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Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday Morning Drum Major

Yes, I'm thoroughly aware that it's Monday afternoon by the time this posts.

The Ohio State University Marching Band wanted to be sure they stayed on everyone's minds, so after moonwalking MJ last week, they doubled up on the viral presence with this week's Hollywood show. Check it out:

While they left the visiting Penn State Blue Band (seen in the beginning of the video exiting the field) alone, they had some jabs for archrival Michigan. You may recall that, much as in the field show, Michigan fired first, using Ohio State's Brutus Buckeye as the Bond-style villain in their From Ann Arbor With Love show earlier this season. TBDBITL fired back, gobbling a Wolverine up with a T-Rex and sinking their ship.

The show was something to behold, and I think their drill writer much have majored in animation for formations that continue to amaze me. I've also got a new metric for a band's entertainment value. A wise man (my high school band director, ironically enough a product of Michigan himself) operated from the philosophy that football is enjoyed by folks who are drinking beer and eating pretzels, and the field show should be planned accordingly. When video of this week's performance came to my attention, I watched it along with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. She was easily able to understand and articulate what was going on. "He stopped the building from falling." "It's a T-Rex!" If you're going for a concrete show, it needs to be executed to that level.

A good deal further south: Florida State welcomed back Bobby Bowden (and, only slightly less significantly, my friend and FSU alumnus James) and the Marching Chiefs showed him some dadgum love.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Honda Odyssey

Is this the Honda we've been waiting for?

The field is set for Honda Battle of the Bands 2014. This January, you can expect to see:
  • Alabama A&M University, Marching Maroon & White (SWAC) 
  • Alabama State University, Mighty Marching Hornets (SWAC) 
  • Bethune-Cookman University, Marching Wildcats (MEAC) 
  • Morehouse College, Marching Maroon Tigers (SIAC) 
  • North Carolina A&T State University, Blue and Gold Marching Machine (MEAC) 
  • South Carolina State University, Marching 101 (MEAC)
  • University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South (SWAC) 
  • Winston-Salem State University, The Red Sea of Sound (CIAA)
Prior to the 2010 Honda, the format changed. Instead of two representatives from each HBCU conference (and two independents) Honda went to a format not too dissimilar from the BCS: Autobids for each conference (and an independent), and at-large opportunities beyond that. They also trimmed the field to eight bands from ten. Conventional wisdom was that the Division I conferences, the MEAC and the SWAC, would gobble up all of the at-large slots, but that was never realized. In no year did either conference net more than two participants; the field each year looked a good deal more balanced than I would have expected, with only the SIAC ever putting three (conveniently close to/in Atlanta) participants in the field.

Until now. 

This year's battle is heavy on the heavies, with both the MEAC and SWAC bringing three bands to the Dome. The SIAC and CIAA each get just one in, and there is no independent representation. Even the CIAA's representative, Winston Salem State, was in the MEAC just a few short seasons ago, while the SIAC is represented by hometown Morehouse. With all due respect to the smaller conference bands, this year's event seems tailor-made to put butts in seats of an already beloved program.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Battle for the Buckeye State

If I may quote myself again, from the post that spawned a series:

When things like this blow up... it's always interesting for me, doing what I do. I usually get a couple of questions: "Did you see that? Wasn't it amazing?"

To answer the first: Chances are quite good I'm the biggest band nerd you know, and as such, yes, I've probably seen it. 

For the second--Wasn't it amazing? In most cases, if it's being passed around, yes, it is amazing. But here's the thing: Amazing happens every Saturday on football fields throughout the country, and a lot of it happens when the game clock isn't running. Amazing happens in a variety of marching styles, with a variety of musical offerings, and it happens largely out of the view of television cameras, and sadly, also out of the view of live spectators who take the opportunity to grab a beer instead of watching what's going on on the field. The band featured in particular makes amazing happen pretty much every time they strap on their spats. So I'm sure you'll allow me the role of both hipster and evangelist when I say yes, I've been seeing marching bands do great things before it went pop. I encourage you to get out there and check it out yourself.

