Going Bowling

Although every band has its own traditions and ways of preparing for the BCS bowl games, each director must balance responsibilities of getting the band performances ready and making sure students arrive and get home safely while having fun on the way.

Photo courtesy of the Boise State University Marching Band

From as far north as Eugene, Ore., to the Deep South of Gainesville, Fla., and everywhere in between, bands were busy getting ready for this year’s Bowl Championship Series football games. Each band faced the task of preparing for the trip they anticipated all season long, including picking which show to perform, making travel arrangements, and juggling onsite logistics such as finding rehearsal time and space as well as giving the students time to relax.

Show’s On

For some bands, planning ahead proved beneficial to the entire process. “We’ve been very lucky in recent years that our team has been successful enough to consistently be invited to bowl games,” says Dr. Eric Wiltshire, assistant director of bands at the University of Oregon.

From the beginning of the year, the Oregon Marching Band designed and designated one of its shows to fit a bowl appearance; this year’s “Back to the Future” show showcased the type of music and marching style that the band enjoys and that would be immediately recognizable to the fans.

The show took longer to write, but when it came down to making the necessary adjustments for the bowl’s time restrictions, it was as simple as telling the students to skip a couple pages in the drill charts.

At the University of Iowa, Director Kevin Kastens allows the members to pick their favorite opener and closer from the season to be performed at the final game. The highlights show would typically be adapted for any bowl appearance; however; this year proved a little different. The Orange Bowl only allows five minutes to perform at pregame and gives no opportunity to perform a halftime show. Therefore, the Hawkeye Marching Band had to stray from the intended halftime show and perform an abbreviated pregame show with their traditional “high-stepping” run-on and the school’s three fight songs.

A tradition of The Ohio State University Marching Band has been to allow the students to vote on the show to be used at the bowl games. “This is a reward for them, for such a long and hard season,” says Dr. Jon Woods, director.

The Rose Bowl allows eight minutes to perform; therefore, no major changes were made to fit within the time constraints.

Chart It Out

Due to the fact that the bowl games happen during the universities’ winter breaks, some bands must face the reality of holes in the drill even if they emphasize the importance of attending the game and make it contingent with the final semester grade.

In previous years the Boise State University band faced the dilemma of whether it would make the bowl trip and, if so, how many members it could take. The concerns arose not because students could not attend but because of cost. However, this year almost the entire Keith Stein Blue Thunder Marching Band attended the Fiesta Bowl. Only a few sets had to be adjusted because two or three students were unable to make the trip.

Both the Universities of Alabama and Texas carry alternates throughout the season. They perform everywhere the band performs with the exception of the on-field pre-game or halftime performances. These alternates are able to fill a hole at the drop of a hat. “Having alternates in the ensemble turns the heat up on the students currently in the performance block, so they do not become complacent,” explains Dr. Robert Carnochan, director of the Longhorn Band in Austin, Texas.

Finding time to rehearse prior to the trip is also a big challenge for most of the bands, especially considering not all of the students live near the universities. Boise State actually used part of their finals time to start getting ready for the bowl game. The university also made arrangements to fly in their students who live out of state to rehearse prior to making the trip to Arizona.

Iowa was hit with a blizzard, so classes—as well as the band’s only rehearsal scheduled prior to leaving for the bowl game—had to be cancelled.

By Air or by Bus

Moving a large number of students across the country is a struggle in its own right, not to mention adding on the extra burden of the holiday season. However, many of the school’s athletic departments take on the transportation to the bowl games rather than leaving it up to the band directors.

The University of Oregon chartered a flight, “which given the time of the year, was really the only way possible to fly 200+ people in and out of Los Angeles,” Wiltshire says. The band also flew a group of students into Los Angeles a day early as well as out a day later to deal with equipment.

The athletic department of Boise State made a compromise with the band. To save money on flights, the band took buses to Arizona but got to spend a night in Las Vegas. All band members also received tickets to see Cirque du Soleil. “This made taking buses worthwhile for the entire band, giving us a great experience before even getting to the bowl game,” says Nathan Stark, interim director.

All of the major bowl games contract hotels for the teams as well as the bands in the host cities, taking some of the responsibility off of the directors and leaving them time to work on arranging other things such as rehearsal space.

Ohio State rehearsed at Glendale Community College, which the Penn State University band used the previous year.

The University of Florida Gator Marching Band rehearsed every day on the trip, which made finding a good rehearsal space a must. Director John “Jay” Watkins, Jr., took care of this after the bowl selections were made and prior to the band traveling.

Working the Itinerary

Leading up to the bowl games, the bands are asked to perform at countless performances—from parades and pep rallies to alumni events, some of which are required and others are not. Watkins planned the schedule starting with the required appearances, then plugging in time for rehearsals and additional requests, and finally looking at what free time there was to enjoy the host city. He says that he “always gets the input of student leaders when preparing the final itinerary, so they are invested in helping to plan the event to be fun for all.”

Providing adequate time for the bands to find food when eating on their own is also a concern. Wiltshire of the University of Oregon estimates it takes about 90 to 120 minutes for the band to eat on its own, stating “the band marches on its stomach.”

Keeping that in mind when setting up the itinerary for the trip, he sets a structure similar to that of Watkins. “People get so excited about the game that they forget how many requests we get for appearances, and I have to say no to some events due to time constraints in the schedule,” Wiltshire says.

The structure for the University of Cincinnati Bearcat Band was similar to that of Florida and Oregon.

“Planning for these trips really is not a vacation; it’s a lot of work getting the kids ready,” says Dr. Terren Frenz, director of the Bearcat Band. However, it is always “a real thrill to go into the top bowls and actually get our band on national television,” he adds.

While it takes a lot of planning for these events, the bands feel very fortunate to participate.

According to Debra Wills, a drum major for Alabama’s Million Dollar Band, “A lot of the time it works out, but sometimes it does not; we kind of just go with the flow and do our best to stick with the schedule.”

About the Author

Robert Gagnon is currently attending Santiago Canyon College in Orange, Calif., working for a transfer to Cal State Fullerton to earn his bachelor’s degree. He was the editor-in-chief of “The Legacy” yearbook at Orange (Calif.) High School. Robert has performed on a multitude of instruments including trumpet, clarinet and timpani with organizations such as the Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps and the Riverside Community College.

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