In the sea of red uniforms, black shoes and polished instruments, it is hard to distinguish who’s who when the Pride of the South, the University of Mississippi marching band, takes to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on gameday.
In the crowd of almost 300 musicians, Alex MacCormack marches on with 53 other trumpeters.
MacCormack, fondly called “Mr. Macc,” plays his trumpet loudly. He is 74.
Mr. Macc was 66 when he joined the band in 2005. In a span of eight years, he spent six with the band – “never tardy, never missed a rehearsal, or a performance,” he proudly says.
“The first year I was here, I was sitting in band camp in August with a bunch of kids who just came out of high school,” MacCormack said. “Someone standing in the hall – one of the older guys in the band – said, ‘Isn’t that nice, this guy is coming to sit here with his kid?’”
A graduate of Clemson University in South Carolina, MacCormack is a retired engineer. Instead of spending his retirement days in his house, he comes to the band hall before 4 p.m. every weekday except Wednesday, the band’s day off. There, he spends hours playing his trumpet, rehearsing drills, and cracking jokes to kids almost 50 years younger than him.
“What do you call a Filipino contortionist?” he quips. The students are lost for answers. He chuckles, “A Manila folder!”
At his age, MacCormack may be considered as the oldest person in a marching band in the country. When asked about this, he explains that he might just be, seeing that other older people usually just do it one time, unlike his full-time dedication.
His loyalty was recognized in 2011 when he was awarded the Marcus Guinn Spirit Award for his service to Ole Miss Athletics. His plaque hangs on his walls along with newspaper articles about him and photographs he took along the years.
At 74, MacCormack encounters several challenges playing with the band – but never music-wise. When music sheets are passed out, he inputs them in computer software where he blows them up to make them easier to read and places directions where he is supposed to go, including the number of steps and even the size of steps in inches. Green means move, red means stay.
Randy Dale, assistant director of the marching band, said that MacCormack, with his engineering background, has helped a lot in terms of electronics.
“Every time we have issues with some of the equipment, he’s always there to help,” Dale said. “He’s good to have around because we can talk to him about lots of stuff. He’s very smart.”
The challenge for MacCormack comes in the physical form, whether it may be memorizing new music, walking around the field, or climbing the steps to the top of the stadium.
“The ability to play is not a problem. I may not be able to play three to four hours when I used to do that without a problem,” he said. “I may be able to do one to two hours now without fatigue coming in.”
Bill DeJournett, director of the marching band, said he sees MacCormack as an inspiration to the younger students.
“We talk in the band about silent leadership, not telling others what to do: just showing up everyday, not complaining,” DeJournett said. “The other band students really look up to him because here’s a 74-year-old man, if he can show up everyday and do it in a positive and pleasant manner without complaining about the heat, the cold or the rain, they can do it.”
Senior band member and exercise science major Jodi Gilles said she enjoys having Mr. Macc around.
“Mr. Macc is a lot of fun,” Gilles said. “He is always cracking jokes and being witty, is extremely generous and helps out the band a lot. Never a dull moment around him.”
— Jhesset Enano