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UF marching band heads to London to perform at Olympics

About 200 musicians — with 21 drums, 37 trumpets and 20 saxophones, to name a few instruments — leave next week.
About 200 musicians — with 21 drums, 37 trumpets and 20 saxophones, to name a few instruments — leave next week.
Published Jul. 21, 2012

Shannon Williams knew her membership in the University of Florida marching band would take her places.

She never expected this.

Williams, a 19-year-old St. Petersburg High School graduate who just finished her freshman year at UF, is one of more than 200 Gator Marching Band students heading to London next week to perform at the 2012 Olympic Games. UF is the only college marching band in the United States to do so.

"This is my first time going out of the country, so it'll be a new experience for me," said Williams, who plays the baritone. "Also, we're making history. That will definitely be the best experience."

Beginning on Tuesday, the band will perform at several London locations, including the preshow for opening ceremonies and the Parade of Nations at Victoria Park. The tour is slated to end with performances for U.S., Olympic and other high-ranking officials.

There apparently are more high-profile performances in the works, but UF says they remain confidential. The students return to the United States on July 31.

Band director Jay Watkins said he first learned of the possibility of performing at the Games last year. Olympics organizers asked if UF would be interested, and, of course, the answer was yes.

From there, the band submitted three portfolios of performance videos, repertoire lists and a list of every place the group has performed.

The official invite came last fall.

"It's certainly a huge honor just to be in the conversation," Watkins said. "We've built a fairly good reputation at UF and in the United States, but to have an international reputation like this . . . it says a lot about the students and the program."

UF Foundation funds are providing $100,000 for the trip, which is about 10 percent of the total cost. The students are covering the rest, each paying $4,000.

Unfortunately, Watkins said, the cost kept many students home. Still, with 200 students able to make it, UF will have a big impact.

It means 21 drums, 37 trumpets, 20 saxophones, 15 tubas and 23 clarinets, plus ribbon twirlers and a color guard.

Everybody, Watkins said, has been "rehearsing like crazy."

The set list includes almost 50 songs, ranging from classic Americana to British rock and pop music. The last big practice session is Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Gainesville.

The next morning, London calls.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at or (813) 226-3337.