“My two big passions in life are sports and music, so when this opportunity came up I said, ‘It’s literally a dream,'” Dokken said in a phone interview. “Usually football matches are on Sundays and classical music concerts are on Fridays and Saturdays, so that works out really well for me.”
With fans banned from attending most games in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NFL’s oldest marching band – formed in 1937 by team founder George Preston Marshall – has been temporarily halted. An 18-member drum line performed at home games last season, along with a coed dance team that replaced the NFL’s longest-serving cheerleading squad.
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The new band will look, sound, and function a bit differently than the previous version. Specifically, it will be a 60-person ensemble and the musicians will be part-time paid employees of the team. That’s about half the size of the all-volunteer squad that played home games throughout the 2019 season. Members of the former squad, some of whom have volunteered for decades, must present a new application to be considered for the new ensemble, with virtual auditions open through May 23. The group will make their debut at the commanders’ training camp.
According to a team press release, Commanders co-CEO Tanya Snyder helped design new uniforms that “mix the team’s signature burgundy and gold colors with new details.” A “reworked arrangement” of the team’s original fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” which hasn’t been played at the stadium since Washington retired its old name in 2020, is also in the works.
Band leader Barnee Breeskin composed the song in 1937; silent film star Corinne Griffith, Marshall’s wife, wrote the lyrics. The original line “Scalp ’em, swamp ’em – we will take ’em big score” was later changed to “Bat ’em, swamp ’em, touchdown – let the points soar!” In 1959, Marshall, a staunch segregationist, temporarily changed the “Fight for old DC” line to “Fight for old Dixie” in an attempt to make his club “Team South”.
Joey Colby-Begovich, Vice President of Customer Experience for Commanders, was coy when asked about how the song would be reworked, but noted that the process would involve a “fan engagement initiative.” .
“The fight song has gone through several revisions, not only melodically but also lyrically over the years,” said Colby-Begovich, who has been heavily involved in the development of the new music program since. his hiring in March 2021. “Like the marching band, our plan is to continue this tradition of the fight song. We will be sharing these plans early in the summer.
Throughout the rebranding process, Colby-Begovich said countless fans shared how much tradition, including the marching band, meant to them. Team president Jason Wright announced last year that a marching band would return in 2022.
“We can’t just close the door on our franchise’s 90-year history just because we have a new name,” Colby-Begovich said.
The team consulted with military and college bands over the past year on how to create a robust sound with half the former band’s personnel. At home games, the new ensemble – made up of brass, percussion and woodwind instruments – will perform at tailgate events, in the main hall plaza and on the pitch ahead of player introductions. During matches, party members will occupy a dedicated section above the West Zone video board. They’ll play selected shows at halftime and, in a continuation of another tradition, lead fans on a go-go get down through Gate A after wins.
As music director, Dokken will work in tandem with new band manager Brittney Lynn, who is a music teacher in Prince George’s County and a founding member of the Maryland Marching Band Association. Dokken recalled being captivated by longtime Dodger Stadium organist Nancy Bea as a child and said he hoped to bring the same joy to FedEx Field.
“The energy that comes from live music versus canned music is really palpable, especially in a sports setting,” he said. “I love the mix of different genres and the energy of the crowd, whether it’s 50 people wearing tuxedos in a small chamber concert or 50,000 people wearing Commanders jerseys. This symbiosis between a live set and the crowd, there’s nothing like it, and I can’t wait to bring it to the fans here.
Dokken, who adopted Washington as his favorite NFL team when he moved to the area 13 years ago, has experience blending classical music and sports. He performed at the LA Coliseum and once hosted a sports-themed concert featuring a 50-piece symphony orchestra and a college drum line. A similar collaboration in his new role with the commanders would be another nod to the team’s past; at halftime of a game every season for several years during the 1950s, the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Mitchell performed at Griffith Stadium.