All that said, I say with true sincerity that I'm flattered and humbled that when many folks I know think of marching bands, they think of me. The video I'm about to share was posted on my wall or tagged with me no fewer than four times on Facebook, with still others referencing it in person or elsewhere. So yes, I've seen it, but I appreciate y'all for thinking of me.

Christy over at Diary of a (Female) Bandhead, who had a similar experience, did point out that this sort of form has been done by HBCUs, but it doesn't make it any less amazing. I'd add that this going viral is evidence that the larger audience can appreciate the concrete. With all due respect to curvilinear drill and Z-Pulls, something that's very easy to see makes crowds happy.

And finally: I never intended for Amazing Happens Every Saturday to center in the state of Ohio, but if the Marching 110 and TBDBITL keep bringing it, I'll keep recognizing it. That said, someone did point out to me that an early version of an article incorrectly attributed Ohio U.'s Gangnam Style and Party Rock Anthem to Ohio State. Thankfully, someone fact-checked them on that quickly.

Friday, October 18, 2013

High Notes, 2013 Week 7

It's not often I can say that I didn't catch a lick of college football in a weekend, but this past week I didn't. I didn't even know a good deal of what went on until sometime on Sunday.

My wife, daughter, and I went camping out at Hanging Rock State Park here in NC, and my high note for this week comes from that trip, though not from the campground. Since we were in that part of the state, we had planned to spend part of a day in Mount Airy, Andy Griffith's hometown, that now spends its days playing Mayberry. We went to check out that scene, but didn't realize we were arriving smack dab in the middle of the Autumn Leaves festival. Sooner or later, I will have made it to every autumn festival between here and the Tennessee line, and I'll take it. The cool thing about a small town street festival is that they are somehow all the same and yet all completely different, with their own local flair and charm. And while one might expect the Mayberry theme to be overdone here, that wasn't the case at all, at least not on this day. Someday, I'm sure we'll make our way back for the likes of the Andy Griffith Museum and what-not, but this was just a cool day in a small foothills community.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Band on the Road (Some Restrictions Apply)

Tucked within the statement that led to the situation in Knoxville was a bit of information that has implications far beyond Rocky Top. The nugget: "It is the band's understanding... the athletic directors voted to curtail band travel across the conference in 2014 by requiring band's to request permission from the athletic director at a host school to march at halftime."

That's a heavy accusation that I clearly needed to look into.

It turns out that the statement is accurate. Specifically, SEC Bylaw, section 8, states:
In order for the visiting team marching band to perform at half-time, the visiting team must request 
permission from the host institution’s Athletics Director by February 1. If the host institution’s Athletics Director does not grant permission, the visiting team marching band may not perform at half-time. (Effective for competitions after August 1, 2014.) 

This is cause for concern, or at least it could be, if athletic directors choose to use it liberally. I'll admit that there are times that such a rule makes sense. For example, if a Homecoming game will feature, say, the crowning of royalty or recognition of a Hall of Fame team, there may simply not be time to include that as well as both bands' halftime shows. Consider that the one game Ohio State's band is not traveling to this season is the Northwestern game, because it fell on the Wildcats' homecoming and they would not have had the opportunity to perform at halftime. What's unclear is if this new policy simply adds formality where there was none or if it changes the previous policy.

Where it gets sticky is what the Pride of the Southland fears. They state that an athletic director could choose to fill the space with marketing or canned music, and they certainly could. What's just as bad, this could be used for gamesmanship, rivalry fuel, or simply spite. Auburn could choose to deny the Million Dollar Band a chance to perform simply to stick it to their archrival. An athletic director could attempt to minimize a rival band's presence to gain a competitive advantage or maximize their own home field advantage. While denying a band a spot at halftime doesn't keep a school from bringing their whole band, it greatly disincentivizes it. And simply a pep band, especially in a packed, loud, SEC stadium, almost isn't worth the trouble.

