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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Drumline Effect?

When the movie Drumline came out nearly seven years ago, it was the first major motion picture where the primary subject was college marching bands. Love it or hate it--and just about anyone who has ever marched does one or the other--it is undeniable that like any other Hollywood depiction of a subculture, what we saw on screen is beginning to leak into what we see in real life.

If I may oversimplify things for a moment: There are primarily two styles of marching band: Traditional/"show" and corps style. Drumline depicted a show style marching band, and more specifically, an HBCU marching band. In general--and again I'm oversimplifying--traditional style bands are more likely to play popular music and HBCU bands in particular are more likely to borrow from rap, R&B, soul and jazz music.

Since Drumline came out, however, there has definitely been a shift of certain bands moving their repertoire and/or style closer to that depicted in the movie. Anecdotally, I've heard tell of corps style bands that switched their entire style after the movie came out. More often, bands interpolate a bit of imagery Hollywood made more popular into their shows or stands performances. For example, USF's Herd of Thunder plays "Shout it Out", straight from the movie, in the stands now.

I've seen other sharing that goes a bit deeper in emulating the style. I did a double take a couple years ago when I first heard LSU's Golden Band from Tigerland play "Neck". Talking Out the Side of your Neck, an album track by Cameo, is an otherwise unremarkable song that garnered its most attention as a popular tune for HBCU marching bands. At first I joked about a contingent from LSU sneaking across town under cover of darkness to Southern University's practice. More recently, I heard the University of Florida's band play Crucial Conflict's "Hay". Hay is also played by FAMU and Bethune Cookman, the two most prominent HBCUs in the state of FL. A friend mentioned to me that the Herd of Thunder plays this one as well.

At first I was inclined to give these bands the side-eye for appropriation, but truly, it's part of the continued evolution of the activity. And if you believe that a marching band's purpose is to thrill an audience, as I do, it's nothing but a win for all parties involved.
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