast look at him, his experience, and know he's credible. He surrounds himself with topnotch people, and they will feel confident sending their students to him."
ABOUT RANDALL COLEMAN
* Bachelor’s degree in music education from Jacksonville State University
* Master’s of music education from Georgia State University
* 25 years as high school band director and supervisor in metropolitan Atlanta
* Held offices of president, first vice president and State Band Division chair in Georgia Music Association
* 14 years as associate director of bands and professor of conducting at University of Alabama
* Associate director of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band
* Coordinator of Crimson Music Camps and Alabama Honor Band Festivals
* Conductor/artistic director of Alabama Winds, all-adult community wind band in Birmingham, Alabama
* 12-time recipient of Citation of Excellence from National Band Association
* Inducted into John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Legion of Honor in 2004
* Published six times as a research associate to “Teaching Music Through Performance in Band” book series
* Elected member of American Bandmasters Association
* President-elect/first vice president of National Band Association
* Alabama state chairman for College Band Directors National Association
* Holds membership in multiple music and bandmasters’ professional organizations
NEW SOUND AND ATTITUDE
So what changes will fans in UTC's stands see Thursday night?
* The band is twice as big as last year.
When Coleman arrived the band numbered 30 people; now there are just under 70.
* A new pregame show.
"My vision with pregame is that's where the atmosphere starts building up to the team's entrance into the stadium. We've designed a pregame show so that the energy build continues through the whole show. We've got new arrangements of tunes that have been played in the past that I'm hoping people enjoy."
The band's entrance fanfare will be based on "Chattanooga Choo Choo," which Coleman hopes will be so synonymous with the UTC band that it will quickly become recognized as its signature. The show includes the school fight song, a new UTC spell-out, the national anthem and an arrangement of "Tennessee Waltz" that the band will play as it makes the tunnel for the team to run onto the field.
* New designs for the flag corps.
Coleman has boosted the number of flag corps members from last year's four to 14 this year. The flags they carry will be embellished with train-inspired motifs.
* New halftime show.
Coleman says the halftime performance is also train-themed and will include Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," the O'Jays' "Love Train," followed by "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Don't Stop Believin'."
* Long-range plans: new uniforms.
Coleman says the band's current uniforms have lasted twice the time normally expected of them, so he hopes to have the band dress out in new uniforms for the 2022 football season.
"The university band started in 1923, so 2023 we will be celebrating 100 years of band here. New uniforms will kick that centennial off for us."
Email Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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