Since its conception in 1869 as a small organization, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band has earned its spot as an iconic UT tradition and a major part of UT’s legacy.
According to their website, the band, commonly shortened to “the Pride,” began following the Civil War. It was originally an all-male band with military affiliations at UT, but has since grown to around 350 members.
Since the Pride’s humble beginnings, the band has performed at 15 presidential inaugurations and over 50 bowl games.
Donald Ryder is the director of bands at UT, as well as an associate professor of music. He has been at UT for 23 years, and has been the director since 2015. In his role as the director of bands, he directs both the marching band and the UT Wind Ensemble.
Ryder spoke about his experience with the Pride and how he views the band’s role in the UT’s history, as well as his relationship with the band’s members.
“The things that I would sum up, that make up this band and the history of this band, aside from the tradition, has been the dedication of the students and their shared determination in search of excellence, and also the fact of the discipline it takes to get there,” Ryder said.
Ryder added that there’s also a sense of pressure and responsibility for the band’s members, because one mistake, like playing a wrong note, could affect the entire band.
Ryder also spoke about some of the Pride’s history, explaining that the band actually brought “Rocky Top” to UT when they performed it as a halftime show celebration in 1972. Since then, “Rocky Top” has become one of UT’s most popular and emblematic traditions.
“As far as the number of traditions that are linked right back to the band, like ‘Rocky Top,’ running through the T, Salute to the Hill, there are all kinds of traditions that the band has really been at the center of for the university,” Ryder said.
After 23 years with the Pride, Ryder is retiring this year. In looking back on his time at UT, Ryder said that he has been able to do many of the things he set out to do when he became the director of bands. He has set up a scholarship program for every member of the Pride and has also worked to create a proper practice facility for the band.
“I’ve been able to check a lot of boxes during my tenure here,” Ryder said.
Julia Boylan is the Pride’s drum major. She is a senior majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She spoke about the legacy of the Pride and its role in UT traditions.
“It’s something that’s been carried on primarily by our members: Wearing the uniform, being part of the band, all of that comes down to the individuals that make up the band, and being able to teach those traditions from generation to generation is what really drives our legacy,” Boylan said.
Boylan is also only the fourth female drum major in the history of the Pride of the Southland Band. She spoke about her experience stepping into such a historic position.
“Being the drum major takes on a whole different kind of legacy,” Boylan said. “It’s a different level of expectation and responsibility that you have to take on.”
Boylan will be at UT next semester as well and said she is really excited to see what the future holds.
In thinking about the marching band’s past, present and future, it’s clear that the flame of the Pride will not be extinguished anytime soon.