Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band

As the University of Nebraska-Lincoln moves from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, the marching band must make a few adjustments … or does it?

Photo by Rose Johnson

A new academic year. A new football season. A new conference. As the Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band enters a new era, leaving the Big 12 to enter the Big Ten, director Tony Falcone aspires to keep traditions intact while adjusting to a new atmosphere.

Halftime: How did you begin working with the Nebraska Marching Band?

Falcone: I started in 1998. It was an assistant directing position in which I did some percussion work, and by my second year, I worked with a front ensemble group. I also became the assistant director and the percussion instructor. The previous band director left in 2002, … and that’s when I became the head director.

Halftime: Tell us about the band’s history.

Falcone: The band program started in 1873 as part of the War Department at the school, and it became part of the ROTC group. It eventually detached from the ROTC corps and became a civilian group. In 1927, John Philip Sousa awarded a cup to the band. We won an award in 1983 for our uniform design. In 1955, we went to the Orange Bowl. From the early 1970s to the early 2000s, we had a string of consecutive bowl appearances. In 1996, we won the prestigious Sudler Trophy. We’ve also had some notable public appearances. We played at The Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., for a Johnny Carson lifetime achievement concert. We were part of an NBC show called “Tommy Lee Goes to College.” We also were in the film “Yes Man.” It’s pretty much typical college band stuff.

Halftime: What type of style describes the Nebraska Band?

Falcone: Our pregame is very traditional marching band style with step two drills and block letters, and this pregame show is actually pretty consistent with what you see in the Big Ten bands. For halftime shows we play contemporary music. I like to go from big band stuff to Broadway stuff to very recent hit songs. We like the wall of sound approach in which music is constantly in your face.

Halftime: What traditions make the Nebraska Band unique?

Falcone: One such tradition is “The Band Song.” When Nebraska played its first bowl game, the 1941 Rose Bowl, ASCAP [the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers] went on strike, pulling all of its music and not allowing it to be broadcast. The Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl game were scheduled to be broadcast on the radio, and all of the Nebraska Band’s music was covered by ASCAP. This left them with nothing to legally play on the trip. So, on the train ride from Lincoln to Pasadena, the men in the band wrote alternate lyrics to a tune called “Song of the Vagabonds” by Rudolph Friml. That song survives today as “The Band Song,” and the band sings it before every game during the march to the stadium and at other significant times.

Halftime: How do you feel about the move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten?

Falcone: The band is really excited about it. The Big Ten bands, in general, have their own identities and traditions. We’re not really going to change anything as we already have a proud band tradition of our own as well. Our halftime shows will reflect that we already are just like some of the Big Ten bands.

Halftime: Will the band’s traditions or infrastructure be affected by this change?

Falcone: There are some differences in the pregame timing, and we would have to approach treating the visiting band differently and when we are the visiting band as well. There will be no drastic changes to the content of the shows.

Halftime: How are you preparing for your season and conference openers?

Falcone: Our first themed show of the season will be about new beginnings, about moving to a new place. Our first conference home game is against Ohio State, and it’s actually our homecoming.

Halftime: How does the conference championship game play into the band’s plans?

Falcone: We will designate one of our shows to be a travel show and modify it. This is the show that will be used for any bowl or away games in order to show the best of our band.

About the Author

Jeremy Chen is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California (USC). He marched cymbals for two years at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School before playing bass drum and snare at Upland (Calif.) High School. He is currently a cymbal player and office staff member for the USC Trojan Marching Band. He aspires to one day become a correspondent for the BBC.