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Redskins Marching Band: The Movie

TWP file photo by Jonathan Newton.

If there's one thing I love above all else, it's a good marching band. I mean, I'll gladly endure sub-freezing temperatures in a windswept downtown Silver Spring to check out the high school marching bands during the Thanksgiving parade. I'll refrain from hitting the halftime press box cookie spread at Maryland football games to enjoy the marching Turtles. And I'll definitely follow the Redskins Marching band, in their semi-ridiculous outfits, as they stroll about the FedEx Field parking lot on fall Sundays.

So yeah, I was pretty interested to learn that fanatical Redskins fan and filmmaker Seana Carroll, a D.C. native currently living in L.A., was working on a documentary about the Redskins Marching Band. (See a few of her clips here, and read far more about the project on the film's Web site.)

The title is "The Band Never Loses a Game," and the target audience includes Skins fans, people with an interest in D.C. and NFL history, and anyone who gets into that marching band mystique. "Some people wanted to be a football player," one of the musicians tells Carroll's cameras. "Some people wanted to be a basketball player. I wanted to be in a band."

Carroll is anticipating about a year of research and interviews, and hopes to one day get it into theaters. She's sort of excited about the project. "The maroon and gold uniforms and the bright green stadium are a filmmaker's dream," she wrote me, "not to mention the score is INCREDIBLE!!!! "

Carroll--the kind of person who signs her e-mails with "Hail!"--is currently funding the project by herself, and, needless to say, is trying to cook up some financial backers and help with distribution. "I'm hoping there are Redskins fans out there that will want to donate or get on board as co-producers," she told me. Hey, it never hurts to ask. Our Q&A follows.

So why are you making a movie about the Redskins Marching Band?

My uncle Harry Hinken joined the band in 1939! He was just 13 years old then, and over his entire life time he was always somehow involved with the Band. They were his second family, really. At his funeral, I met Rivers McCreary, the trumpet line chief, and he had such great stories. I knew then that I had to tell the story of the Washington Redskins Marching Band.

I didn't even realize at the time how important the Band's story is to the history of the NFL! All I knew was that the dedication and camaraderie among these musicians was equal to none. It was apparent that it was about more than just being fans of the Redskins, more than just being professional musicians playing for a professional sports organization; it was about being part of something bigger. Ages, races, backgrounds, religious beliefs, family obligations aside, the Band is a family, no matter who wins or loses.

Like my Uncle Harry would say, "The Band never loses a game." He kept the Band motivated and inspired, he ran a tight ship drawing on his military background. No rain or cold winds would keep them from supporting the team and playing their hearts out.

You say the Redskins Marching Band pioneered the halftime show model. When was this, and how did it happen?

When football went professional, there was a new commercial element to the game that began to develop. Radio and television broadcast of games were not too far off in the future in 1932, and George Preston Marshall was a great business man with an eye on the Southeastern market and the future of football. He married a film star from Hollywood and they put their heads together when they came up with the halftime show model. It was entertainment that would attract more people, especially women to the games.

George's wife thought music and dance would help "up" the ticket sales. And it did. She wrote the lyrics to the first fight song of the NFL, Hail to the Redskins. Famed Washingtonian conductor, Barnee Breeskin wrote the music and would go on to lead the Redskins Band for years.

Can you compare the Redskins Marching Band to other entertainment options at other NFL stadiums?

The Baltimore Ravens have a marching band as well, the Marching Ravens. They are just 50 miles away, and they are the only other marching band in the NFL. Unlike the Redskins, they are sponsored by Yamaha Music. The Redskins Marching Band members are all volunteer and sponsored by the Redskins corporate for their uniforms and some of their instruments.

You won't see either marching band at a Super Bowl, however, unless those two teams, the only teams in the NFL with marching bands, play each other. It's funny, but if a team does not have a marching band then the opposing team, should they be the Redskins or Ravens, can't bring their marching band to the game. It wouldn't be fair, I guess, if one team has a marching band and the other one doesn't. My solution is more NFL teams should have marching bands. They are probably one of my favorite things in the world.

How much of your appreciation for this band, and how much of your movie, has to do with nostalgia for so many things that don't exist any more: RFK, the intimate feel people used to have for this franchise, the pre-electronic scoreboard days, etc?