The SEC has a great tradition of band travel. Even with incomplete data, the conference well eclipses all others for Band on the Road games. It would be a shame to see this go by the wayside, especially since, as a standard bearer for college football, what the SEC does could easily influence other conferences. On the other hand, this could be a non-issue. Similar to the way all athletic directors agreed to grant teams' requests for white jerseys at home, I would love to see common sense prevail for the good of the sport and the preservation of a true college football atmosphere.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rocky (Top) Relationship

The University of Tennessee's Pride of the Southland is "locked in a bitter battle" with the athletic department. The band cites having their budget cuts and canned music in the stadium as symptoms of the disrespect.

Athletic bands often find themselves at an uneasy crossroads between the music department and the athletics department. From the inside, it can sometimes feel like the band is claimed by whichever entity is less advantageous in a given situation. So while Athletics is often a natural home for the band, the relationship can at time be contentious, and in Knoxville, this is one of those times. The Pride began an online petition that caught the attention of the Athletics Department and, perhaps more importantly, the media. Tennessee Athletics has since responded to the allegations.

Of the two primary complaints, I only see one as a surefire sign of disrespect. While  a dwindling budget is cause for concern, it's important to note the climate. If the Athletics Department's fact check is truthful, the Pride of the Southland had their budget reduced by less than 1%. This is in a climate where Athletics had a significant financial shortfall, due in no small part to the Vols' on-the-field woes over the past several years and an inability at times to fill their stadium's over 102,000 seats. Frankly, it would be easy to see the band as expendable to satisfy the bottom line; that their budget didn't take more of a hit seems to me to be a testament to the support they continue to have for the band.

The second I consider a good deal more insidious, and part of a disturbing trend: The NFLification of college football. The passion and pageantry present in college football make it, by design, a separate quantity from the NFL, and in my opinion, the better one. This isn't the case of an upstart university with an untested band simply seeking to emulate what they see most often on TV - not that I like it in this case, either. No, this is the storied Tennessee Volunteers, boasting membership in the standard-bearing Southeastern Conference, one of the most recognizable (if not reviled) refrains in all of college athletics with Rocky Top, and, of course, the Pride of the Southland. That this band, in this situation in particular, should have to compete with the latest edition of Jock Jams is every bit the insult the band reads it as.

It would seem that for now, either through clarification or backpedaling, the two sides are amicable. The true test may come this coming Saturday when the Vols take the home field in Neyland Stadium again.

UPDATE (10/14): Pride of the Southland director Gary Sousa has been placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the fall semester, with insubordination cited as among the reasons. It is unclear if this stems from the initial situation or subsequent actions. Don Ryder, Associate Director for Bands, will assume responsibilities in the interim; Ryder already works extensively with the Pride of the Southland.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

High Notes, 2013 Week 6

My east coast bias almost got the better of me. I knew that both Notre Dame and Arizona State's bands were traveling to the Shamrock Series showdown in Jerryworld, but I failed to realize until much later that this was a dual Sudler matchup, mostly because I had forgotten that the Pride of the Southwest won, quite a few years before Notre Dame ever did. The game didn't disappoint one bit sonically, so I'm giving this one to both bands.

In the open playbook, I've got to give it up to the Dixie Classic Fair. This was the site of fairgating two years ago when it lined up with the Florida State game. Wake was home this weekend, against NC State, and I hope some folks took advantage. I went with my wife and daughter, let the little one get on rides (and had to accompany her on one), watched a double figure 8 race, and checked out all the goods the fair has to offer. I got my fill of fried fair food, and came to a realization: While I went to the FSU game with my friend James an alumnus, it was more or less football-for-football's-sake from my standpoint. So it made me think: Why not do it again? It was the perfect mix of fall, football, fair, and beer, and spaced it all out over the day for maximum consumption. Had I done it this year, I would have made it to a band on the road game as well, since the Power Sound of the South made the trip from Raleigh. I'll have to keep an eye on Wake Forest's schedule this coming year to see if I can bring this glorious pairing about again.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Offensive Lineman

Did you hear about the time an offensive lineman called a sousaphone player fat?

It could almost be funny, stereotypically speaking. The two are, after all, functional equivalents. But it's no laughing matter when a professional athlete sees fit to verbally abuse college band members, as Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola did with members of the University of Wisconsin's Badger Band as the took the field in Green Bay. Raiola reportedly called tuba players fat during pregame, upping the ante at halftime where he questioned members' sexuality, made fun of another players' weight, and used other offensive language. He has since apologized, spoken with Badger Band director Mike Leckrone, and promised a sizable donation to the band.

