For a musician who is a Redskins’ fan there can be no greater dream than playing in the legendary NFL marching band. For Capitol Hill’s famed piccolo-player Nan Raphael that dream has come true.
Every Sunday that the Redskins play at home sees Nan at the ground blasting out Hail to the Redskins and a multitude of favorite game big-band pieces.
Nan, who was a solo piccoloist in the US Army Field Band for 26 years, joined the Redskins' family this season. With her eclectic musical background - she's played all over the world both with the military and the International Flute Orchestra - and four CDs of her solo work under her belt, she was a natural choice when Redskins owner Dan Snyder decided to expand the band, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Apart from being the oldest band in the NFL, the other notable fact is that the 'Skins' band is one of only two NFL marching bands left. The other belongs to the neighboring Baltimore Ravens.
Nan plays alongside 125 members of a band that is pivotal to the Redskins' story. The players are drawn from all walks of life - teachers, lawyers, shop-workers, office staff, scientists, even a judge. Some of them have been with the band 40 plus years. And while they all have to be able to play at a high level there's something else they have to do, equally as well, and that's march. Anyone unable to march in time does not make the cut - no matter how good their musical talent. Despite their dual talents none of the band members is paid, but they each get two tickets to every game to use as they wish.
For Nan, becoming part of the band brought together two of her great loves: playing the piccolo and watching football. "I'm a huge Redskins fan," she said. "I've been a fan through thick and thin, since about 1980 when Joe Gibbs became coach. I put my name on the waiting list for season tickets in 1984 and finally got them 17 years later."
Nan grew up with football, the daughter of a fanatical New York Jets supporter who regularly took her to games when she was growing up. Even so she admits: "I never really felt the affinity for the Jets that I do for the Redskins. I know this city lives and breathes football so when they lose I can feel the pall in the Monday morning air."
And that is a main reason she loves being part of the Redskins' atmosphere - be it celebratory or mourning - for the way it pulls DC together. "I'm all for anything that brings our city together and the 'Skins have done that for many years. I don't play in the band just to get to see games but also as a community service. I'd say the greatest thing about being in the band is being part of something that adds to the excitement of the game, as well as giving something back to my city and my team."
Although Nan has a busy personal playing schedule between her recording commitments, performances as a guest soloist with various orchestras, taking part in band festivals and piccolo workshops, every Wednesday, from the end of April to the end of the football season, sees her at Fed Ex Field for band practice. Every rehearsal session starts and ends with Hail to the Redskins (or HTTR as its known within the band).
On the 10 home game days, the band marches round and about outside the stadium for an hour-and-a-half before the game, entertaining the arriving and tailgating fans. Then it moves onto the field for a 20-minute pre-kickoff show. As the game starts the band moves into the stands - ready to blast-off every time the 'Skins score, play during half-time, and burst into action during time-outs and as the fans leave the stadium at the final whistle.
The band repertoire runs the gamut, from show songs, top ten hits through the ages, classical pieces and, of course, Hail to the Redskins.
Nan enjoys everything the band plays. "I don't really have a favorite piece. I enjoy most everything we play, especially Hail to the Redskins." Which, of course, every fan of the burgundy and gold is always happy to hear - hopefully many times each game!
For more info about Nan go to: www.nanraphael.com