One of the first things that anyone watching the OSU at Cal game this past week noticed was the amount of scarlet in the stands as Ohio State fans invaded Memorial Stadium, turning it into a sort of ‘Horseshoe West’. The feeling of a home game was enhanced by the fact that the Ohio State University Marching Band was also in attendance. Thanks to a new funding deal put in place by former university president Gordon Gee, the band had money to travel to additional road game this year and they have already taken advantage of that thanks to a busy road trip to California that included performing at pep rallies and fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The OSUMB always tends to be well received on the road, even initially hostile fan bases tend to be won over by the quality of the performance put on by the band, Michigan fans tending to be the exception. The band didn’t have to fight too hard for a warm reception in Berkley though thanks to the number of Buckeyes present, something that became immediately obviously during pregame as the band was met with a roar from the crowd when they took the field and launched into Fight The Team while forming a floating ‘OHIO’ that traveled down the field. The band then did its customary salute to the opponent, playing the Cal fight song while forming their logo, something that was well received by the Cal fans. The customary road game double Script Ohio also felt like a home game as you could easily hear the crowd clapping along and then erupting into cheers as the ‘i’s were dotted.
Following TBDBITL’s pregame performance, the University of California Marching Band took the field for their traditional pregame show. Similar to the OSUMB, Cal’s pregame show was school song focused and featured a very nice salute to OSU as they played ‘Buckeye Battlecry’. Pregame concluded with the OSUMB joining the Cal band on the field for the National Anthem.
It is a tradition with TBDBITL that the band will not debut a new show on the road, reserving the honor of being the first people to see a new show for home fans. As a result, the band reprised their season opening “MovieToons” show at Cal. While the OSUMB show took us under-the-sea with music from The Little Mermaid, among other movies, the Cal band took us across the seas with a French electronica show.
Due to many universities cutting the budgets of their bands these days, it is becoming less common for bands to travel to away games, making it a rare treat for fans to be treated to two great performances by bands of this quality; the fans at the OSU-Cal game were truly lucky. For the fans of the bands, the fun didn’t end when the game did as both bands took the field for a postgame concert.
Reactions from Cal Fans
Initial reactions from Cal fans on their message board very positive toward the band and OSU fans in general. However as time went on, that reaction changed to veiled and outright criticism on the message boards and veiled criticism on a blog written by a former Cal band member.
The biggest complaint that the Cal fans leveled against the OSUMB is that during the game, the band would play up until the snap, and occasionally beyond. The Cal fans felt that the band should have stopped either when the ball was spotted or when the Cal offense got to the line of scrimmage and cited NCAA rule 9-2-1-b-5 which states “Persons subject to the rules, including bands, shall not create any noise that prohibits a team from hearing its signals (Rule 1-1-6).” While this is the correct rule to cite, one must be careful in interpreting the rule in order to not read into it things that it is not saying. The rule does not actually outright prohibit noise being made while a team is at the line of scrimmage; rather it simply prohibits noise that interferes with a team hearing its signals. Thus, a band or whoever can make whatever noise they wish up to the snap as long as that noise isn’t interfering with the signals of the teams on the field. The only way for an official to know that a band has crossed the line and is interfering with a team’s signals is for a member of that team or its coach to make that known to the officials, at which point the team whose band committed the infraction would be assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The fact that no Cal player or coach complained to the officials would seem to indicate that they were not bothered by what the OSUMB was doing. While Cal fans do not have much experience with opposing bands doing this, it is common practice in the Big Ten and the SEC and the NCAA is well aware of this; the fact that the NCAA has not done anything about this, or Mississippi State fans and their cowbells, strongly suggests that they either agree with the interpretation stated above or they simply do not care. Now yes, there were one or two times when the band did play beyond the snap and that shouldn’t happen but since I personally know several members of the OSUMB directing staff, I can say with 100% certainty that the band did not play beyond the snap on purpose and that it was just an accidental effect of trying to stop a 225 member band on a dime.
This Week’s Show
I will reserve the rest of my response to the Cal fans’ criticisms to the end of this article to spare the people who don’t want to read it and just want to find out what to look forward to this weekend. While the football game against Florida A&M may not be the most exciting thing for the majority of OSU fans, the band performance this week promises to be a special treat for fans. The OSUMB will be paying tribute to the Beatles, a show theme that always proves to be a real crowd pleaser. While the Florida A&M band will not be making the trip, the OSUMB will not be alone in Ohio Stadium as they will be joined by a special guest, the Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Band who will be performing their famous braille Script Ohio. This will not be the first performance by the OSSBMB in Ohio Stadium, they performed at last year’s Buckeye Invitational but this will be one of the largest audiences that they have performed for; they have performed in the Rose Bowl parade before. While I’m sure the OSSBMB members will feel lucky to be able to perform at an OSU game but I say that all the fans there are actually the lucky ones as they get to see a shining testament to the strength of the human spirit.
Response to Cal Fan Criticisms – Instrumentation
The playing up the snap issue drew the most criticism from Cal fans and most of the rest of the criticisms from the Cal message boards and blogs come down to a matter of personal taste regarding band style, instrumentation, music selection, and organization. These are opinions and I do not really want to wade into that but there were a few factual errors and other issues which I do wish to address; I’m a former TBDBITL member and obviously am a bit of a homer who feels the need to set the record straight regarding the OSUMB. Before doing so I want to state clearly that I am in no way criticizing the Cal band, I felt that both bands put on quality, entertaining performances on Saturday and that the fans of both schools should be very proud of their respective bands.
