The Longhorn Band will be expected to play “The Eyes of Texas” when it performs, according to a Thursday letter addressed to the band’s directors from Douglas Dempster, the College of Fine Arts dean.
This letter follows a July message from Mary Ellen Poole, Butler School of Music director, that said members of Butler School ensembles, which includes the Longhorn Band, would not be penalized for refusing to sing or play the “The Eyes of Texas.”
During Black Lives Matter protests this summer, student-athletes and other students called on UT to drop “The Eyes of Texas” as the alma mater. The song was originally performed at a minstrel show with performers in blackface, and the opening verse is a saying inspired by Confederate general Robert E. Lee, according to previous reporting by The Daily Texan.
UT President Jay Hartzell said in July that UT would work to “reclaim and redefine” what the song stands for. Hartzell will announce efforts to document and acknowledge the song’s history next week, the letter said. Hartzell assured Dempster that the efforts will include community and student input, the letter said.
“I’m aware that students in the band are divided about the meaning and significance of ‘The Eyes (of Texas),’” Dempster said in the letter. “Some feel they cannot in good conscience continue to perform it. Others take pride in the song. And I know yet others are conflicted. This is threatening the unity and viability of the band as a band.”
In August, 11 members of LHBlacks, Longhorn Band’s Black student organization, told the Texan they would not participate in performances of the song. Longhorn Band drum major Ally Morales, who declined to comment for this story, previously said she would not initiate performances of the song. After the letter by Dempster was published, more than 20 members of the band told the Texan they are still not planning to play the song.
One band member, who asked to remain anonymous because they are worried about potential backlash from talking to the Texan, said that the letter solidifies their decision to not play the song.
“(The song) affects and harms people that I really care about that are in the Longhorn Band and outside of the Longhorn Band,” the band member said. “I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t include everybody. When we saw the letter, it just kinda felt like a, ‘You don’t really matter as a student who is volunteering time and energy and money into this organization.’”
The band member said it seems like they are being forced to play the song, regardless of how they feel about its racist history. They said the decision about whether to play the song should be left to individual band members.
“I love the Longhorns, I love supporting our team, I love the way I feel in the uniform,” the band member said. “But oftentimes, (with) the politics with (Longhorn Band), it feels like you’re kind of a pawn.”
University spokesperson J.B. Bird declined to comment on whether band members would be punished for not playing the song. Dempster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dempster said he doesn’t know when the band will be able to perform again because of the pandemic, and the band should not plan on performing at the Oct. 3 game against TCU.
“When the Longhorn Band returns to public performances, we can hope that our students will be able to perform ‘The Eyes (of Texas)’ in good conscience, with full awareness of its history as well as trust that its meaning isn’t fixed indelibly by the past, but defined by our values today,” Dempster said in the letter.