Most college marching bands would kill to get the attention from around the country that the Ohio State Marching Band got for their Michael Jackson show last week. However, TBDBITL isn’t just any other college band and it didn’t get to wear it is by being content with its performance and while the band was pleased and proud of all the attention that show got, they were certainly not content to rest on their laurels. Instead the band got right back to work, preparing a tribute to movie blockbusters that was perhaps one of their most creative shows ever.
Fans at Ohio Stadium were treated to not just one but two great bands on the field last Saturday as Penn State brought their band with them to the game. As is standard practice, the visiting team went first and the Blue Band (http://www.blueband.psu.edu/) got the night started with a tradition filled pregame show full of school songs, including a salute to their hosts with the playing of “Across The Field”. Big Ten fans tend to take the playing of the opponents fight song as standard practice but many bands outside of the Big Ten do not do this. While some fans probably don’t care about this tradition, I think it is a great piece of sportsmanship that highlights one of the things that makes college football so special. I really enjoy Penn State’s pregame show, especially their floating lion drill; many bands will float words down the field, including OSU, but the way that PSU forms the letters is rather unique and fun to watch.
The Penn State band had barely gotten off the field when the OSUMB percussion section started down the ramp to lead the OSUMB in the traditional ramp entrance. After ramp, the OSUMB saluted Penn State while playing “The Nittany Lion” while forming a floating ‘PSU’. A quick verse of “Across the Field” got the band into the script block for the incomparable Script Ohio with i-dotter Zacke Naughton. If you haven’t noticed yet, October is ‘Think Pink’ month in football to raise awareness of breast cancer and the OSUMB celebrated the occasion in a great way by inviting Grant Reed, the 12 year OSU fan who named his cancer ‘Michigan’ and then beat it, to join them on the field to lead the crowd in an the O-H-I-O cheer and to stand next to the director during the playing of “Carmen Ohio”; earlier in the day at Skull Session, Grant was asked to conduct the band as they played “Hang on Sloopy”, just try and not tear up while watching that video below.
Halftime once again saw the Penn State Blue Band take the field first with a show featuring songs that were ‘Fast and Furious’; the band opened with “El Toro Caliente” and closed with the classical favorite the “William Tell Overture”. The Penn State band’s drill was done in a more contemporary style, similar to what is done by drum corps today. The drill involved lots of straight lines which is always a brave decision as while straight lines are obviously easier for band members to guide, the audience also can spot errors in positioning much more easily. The Blue Band’s marching lived up to the show’s theme as their transitions between formations were done quickly and with intensity. PSU’s sound was also very good and the band did a great job maintaining sound quality and power even when the band was spread over the entire field which is no easy to do. Being spread so far apart on the field means that band members have to rely even more on watching the conductors and ignore what they hear as the sound from instruments located on the other end of the field will be delayed enough to cause issues if the band members go off of what they hear.
Up next was the main event as the OSUMB took the field with many people in attendance likely wondering how the band would follow-up last week’s hit Michael Jackson show. It didn’t take long for the band to answer that question as they opened their ‘Movie Blockbusters’ show with the theme from “Superman” while forming Superman’s famous logo before bringing the hero to life, with the help of a phone booth, to save a falling building. Next up was music from “The Lord of the Rings” with the band forming the one ring and then the Eye of Sauron. Next the band took us to Hogworts with Harry Potter playing Quidditch with yet another entertaining and impressive animated formation. Up next was a trip to Jurrasic Park where a walking T-Rex made short work of a Michigan football player though even it couldn’t stomach that winged helmet, watch as the dinosaur spits out the helmet. The show concluded with a pirate battle set to the sounds of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, the Michigan ship didn’t fare any better than their football player did.
Once again, the hard work of the band has paid off in not only a great performance but media attention from around the country. The band’s performance drew attention from NBC News, Huffington Post, People, Deadspin, and countless other sources; as of midnight on Thursday over 11 million people had watched the halftime show on Youtube. The attention from this and the Michael Jackson show was so much that NBC’s Today Show sent a reporter to Columbus to find out just how the band does it; the answer was revealed in a 4 minute segment on Wednesday (shown below) and will be continued on the weekend edition of the Today Show this weekend.
Well executed, crowd pleasing animated formations have become a bit of a calling card for the OSUMB in recent years and while the frequency of shows involving animated formations by the band have increased in the past two years, they are not new. Animated formations and picture shows have a long history with the OSUMB, dating back several decades. This Movie Blockbusters show actually has a lot of similarities to the movie themed show that the band did for the Michigan and National Championship games during the 2006 season.
