The Ohio State University Marching Band obtained its fame and reputation of excellence thanks to the hard works of thousands of alumni stretching back over a century. Just as all those alumni left a lasting mark on the band, the band left a lasting mark on them; most band alumni wouldn’t hesitate to say the being a member of the band was one of the best parts of their college career. It is this lasting mark left by the band that causes hundreds of band alumni to make the journey back to Columbus for the annual TBDBITL alumni reunion game.
Participating in the TBDBITL alumni reunion is no trivial task. Band alumni report to St. John Arena on Friday evening for a two hour music rehearsal where they work through all the music that will be played on the field and in the stands during the game. After spending the rest of the evening catching up with old friends, Saturday morning comes all too soon. Thanks to the 3:30 pm kickoff this year band alumni got a bit of break, not having to report to St. John until 9:00 am; most reunion games are at noon which requires a 5:30 am report time. After a short music rehearsal, the alumni head out to the practice field when in a short, two hour rehearsal they will learn their entire halftime show and practice the ramp entrance and the quadruple Script Ohio with the current marching band. Lunch follows the marching rehearsal and then it is time for Skull Session and pregame.
Ohio State isn’t the only school that has an alumni band reunion and performance at a football game but nobody else has such a large group of alumni perform nor do they do anywhere near as demanding of a performance. Most other alumni bands will have at most 200 people, this year over 700 TBDBITL alumni performed, and while they may march down the field in a block or make one or two formations, they primarily just stand and play. While the TBDBITL alumni’s show may not be as demanding as the one performed by the current band, it is still strenuous, especially considering the age and physical conditioning of many of the alumni. To get an idea of the physical demands of performing in the alumni band, check out the results of a heart rate monitor and GPS tracker worn by alumni band member Jerry Canterbury (picture on the left); it is easy to see when Jerry was marching versus standing in place to play, and it is easy to see when Script Ohio began. The fact that so many alumni are willing to come back each year to march one more time is a testament to what being in TBDBITL meant to them.
The halftime show started with the current band paying tribute to our favorite game shows as they played “Are You Smarter Than A Wolverine?”. The band performed the theme songs to The Price is Right, Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy, with some snippets of school songs worked in, while a cast of characters proved that yes, Buckeyes are smarter than a Wolverine. This was a great show for alumni band weekend as skit shows like this have a long history with the OSUMB. The fact that this show occurred a week after the Michigan Marching Band performed a show that took a shot at OSU earned it some attention from a variety of sources, including USA Today and Fox News. While the attention from the media is certainly nice, they got a major part of the story wrong when they said that the OSUMB show was a response to the Michigan show. All band shows are chosen and planned by Director Jon Waters and the rest of the directing staff over the summer, well in advance of the season, and the fact that this show came a week after Michigan taking a shot at OSU was nothing but a pure coincidence; fortunately the Dispatch got the story correct.
Once the current band was done, it was the alumni band’s time to shine as they entered the field in their traditional, and appropriate, manner to the sounds of I Wanna Go Back. This year’s alumni band show was dedicated to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first women in TBDBITL. The OSUMB started out with connects to the ROTC and like most groups with military ties, the band was originally all-male. It wasn’t until 1973 that women were finally allowed in the band. After the conclusion of the alumni band’s portion of the show, it was time for the highlight of halftime as the current band and the alumni band joined together to perform a quad Script Ohio. For the third straight year this featured four full size scripts, three by the alumni band and one by the current band; previously the quad script had featured two full size scripts on the sidelines by the alumni while the current band formed the smaller double scripts in the endzones.
Traditionally the OSUMB only travels to one away game each season, plus the bowl game, but thanks to increased funding for the band that was devised by former OSU President Gee, the band will be joining the football team in Berkley this weekend for the game against the Golden Bears. While these trips are of course a lot of fun for the students in the band, they also serve as a great advertisement for the university, showing off the talent and abilities of OSU students. While opposing fanbases can hate and boo the football team, they are almost inevitably won over by the band, something that I got to witness first hand both during my time as a member of the band and when I went to OSU at Michigan State games when I was in graduate school at MSU. The Cal-Berkley band and athletic department deserve a lot of praise for letting TBDBITL come, especially considering that the last time the OSUMB and Cal performed at the same game, the OSUMB showed Cal up so badly that the Cal director was fired.
This trip will not be a vacation for band members though thanks to a packed schedule. The band reported at 4am Thursday morning and then headed to the airport for the flight to Los Angeles (before moving to Sydney I would have called this a long flight but now it falls in the ‘not bad’ category). Band members will have some time to do some sightseeing in LA before an evening performance at the Bel-Air Bay Club. On Friday morning the band had a 5:00 am wakeup call so that they could grab breakfast and then load buses for the drive to San Francisco. Band members will then have a couple hours on their own for lunch before they travel to the Cal-Berkley for their normal Friday rehearsal plus a rehearsal with the Cal band. After rehearsal some of the band members will have the evening free while others perform as a pep band at a pep rally for the OSU Alumni Society at Pedro’s Cantina in downtown San Francisco.
On Saturday band members get to sleep in a bit and have a bit of free time in the morning but they have to be in full uniform and on the busses by 11:00 am for a trip to the stadium and a game day rehearsal. Following rehearsal and lunch the band will be performing at the Buckeye Bash at the Hearst Greek Theatre. Then it is back to the stadium and time for the game. The band will be performing their ‘MovieToons’ show from the season opener as well as traditional school songs and of course a double Script Ohio. At the generous invitation of the Cal band, both bands will be combining to play the national anthem during pregame. After the game the band will head directly for the Oakland International Airport where they will board planes for the redeye flight back to Columbus.
Due to my living in Australia, this was the second year that I had to miss marching with the alumni band at the reunion game. This has pained me far more than I expected, there is just nothing like coming down that ramp, hitting the field, and hearing the roar of 100,000 Buckeye fans. In the past the experience of being a band member and hitting the field at pregame has been reserved for the few who have been fortunate enough to make it through tryouts. Now, thanks to the wonders of technology, it is possible to give other people a glimpse as to what that experience is like. Cleveland.com strapped a camera to the head of alumni snare drummer Michael Wasserman to capture a first person perspective of the alumni band’s march to the stadium and pregame, definitely check out that video. Michael wasn’t the only alumni band member with a camera though as alumni bass drummer Michael Magnacca also strapped on a video camera to create the video below.