UC Bearcat Bands en route to Egypt

Band to perform for strategic partner Future University in Egypt

“Egypt gig band was NOT on my 2024 bingo card,” typed one member of the UC Bearcat Bands after receiving notice that a group was invited to perform for UC strategic partner institution Future University in Egypt (FUE).

A meme involving the C-paw among the pyramids soon followed, along with over 60 interested names on the sign-up sheet. Shortly after, students auditioned in a blind process — playing snippets of school songs called out in rapid succession — for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Whittled down to just 26 members of the marching band, director of bands Christopher Nichter and staff from UC International, the group will set off for a historic set of performances at FUE in mid-May.

For most U.S. band programs, travel is wholly dependent upon the success of athletic teams. International travel is an even rarer occasion, usually to locales with traditional parades, and takes months to years of planning.

However, because of FUE’s invitation, a portion of the UC marching band now has the opportunity to represent the University of Cincinnati far outside the walls of Nippert Stadium. 

The invitation

Members of the marching band form the letters "FUE" on a soccer field.

26 members of the marching band form "FUE" in honor of their Egyptian host university. Photo/Christopher Nichter

UC and FUE have been in partnership since 2013, beginning with UC professors reviewing FUE’s curricula for international quality standards. The partnership has since blossomed into regular student and professor exchanges, joint research projects, seminars and annual audits.

But what interest did FUE have in an American marching band? According to Gihan El Basiouny, manager of international affairs at FUE, chairman and university owner Khaled Hassan Azazy watched a video of UC’s marching band online and was interested in bringing a group to play for FUE’s students.

Through the respective international offices, the question was asked: was it possible for a marching band to travel to Cairo? Band director Nichter was open to the opportunity from the start.

“When UC International reached out to us about potentially bringing a band to Cairo, I was surprised, but ready to take on the trip. Who passes up the opportunity to go to Egypt?” Nichter explained. “The Bearcat Bands does its fair share of travel, but certainly not like this. We are so thankful to Future University in Egypt for hosting our students and demonstrating such an interest in American marching band culture and campus spirit.”

With assistance from UC International, the logistics fell into place. Many students had to apply for their first passport. What began as a simple question became a packed itinerary full of cultural and musical experiences for the chosen band students.

Now, band staff and students are preparing for the journey of a lifetime. For Gabe Beebe, a baritone saxophone player, the trip will be his first international excursion.

“It seemed like a lofty idea in the beginning. And now, we have plane tickets,” said Beebe. “It won't quite be the full band thing — all 270 of us — but it's just gonna be fun. I get to go play saxophone in Egypt.”

Members of a marching band stand and play music in a rehearsal room.

The band practices new music in preparation for their Egypt trip. Photo/Natalie Ochmann

The itinerary

Two days before takeoff, the students arrive back on campus for rehearsals—practicing drills for an unlined, outdoor courtyard instead of an American football field, running through their pep-tune repertoire and learning to work together as a much smaller group.

Then, they’re off for over a week. The journey to Cairo will take over a day between time changes, layovers and special baggage claim. Despite the daunting tasks ahead, the students are looking forward to the experience.

“It'll be awesome to see the raw excitement of the Egyptians,” noted Sara Marijolovic, a clarinetist in the band. “Here, Americans have a pre-formed opinion about band. This is something completely different, that's not very common.”

For two of the days, the band will play for students and faculty on FUE’s campus. Gameday favorites like Green Day’s “Holiday” or Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” will likely make an appearance.

“Our hosts have asked us to really showcase the American collegiate experience, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Nichter. “But we do have a few musical surprises to bridge between our cultures and show our gratitude for the experience. We’re all looking forward to this historic set of performances.”

Another two days will be filled with cultural adventures to museums, the Pyramids and even a dinner cruise on the Nile River. Throughout the rest of their time, band members and FUE students will connect and exchange cultures with one another.

Marijolovic notes that the combination of cultural exploration and exchange was a huge draw for her to sign up.

“I've always enjoyed studying ancient civilizations and never really thought that I would get the opportunity to go,” said Marijolovic. “But I am excited to get to talk to some students. I have a feeling the interactions will surprise me. And it will be nice to be able to share my experiences and see what they have to say about the U.S. and Cincinnati, too.”

The partnership between UC and FUE has always been unique, but this out-of-the-box cultural exchange continues to strengthen the relationship between the two universities. The performances have inspired the UC band members to broaden their horizons past the playing field — all the way to the Pyramids.

Featured image at top: The marching band forms a pyramid shape while practicing a special "pregame" performance. Photo/Natalie Ochmann

Get to know the Bearcat Bands

The Bearcat Bands is a unit of UC’s Division of Student Affairs, and maintains partnerships with UC Athletics and the College-Conservatory of Music. Founded in 1920, the Bearcat Bands celebrate over 100 years of musical education and excellence for students from all academic backgrounds.

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