A look at the comments sections on the various articles about the band shows that many people wonder just how much the band must practice to pull off shows like this. Most of those asking this question are honestly curious and are actually meaning it as a sign of respect but of course then you have Michigan fans which came up with the explanation that OSU can put on shows like this because they don’t have an academic program and that the band members can spend all day being drilled like North Koreans (check out post 20 in that thread). We all know that Michigan fans are full of it when they make comments like that about OSU academics and I’ve provided numbers earlier this year to demonstrate OSU’s academic excellence. OSUMB members also do not take it easy on themselves academically and dozens of different majors from all sorts of subject areas are represented in the band; when I was in the band the most common major was engineering.
The OSUMB practices 2 hours each weekday afternoon and have a final rehearsal in the morning before each game; for a noon home game the band will report around 5:30 am for rehearsal. Many college bands around the country have a similar practice schedule so TBDBITL’s excellence cannot be attributed to just practicing more. So just why is the OSUMB so good? A big reason for the band’s success is its history of excellence which band members are very well aware of and seek to uphold. The biggest reason for the band’s success is the level of competition that is infused within the band, starting from tryouts and continuing throughout the season.
The tryout process for TBDBITL plays a key role in the band achieving the level of excellence that it has become known for. Every member of the band has to try out every year, there are no free passes for veterans, meaning that each year’s band is made up of only the best who try out. Candidates trying out are judged on both their marching and their playing, having to perform each aspect separately and together, ensuring that members are highly skilled in both areas. The fact that the OSUMB is smaller than the average division I-A college band, having only 225 members, also helps with the standard of excellence as it allows the band directors to be more selective when it comes to choosing who makes the band. The combination of a highly selective tryout process and having to compete with veterans for spots pushes new candidates to work even harder over the summer to prepare for their tryouts which in turns pushes veterans to work harder in order to retain their spots. This desire to put time and effort into preparing for tryouts has helped to spawn organized summer practice sessions to occur on campus every Tuesday and Thursday during the summer, further pushing up the level of competition that occurs at tryouts.
The amount of competition that occurs during band tryouts ensures that only the best make the OSUMB and that those who do make it are performing at their peak. The competitiveness doesn’t end once the band is announced though, instead it continues throughout the year. Each row in the band is comprised of 14 members: 12 regulars and 2 alternates. The 192 regulars in the band are the ones who march pregame and halftime each week with the alternates occasionally filling in during special halftimes shows (often operating the props in the show) or when a double “Script Ohio” is performed. Each week, the alternates choose a regular member of their row to challenge for their spot. A challenge is like a mini-tryout, with the people involved in the challenge having to march and play for the row leaders and the directing staff during the Monday practice after each band performance. Challenges are not predetermined, instead each week the alternates show up before practice on Monday and inform a member of the band staff who they will be challenging that week; the list of challenges are then read off at the beginning of practice. This means that the regulars do not know ahead of time that they will be challenged and thus they have to make sure ahead of time that they are prepared to win any possible challenge in order to retain their spot; it is very common to see band members, regulars and alternates, on the practice field on Sunday working on their marching in preparation for challenges. Thus, the challenge system serves to keep every member of the band on their toes and at their peak performance level, lest they lose their spot.
Another important piece of the puzzle to explain why TBDBITL lives up to its name is that the band memorizes all music for each show and that each member is tested on their ability to play the music from memory the day before each performance. If a member of the band fails their music check, they are automatically an alternate for the following week and too many failed music checks results in dismissal from the band. Thus, each member of the band is motivated to spend time outside of normal rehearsal memorizing and perfecting their playing of the music. This means that less rehearsal time must be spent on music and more time can be spent on learning and perfecting drill; this also means that during rehearsal band members need to think less about the music and can focus more of their attention on the drill.
The combination of a competitive spirit, the weight of history, a very selective tryout process, music memorization, and a highly talented directorial staff results in the OSUMB being what is, the standard bearer for college marching bands. There are many excellent college marching bands throughout the country and the Big Ten is blessed with more than its fair share, in fact I would say that the Big Ten dominates college marching bands in a way that puts the SEC’s dominance of football to shame. Still, especially in recent years, TBDBITL has tended to stand above the rest of the college bands and with the way they have stepped up their performances in the past two seasons, it is almost like TBDBITL isn’t even playing the same game as other college bands are.
While millions of people around the country got to enjoy the ‘Hollywood Blockbusters’ show this past week thanks to all the attention that it has received, Purdue fans are about to get the fortunate experience to see the show again live. This weekend the band will be making the trip to West Lafayette to support the football team. In continuing with their tradition to never debut a new show on the road, the OSUMB will be reprising its show from this past week, something that I’m sure that nobody in the stadium will complain about.
As we approach the end of the season, I hope that those who have read these articles have enjoyed a closer look at the band and hopefully have found some of the things in the articles interesting. Please comment below if there are any questions about the band, or topics related to it, that you would like me to cover in one of the remaining TBDBITL preview articles.