Both the Cal message board and blog made a big deal out of the all brass nature of the OSUMB and how this creates a different sound that the Cal band, which is obviously true. Some people on the message boards speculated that the all brass nature of the OSUMB was due to the popularity of DCI in the Midwest. This isn’t at all true; the OSUMB is modeled on the traditional British brass band which dates back to the mid-19th century. This style of band is very popular throughout the world, especially in former British colonies. The instrumentation of the OSUMB gives it a unique sound and is well suited to performing in large Big Ten stadiums where woodwinds would be difficult to hear. Cal fans noted this sound difference in the OSUMB’s arrangement of their fight song, not that this is a surprise as no team’s fight song will be played by an opposing band the same way it is played by their own band, just look at the tempo the Cal band used for ‘Buckeye Battlecry’; I am not criticizing the Cal band’s performance of the OSU fight song, it was a classy move on their part and that is what matters. Now having fewer different voices does mean that the OSUMB cannot do as good of a job as bands like Cal at replicating the original sound of the songs they play but that is not the goal of the OSUMB. In general, the OSUMB strives to present their interpretation of the music, performed with their sound; the band will change their sound when needed for the show as was demonstrated by their replication of the evolving sound of video games during last year’s famous video game show. Whether it is better for a marching band to try and closely replicate the original sound of the music or to present their own interpretation is a matter of personal taste; I compare it to going to a concert of Elvis music, some people would prefer to see the music performed by a good Elvis impersonator while others would prefer to see a good performer put their own interpretation on the songs while keeping the original spirit of the songs.
The Cal blog also claimed that the OSUMB being all brass hurt their musicality which I frankly do not understand. The band puts a lot of time and effort into the quality of their playing and making sure that it is at the highest quality possible. Now if this criticism of the band’s musicality was meant to say that the band’s instrumentation means they don’t have certain aspects of the sound that is present in that of other bands, well that is true but the same could be said when comparing a string quartet to a symphony orchestra but I would say that having less range in sound hurts the musicality of the string quartet.
Cal fans also criticized the OSUMB for not playing a wide variety of songs in the stands and speculated that it was due to their instrumentation restricting the music they could play. Compared to many other bands, the OSUMB does have a rather limited number of tunes that they play in the stands but this due to the fact that the OSUMB memorizes all the music that they play in the stands while many other bands will have sheet music to read in the stands. The memorization requirement naturally places a limit on the number of songs that the band can do and the memorization is required and tested by the band staff. Some Cal fans also called the OSUMB stand tunes cliché and there is some truth to that as songs like the ‘Hey Cheer’ and snippets from the ‘1812 Overture’ are certainly played by other bands. While I would be happy to never hear the ‘Hey Cheer’ again, I am a fan of the rest of the band’s stand tunes repertoire and while it may not be large, it covers the range of different moods that occur during a game. Hearing ‘O Fortuna’ when you need the defense to step up always gets my fired up; I also laugh at the assertion made in the Cal blog that you need a full choir to do ‘O Fortuna’, sure it sounds awesome that way but it sounds pretty damn good from the OSUMB too. The goal of the OSUMB when it plays stand tunes is to elicit certain reactions from the fans and having a relatively small number of well recognized songs, even if they are cliché, is perfect for this. When you want the crowd to get really loud because the defense needs to make a big stop you want them to go “yeah, this song gets my fired up, let’s make some noise” not “oh, I wonder what interesting and new piece of music the band is playing this time”.
Now does the instrumentation of the OSUMB limit the types of songs that it can play? Of course it does just like the instrumentation of a band like Cal’s limits what songs it can play; in fact pretty much every musical group has some sort of limitations on what music it can play due to its instrumentation.
Response – Energy
The comments from Cal fans that probably bothered me the most were the ones accusing the OSUMB of not performing with energy. As a band alum I was mildly offended by those statements as I remember the amount of energy that it takes to perform in the OSUMB. I think the issue here is that energy from a marching band can manifest in many different ways. On one extreme there are the dance type bands that express their energy through running around and dancing on the field, Cal is not one of these but I just wanted to use an extreme example. On the other end are bands like the OSUMB where the energy instead is funneled into performing with drive and precision. The energy of the band goes into making sure that each high step is the right height, that each turn is sharp and square, that each horn flash is quick and clean, that each member is constantly driving through the performance. This use of energy results in a clean, precise performance and I think anyone who has ever been to an OSU football game can attest that Buckeye fans respond to and feed off of this energy.
In a similar vein, some people commented that Script Ohio is slow and easy, just a simple follow-the-leader drill. The latter part of that is something that I’ve heard before and it always annoys me as Script Ohio is far more than a simple follow-the-leader drill, there is a lot more going on than just following the drum major but the details of Script is something that I will save and cover fully in a future article. In terms of the speed of Script Ohio, yes, it isn’t the fastest thing in the world but the deliberate pace of it adds to the spectacle in my opinion. It isn’t a fast, transitory thing, rather Script Ohio is the right length to allow fans to enjoy the music, to enjoy the sight of the forming letters, to notice the details like the crossovers in the big “O” and the “h” and the horn flashes at the bottom of the “i” and the start of the little “o” and the whole time there is this sense of growing anticipation the eventually erupts in an enormous roar from the crowd as the sousaphone player struts to the top of the “i” and takes a bow.
Response – Conclusion
As I previously stated, most of the criticisms, other than playing to the snap, leveled by Cal fans were matters of opinion and thus are neither right nor wrong. However, there were some factual errors made that I felt the need to correct as a TBDBITL alum I felt the need to defend my band. At the end of the day, the fans in attendance at the game last weekend were treated to two great performances by two very talented bands. From all the reports I heard, the Cal band members were great hosts and were very friendly and eager to interact with the members of the OSUMB and I can only hope that the Cal band members came away with the same positive opinions of TBDBITL. I wish the Cal band the best of luck the rest of the season and hope that their football team can get them a good bowl trip to conclude the season.