RFK was a smaller stadium in the city proper: a perfect size for a small southern town like Washington, D.C. The stadium would literally shake from the fans. Now at FedExField, the intimacy of the game is lessened. JumboTron images support the vastness of the architecture, and speakers surround the bleachers, booming piped-in rock between the plays.

The band is mic'd of course, so when the Redskins make a touchdown the stadium hears them play Hail to the Redskins, but they certainly don't play as much as they used to, mostly due to the evolution of football's commercialization.

What are the best stories you've come across so far in researching the movie?

John Twiford, the son of the Band's longest playing member, Steve "Tweety" Twiford, was on American Idol this season. That is pretty exciting stuff. The apple doesn't fall far with Tweety apparently. He always says, "Practice safe sax," and after 44 years with the Band he is one to listen to. His son John is carrying on the family musical tradition it seems.

Which reminds me of the extraordinary family membership in the Redskins Marching Band as a whole. There are several generations of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in the band. There are nieces and nephews, wives, uncles, cousins... there are a bunch of Band members with multiple generations playing and marching side by side.

It is a remarkable community organization. It is especially inspiring and uplifting to hear their stories, because the Band is such a diverse melting pot of musicians. And honestly, a lot of these people would probably never meet otherwise. The way they perform and the way they talk about their lives in the Redskins Marching Band suggests that they really are like one big family.

Is there a danger that "Hail to the Redskins" will be stuck in your head for the next 12 months, or however long this takes?

That isn't even an issue. I should have it as my ring tone! I live in Los Angeles, so for a true native Washingtonian like myself, I like to represent! GO D.C.!

Do you ever get sick of the tune?

NEVER!!!!!!! Do you ever get sick of your name?

Do you think the band will be around indefinitely, and do you think it should be?

You have to understand, these musicians are the truest of true fans. They volunteer every Wednesday night from April to December for rehearsals. Some of the band members even commute from Delaware and West Virginia; this is truly a labor of love for them. Then they also come in for five Saturdays over the course of the season and, of course, every home game. They are truly dedicated.

Part of the audition process to even get in the band is about determining if the player can really take that much time away from their family or work obligations. But the excitement of being on the field and supporting the team is enough to keep them coming back. And they do keep coming back; for a large part of the Band, they've been coming back for 20 years, 30 years, even 44 years, as in the case of "Tweety" Twiford.

The band is an American institution. It represents the origins of football and will continue to represent Washington, D.C. and the Redskins, because it is part of the Redskins brand. You have to remember, the Redskins are a remarkable team. They have longevity and foresight. For a large part of NFL history, the Redskins were the team of the entire southern Atlantic seaboard.

With this in mind, and because the Redskins are a business, a brand and an institution, the fan base continues to grow vast and wide. If you're a Redskins fan, you know the Band and consider it part of the team, the 12th player if you will. The Band is here to stay, no question about it.

The Band at the opening of RFK in 1961. (TWP file photo by Richard Darcey)

By Dan Steinberg  |  March 6, 2009; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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Come on, Dan...when are you gonna get to the *real* 'Skins story:

Vinny Cerrato's gmail page!

Raw url if my fancy html work didn't do the trick:

Posted by: EdTheRed | March 6, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Great idea for a documentary, but really, "maroon" and gold??? And this person is supposedly a DC native?

Posted by: pit_girl1 | March 6, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

BURGUNDY! + GOLD people! Get it right!

Posted by: RdskFan4evr | March 6, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

So if the Nats had a seventh-inning cookie spread and a marching band, would you write more about them? :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Great post, but that "maroon and gold" slip and not already having "Hail to the Redskins" as a ringtone put me off a little.

Posted by: sitruc | March 6, 2009 11:49 PM | Report abuse

Finally, an area of interest on which I am 100 percent in agreement with Steinbog. I hope there will be more marching-band-related posts in the future. (I know, nothing I like is popular.)

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 7, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Does this mean Dan is planning a trip to Seattle with Steve Goff?

Posted by: sitruc | March 7, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Well, hey. It's only fair to give the marching band some love. They had a better year than the football team.

Posted by: dlgood | March 7, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

No mention of Dexter Tuthill Who also joined The Band in '39. I always saw Harry Hinken hanging around Tuthill's Texaco in Falls Church.Tut got me into the band and I had 11 good years untilI I moved to Ocean City Md. Still a skins fan but not a Snyder fan, Pro footballs worst owner.

Jim Pond
Ocean City Md.

Posted by: duckyjimpond | March 8, 2009 3:07 AM | Report abuse

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