ATHENS, Ga. - As the former top high school tuba player in Maryland, Phillip Walters has heard his share of jokes about tubby musicians and foul-sounding musical notes.
"Tuba players are often portrayed as the oompah people," said the 18-year-old University of Georgia freshman and member of the University of Georgia Redcoat Band.
As far as his tuba professor is concerned, Mr. Walters' tuba playing makes him as hot a prospect for the university as any of the key players on the school's Southeastern Conference football team.
"We'd be the center," said assistant music professor David Zerkel, comparing tuba players to football players.
As one of the rarest players in any college marching band - a brass anchorman in glittering halftime shows - musicians such as Mr. Walters can make recruiting among college band leaders as competitive as SEC athletic recruiting. The university's success in the annual musician hunt goes far in explaining why college band leaders recently awarded the Redcoats the Sudler Trophy, considered the Heisman of collegiate marching bands.
"It's really a nationwide recruiting war," said the university's bands director, Dwight Satterwhite, who still is smarting over the loss of the state's top high school clarinetist to Louisiana State University two years ago.
The comparison to college sports doesn't stop there. Competition for musicians is regulated by guidelines set by the National Association of Schools of Music, which bars professors from contacting students after they commit to a school. Music professors spend long hours visiting with parents, assuring them grades won't suffer with the right study habits, and graduates of the band programs shore up financial support with gratefully received donations.
Last spring, when Mr. Walters indicated an interest in the University of Georgia, the school immediately produced a scholarship and President Michael Adams granted him entrance two months after regular admissions. The move also aided the wind symphony, a music school classical ensemble in which Mr. Walters sits as third chair.
Other exertions toward strengthening the 375-student marching band have produced the state's top oboist and world champion twirler Brandy Martin. About 70 percent of band members aren't music majors, but those who are work double duty on the university's many student jazz and classical ensembles.
"My offer always includes more than money" for scholarships, Mr. Satterwhite said. "It includes one of the top institutions in the state," and access to an internationally renowned teaching staff in the university's School of Music.