MRDs mark milestone

‘Virginia’s Finest’ celebrate their 50th anniversary

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by Kristen Essex (’22)

MRD anniversary

SUMMARY: This fall, the Marching Royal Dukes celebrated 50 years of unforgettable performances at JMU, across the country and around the world.

It’s no secret that JMU has pride for its award-winning band, the Marching Royal Dukes. In the fall, the MRDs, dubbed “Virginia’s Finest,” celebrated 50 years of accomplishments, awards, memories and performances. 

The band kicked off in 1972, along with Madison’s new football team. It is now the largest student organization on campus, with about 485 members representing almost every academic department at JMU. “The band is an icon of campus participation and inclusivity,” said Alex Dumouchelle, a senior drum major.

This community of music lovers is home for many Dukes as they embark on their journey at JMU. “We are a big persuasion for students to come to JMU and pursue music,” said Rachel Ferrell, a sophomore clarinet player. “I’ve been hearing about the MRDs since I was a child because my parents met in the MRDs. I’ve always wanted to come to JMU, just to be a Marching Royal Duke.” 

The band is open to all JMU students. “The MRDs is a place where you can feel safe and reassured despite how skilled you are,” said senior trombone player Ali Fahm. “I joined a section where I had no clue how to play the instrument. Regardless, everyone was so supportive and accepting.”  

Josh Ariel (’10), a former drumline member, International Affairs major and Music Industry minor, said, “I think my biggest takeaway was the community. I made friends that I’m still very close with today. Later on, I started a rock band with another member of the drumline and played music all throughout my [undergraduate years] with people from the band. It was a huge social facilitator.”

Apart from halftime shows, the MRDs perform at events including parades, celebrations and inaugurations around Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. They’ve also performed abroad, such as London, Monaco and the Vatican.

Notable performances over the years include a halftime show during the NFC title game in 1983, as well as regular-season games in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The MRDs were also proudly featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2001, 2008, 2013 and 2018. The band even performed in the inaugural parades for former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1997 and 2001, respectively.

The Marching Royal Dukes at former President Bill Clinton's inaugural parade
The Marching Royal Dukes performed in the 53rd inaugural parade of former President Bill Clinton in 1997 and were the largest band present. On that day, the Dukes posed in front of the Capitol building.

In 1994, the Dukes received the Sudler Trophy from the John Philip Sousa Foundation. This award is well-regarded among the marching band community for its reflection of high musical standards and innovative routines.

The band has always been a strong ambassador for the university and the Harrisonburg community. “I think the main thing that makes the MRDs so important is the morale they bring to the JMU spirit. The MRDs always know how to hype everyone up,” said Joel Abbott, a sophomore trombone player.  

“I have yet to meet an MRD member who is not ready to scream and play their lungs off in order to entertain the crowd,” Fahm said.

The passion for the organization is unmistakable, from the enthusiasm of the students to the directors who give their all for school spirit. “The JMU Fight Song is one of the most unique school songs in American college fight songs,” said Pat Rooney, band director from 1982-2007. “It has an uplifting, ‘jazzy’ sound that really matches the spirit of Madison and everything we are.”

Despite rain or freezing temperatures, the MRDs always put on a smile as they march onto the field to perform. “We’re crowd pleasers, and we give off enough spirit and energy to do so,” Fahm said.

For 50 years, talented students have played their hearts out in front of crowds of purple-and-gold, as fans sing along to the famous JMU Fight Song and cheer on the Dukes to victory — memories that alumni treasure years after walking across the Commencement stage. 

“The band will always be family, no matter if I’ve graduated or still at JMU,” Abbott said.


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Published: Friday, December 2, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2024

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