THAT TIME I LEARNED TO HAKA

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Despite my deplorbable dance skills, earlier this week, the VCU Pep Band taught me how to do the Haka, despite their better judgement. Thanks to Ryan Kopacsi, Matt Alvarez, Brandon Hess, Allyson Topping, Chris Harding and Kayen Wilborn for the help.

LEAN, MEAN BRASS-PLAYING MACHINES

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Did you wake up this morning and wonder what the baddest band in the land, the VCU Peppas, were up to lately? Yeah, me too.

Well, while we’ve been attached to our sofas, watching one of the seven NCIS programs on TV, plowing through bags of Cheetos, The Peppas have been training like Rocky Balboa. Sidebar: I hope they trained with “Hearts on Fire” playing in the background. Anyway, The Peppas will be taking over the Earth soon.

THE PEPPAS: ALL ABOUT THAT HAKA

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Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

Hanover native Kayen Wilborn leads The Peppas through a traditional Maori haka Sunday at the Black and Gold Scrimmage.

The VCU Basketball season hasn’t even started yet, but the school’s pep band, The Peppas, appear to be in midseason form.

Over the years, the band has used any number of tactics to distract opponents and whip VCU fans into a frenzied state, from riding (and playing) around Manhattan on a double-decker bus, to ripping through a non-traditional set list with unusual flair.

On Sunday, Oct. 26 at the annual VCU Basketball Black and Gold Scrimmage, The Peppas raised the bar with a thunderous rendition of a traditional New Zealand Maori haka. As of this writing, a video of the performance had caught the eye of several national media outlets and had been viewed nearly 23,000 times on YouTube. For a photo gallery of the performance, check out VCUSports.com.

The first haka, Ka Mate, Ka Mate, was composed in the late 19th century by Te Rauparaha, a chief of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe. Hakas were originally performed by the Maori people in preparation for a challenge or battle, but in recent years it has been used at welcome celebrations, before athletic contests and a variety of other special events. New Zealand athletic teams popularized the performance of hakas prior to sporting events shortly after its introduction into the culture. New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team has been the most visible of these, and the country’s national basketball team nabbed headlines this past summer for their performance during the FIBA World Championships.

According to VCU Pep Band Director Ryan Kopacsi, The Peppas will be performing a war haka called Peruperu (a dance with weapons), which is marked by fierce facial expressions and percussive movements, and has been used throughout its history to intimidate the opposition. It is considered a bad omen if a haka is not performed in unison.

“I was searching for intense things for us to do a few years ago and I was watching tons of videos. I was writing down ideas. Someone sent me a video of the All Blacks doing it. I was floored and couldn’t stop watching video after video. From there it was all about right place right time. The right place is here and the right time is now,” Kopacsi said earlier this week via email.

Also, according to the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Bill, passed the New Zealand’s Parliament in 2014, Kopacsi asked to include the following statement:

Te Rauparaha was the composer of Ka Mate and a chief of Ngāti Toa Rangatira. We accept the honor to perform this declaration.

In case you missed it, or if you just wanted to watch again, here’s Sunday’s performance:

 

SHAKA AND HAKA; PEPPAS BREAK OUT NEW ZEALAND WAR DANCE

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H/T to John Tatum.

The Peppas are already on their game. At Sunday’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, they broke out the New Zealand Haka dance. I’m sure other videos will emerge later in the year, but this can be your first look.

BATTLE OF THE BANDS…SAN DIEGO

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I’m not going to lie, I enjoy that The Peppas just cruise around town in their Partridge Family bus, looking to get a game, seeking about bands to battle. Who wants to barnstorm across America with me, Rodney and The Peppas?

BAND ON A BUS; THE PEPPAS CONQUER MANHATTAN

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We met The Peppas Friday morning and hopped on an open-air tour bus. The band  crossed the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and made its way onto the “Today Show” for the second straight year. Afterwards, we headed to Times Square, where we played outside the “Good Morning America” studio, then through the streets, and onto Madison Square Garden, where some other tournament is going on right now. Finally, we swung over to the iconic New York Public Library, where the band played about six songs and attracted a crowd of a couple hundred before we were shut down by library staffers we can only assume attended Richmond. Here’s a recap:

PEPPAS ON THE TODAY SHOW (AGAIN)

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We rode around all Friday morning with The Peppas. We’ll have our own video from the trip, which included stops all over Manhattan, up later, but here’s the clip of the band crashing the Today Show for the second straight year.

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EDIT: I pulled a bunch of photos from my iPhone and from around the Internet to give you a look at some of the scenes from Friday’s ridealong.

THE TAMBOURINE MAN

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Anna Bing with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham joined the VCU Athletic Band "The Peppas" this season.

Anna Bingham with son Ellis earlier this season. Ellis Bingham, who has cerebral palsy, joined the VCU Athletic Band, “The Peppas”, this season.

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Pep Band’s new tambourine player has no musical background, but he’s quickly become one of the most inspiring members of “The Peppas” a boisterous troupe that churns out inspired songs. His name is Ellis Bingham, and although he can barely talk, outside of a handful of words, he’s never spoken with a louder voice – the sound of his spirited, rattling tambourine – than now.

You can find Bingham at Rams games seated in his motorized wheelchair – decorated with a VCU flag and bumper sticker – at floor level, left arm jutting skyward, gleefully shaking his tambourine as The Peppas gyrate their way through another raucous performance.

Known to his bandmates as just “Bing”, Ellis has cerebral palsy, a disorder caused by damage to the cerebellum in developing brains. People with cerebral palsy can face a wide range of motor control disabilities. For Bing, that means a number of physical and speech impairments, including the inability to walk. He can’t sit up without assistance and speaks mostly through a voice computer.

While he’s been faced with those obstacles throughout his life, the 22-year-old Richmond native and his mother, Anna Bingham, have rarely accepted those limitations at face value.

Anna calls Bing her “miracle”. Born 16 weeks premature, Bing weighed just 1-pound, 7.5 ounces at birth and could nearly fit in the palm of Anna’s hand. He spent the next four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MCV. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which occurs more frequently in premature births, when he was about a year old.

“You go day by day,” Anna says of those challenging early years. “If I knew everything at the beginning that I knew at the end, it would have been too much. You take it day by day. I think your attitude is really important, as well as educating yourself and honestly believing in your child and believing he can do anything.”

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‘THAT ANIMAL’ WAS LOOSE IN NYC

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We did it again. We let “That Animal” loose in New York. The VCU Basketball team was playing Boston College Saturday night at Barclays Center, and that’s all well and good – the Rams won 69-50, by the way – but when you get the Rams, you get the whole experience. You get the VCU fan base, a lovable battalion of college basketball rapscallions that want nothing more than to take over the arena. You get The Peppas, VCU’s unstoppable Pep Band, one which can change an elevator music atmosphere into an AC/DC concert in the time it takes you to fire up your iPod. You get, “That Animal.”

If recent history is any judge, it seems That Animal – outside of turning the Stuart C. Siegel Center into a garbage disposal, blades of sound and pressure spinning everywhere, bearing down on the opposition – there’s nowhere they’d rather be than in New York, assuming control of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Don’t think people don’t notice this stuff.

VIDEO: THE PEPPAS TAKE MANHATTAN

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Ride along with the best band in the land.

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