I am fortunate that I never had to know firsthand of the band nerds vs. jocks dichotomy that plays out on so many schools. The majority of my former marching band was varsity athletes, and being a member was far from the social stigma it can be elsewhere. Still, I'm well aware that this is alive and well in many places, and one of those places seems to be in the mind of a 34 year old center making over 3 million dollars a year. That he should see fit to bully college students who have the opportunity and honor to march onto a pro football field is beyond belief.

For the sake of argument, I can even entertain the possibility that Badger Band members started it. It may be unfair to the band, but their reputation precedes them - though while we're talking reputations, this isn't Raiola's first brush with non-players. Still, consider that the Wisconsinites were likely to be in support of the Lions' NFC North rival Packers, or that Raiola graduated from Nebraska, now a Big Ten foe of the Badgers and their opponent in last year's Big Ten championship. I can envision a scenario where, when in close proximity, verbal jabs occurred, possibly even in a lighthearted manner. Even if that did occur, it shouldn't matter one bit. As a 295 pound lineman, you've got to be the bigger man, literally and figuratively, and not engage with them. If it did happen, I'm strangely pleased that Raiola didn't stoop to the level of "they started it!" - perhaps he realized how foolish it would have made him look. Still, regardless of reason, by engaging with members of the Badger Band, Raiola makes himself look like a meathead who never progressed beyond his high school social strata.

Friday, October 4, 2013

BOTR Game of the Week, 2013 Week 6

You'll note there was no High Notes feature this past week; I didn't watch enough football to catch anything worth recognizing.

As we move into the Game of the Week for Week 6, I'll note that last week I steered clear of the HBCU matchup only because it had no media. While I realize ESPN3 perhaps fits only the loosest definition of television coverage, I'll count it, and this week I'm naming the Bank of America Atlanta Classic. I had the pleasure of seeing South Carolina State's Marching 101 come to Greensboro to take on A&T's Blue and Gold Marching Machine last year, so it definitely makes it a matchup to look forward to this year. The only downside is that they take this game to Atlanta. The Georgia Dome notwithstanding, this battle needs to take place in Greensboro, Spartanburg, or back in Charlotte as the Rivalry Classic. This time around the videos are mine, taken from last year's matchup.

North Carolina A&T:

South Carolina State:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blurred Yard Lines

I've had a strange relationship with Blurred Lines ever since the pop tune came out. On the one hand, lyrically, it is at best misogynistic and at worst downright rapey. On the other hand, musically, it's one of the catchiest tunes in recent memory. I felt pretty good it would hit the field this marching season, and while I've seen at least one rendition I didn't much care for, I figured that wouldn't be the only one. It may not be, but the Marching 110 won't be among them.  

Ohio University's band director made the decision - a consensus with other university leaders - that the band would not include Blurred Lines in its field show, for the detractions mentioned above. I can see both sides of coin here. On the one hand, the subject matter and surrounding controversy could diminish the overall intent of the 110, which is, of course, a crowd-pleasing show. If there's knowledge that the song would make some uncomfortable, pulling it makes sense. That said, I wouldn't have been mad - or admittedly, thought twice - if they had kept it. My reason (rationale?) is this: That which makes the song objectionable lies in the lyrical content. The band arrangement, then, contains only the damn catchy tune, the tune which placed it in heavy rotation at radio stations worldwide and kept it at the top of the charts. So in the sense of pleasing a crowd, I have no doubt they would have gotten it done had they made that decision as well.

The Marching 110 will be bringing back The Fox from an earlier field show to fill the vacant spot at halftime this week. Having seen that one already, I don't think the audience at Peden Stadium will object.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Not Box 5

Amazing Happens Every Saturday was conceived to highlight some of the happenings in the marching band world that went viral. Well, every rose has its thorn, and sometimes there are bloopers. Ladies and gentlemen, the first entry in Not Box 5: Down go the sousaphones!

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