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When the Redcoats Go Marching in
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On their first tour outside of the US since it was founded in 1905 in Athens, Georgia, the Redcoat Marching Band from the University of Georgia, has been dazzling Chinese audiences with their marching and gymnastics sequences, larger-than-life music and colorful outfits since May 15. The band is reportedly the biggest foreign performing arts act ever to perform in China.

Dubbed "The Great Wall Tour 2006" (May 15-28), the act was approved by China's Ministry of Culture and sponsored by the US-China Cultural and Educational Foundation.

Song Yang, vice president of the foundation said in an interview with on May 23 that it was the foundation that first approached the Redcoats with a proposal for a China tour.

"This is the first time that they have come out this far, and we are very proud of it," Song said. "Everything we do is in the name of promoting the more fascinating aspects of American art and culture."

The 320-memeber Redcoat band will perform in Kunming, Chengdu, Xiamen, Nanjing and Shanghai. Beijing was to have been their first stop but the show was canceled because of a lack of venue. All of the capital's main stadiums are closed for renovations in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.

"Only a big stadium will do for the band's grandiose performances," Song said. "We are terribly sorry to have missed the chance of performing in Beijing."

Ticket prices range from 80 yuan (US$9.9) to 380 yuan (US$47.3).

Song said: "I myself rarely go to the Redcoats' performances in the US because tickets can be more expensive than pop concerts!

"But we've priced them reasonably for the China tour because we agreed that their main mission here is to promote cultural exchange."

In fact, the band has included a few Chinese features to their performance in order to get closer to their Chinese audience. 

Traditionally, the band enters a stadium shouting "Bulldog," which is the mascot of the university football team, also known as The Bulldogs. For their performance in Chengdu last Sunday night, the band made a grand entrance shouting "Chengdu" and "Panda." One of the hosts even spoke in local dialect. But what really got the audience out of their seats was the band's marching formation of the Chinese characters "zhong guo" (meaning China) and the map of China.

In addition to American folk songs and Western masterpieces such as Hey, Lady and Nessun Dorma, the band also played many Chinese folk classics including Jasmine and Singing and Smiling, which the audience happily sang along to.

"The crowd was absolutely amazing tonight, and we even had a couple of Georgia fans attend the show!" Erich Simmons, a Redcoat band member wrote on the band's tour website about the Chengdu performance. "At the end, during the march out, we had to do an 'encore' and take another pass around the track for our fans!"

A similar concert was held in Kunming, Yunnan Province on May 19. Song described them as huge successes. "We are ready for the next few stops. And we are very confident of the band's popularity and box office potential," he added.

At a news briefing before the Kunming show, Huang Jun, deputy director of the publicity department of Yunnan provincial government, said that the band's China tour is a positive and friendly response to President Hu Jintao's visit to the US in April, and will also enhance further cultural exchanges between the two nations.

The Redcoat band will open their third show in Xiamen, Fujian Province tonight. But organizers wait in eager anticipation of the Shanghai finale on May 28 when the band will perform in front of an estimated 80,000 people.

Song declined to reveal if the band will tour other countries after this China stint.

The University of Georgia Redcoat Marching Band is a component of the Hugh Hodgson School of Music and was the recipient of the 2000 Sudler Trophy for musical and visual excellence and innovation. Founded in 1905 as a section of the UGA Military Department, the band has grown in the last 101 years from 20 military cadets to over 320 men and women covering almost every major at the University.

( by Zhang Rui, May 24, 2006)

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