The Foghorns: GW’s Longtime Pep Band with a Revolutionary Refresh

Photo credit: Jordan Tovin (GW Today)

By: Matthew Brooks (@brooksie1219)

Fans across America and the globe have been anticipating the return of college basketball since UConn and LSU cut down the nets back in April. They’ve been speculating constantly about their teams. Will the new transfers work out the way we hope? Will the returning players make improvements to their game? Who will be in the starting lineup? Did our head coach have the best Halloween costume (if you aren’t a GW fan, the answer is no)?

But despite the unknowns regarding on the court performance, one aspect of college basketball in Foggy Bottom that is guaranteed to please all fans is the return to the Charles E. Smith Center. It is often said that the environment of college basketball is special, unique, and unmatched, even by professional sports in bigger arenas with better competition. There is something special about the college basketball atmosphere that fans just can’t get enough of. I like to call everything that contributes to this: cheer, dance, entertainment, “the show.” Your team may win or lose, and there’s certain parts of that are out of our control, but fans should always leave Smith, or any other college basketball arena,  having seen a good show.

A key part of “the show” and a major difference between college and professional basketball, is the type of music played. In NBA arenas you’ll hear no live music, it’ll only be recorded songs, beats, and chants played by a DJ. In college, you will have a DJ, but you’ll also have a live student pep band, and to me, this makes the music and atmosphere at a college basketball much more special.

Pep bands are full of diversity in every sense of the word. People from all sorts of cultural and musical backgrounds. People who are basketball fanatics, and many who have absolutely no idea what’s happening on the court. But what brings everyone together in a pep band is a love for music, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. 

Photo credit: Daniel Rankin (@daniel3photos)

And GW’s pep band is no different.

The newly named Foghorns can be found at every GW home basketball game, postseason game, and various other sporting and campus events. They are completely student-run, with senior Clare Hunter serving as the band’s teaching assistant (TA). She runs rehearsals, selects the music, and conducts the band at games.

“One word I could describe Foghorns as is wild,” she told me.

“Everyone there is energetic and bouncing off the walls because not only of their passion and music but their excitement for what they’re doing. And when you have that excitement for what you’re doing and building a stronger GW community, it makes someone feel, it makes you excited to go to practice every day and to go to every game. Because then you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile.”

The band is constructed mostly like a typical pep band: they have tubas, trombones, trumpets, and mellophones in the brass, and flutes, clarinets, and saxophones in the woodwinds. But in the percussion section, the Foghorns deviate and create what could be considered their unique flare as a band. They employ double drumming, where two drummers are each on their own kits, playing simultaneously.

This isn’t easy to pull off, but it is a large part of the band’s sound and tradition and is a fruitful challenge to take on according to Hunter.

“They have to work together to make a cohesive sound.” Hunter said. “Because with one drummer, they can take a lot more liberties, but with two they have to work together in order to keep the band going.”

Junior and Vice President of band Zael Hurtado also told me how the challenging setup forces the drummers themselves to become better musicians. 

“I think it makes the percussionists better if they’re being forced to work with someone.” Hurtado said. “When you have to work with someone, when you have to really lock in and focus up, you can’t just be on autopilot playing the tunes. You have to be not only looking at the conductor, but you have to be hearing the band, and you have to be focused on the other drummer who is on the other side of the bleachers.”

I asked Hunter what her favorite part about leading the band was, and she was candid with me in her answer.

“I’m not even going to lie, my favorite part is being able to call the tunes.”

“Every year I’ve been in this band, we’ve sounded better and better, and now I think we’re at a point where we sound better than I could have ever dreamed.” Hunter said.

The band can be heard playing top 40 hits from across the decades, along with some classic pep band stand tunes that you’d hear at just about any basketball game. In the past, the band has had much more of a rock emphasis, but there’s been a focus in recent years on refining the selection of rock songs and adding more modern music that students will resonate with and sing along to.

“We started moving more towards pop music, more rap music, more things that you would hear on the radio,” Hunter said.

“We’re focusing on ‘what do people in the audience want to hear.’ And ‘what do we want to play?’ And I think a combination of those just adds to the excitement in the community of Foghorns.” Hunter said. “Because if we’re excited to play what we play, then everyone else would be excited to hear. So I think that’s the most important part about picking songs and why I’m so happy I finally get to pick songs.”

But aside from the music, aside from the games, above all else, band is a place for self-expression. The fun and craziness that you see from the pep band at the games isn’t just wildness for the sake of being wild. According to Hurtado, It’s about giving people a space to be themselves.

“It’s one of those things where it’s almost like it’s bigger than us, right?” Hurtado said. “We kind of try to remove ourselves from the equation and be like, we are here with a purpose, we are here to get people hyped up, we’re here to do a job. And I feel like we’ve created a community where people don’t have to put on a mask. They don’t have to be who they don’t want to be. I feel like we’ve created a kind of environment where people aren’t afraid to be loud and be their authentic selves.”

Hunter tied it all together by noting how that internal community and synergy within the band creates the right environment for the fans to get hyped.

“And then that energy is infectious. People in the stands, people around us when we’re performing, they can feel our energy and our excitement. And that’s the best part of this job. When the people you’re playing for are just as excited as you are.”

Senior president and former TA Lorainne Del Rosario’s favorite part of being in the band?

“I like watching other people have fun, I like seeing other people be happy.”

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