How to Boost Morale

Photo courtesy of the Sabino High School Marching Band from Tucson

Marching bands use songs, cheers and pep talks to keep students excited about performing and competing.

Juggling band with homework and a social life is hard and can sometimes have an adverse effect on the band. Students’ minds may begin to wander during rehearsals, or there is little focus before competitions. Halftime Magazine has compiled a list of several traditions that bands throughout the country use to inspire their members and keep them engaged.

Break Into Song

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on …

The classic Bill Withers’ song sends a powerful message of unity when sung in the appropriate context. The Sabino High School Marching Band from Tucson, sings this song after the director has addressed the band and before the students take the field in competition. With arms wrapped around one another, they sing while swaying back and forth in a circle.

At first, none of the underclassmen know the song, but eventually everyone does, says Matt Rockefeller, drum major. The tradition brings people together and allows everyone to focus before competing.

Bus Traditions

Bus rides with the band are often as memorable as the football games and competitions. For some bands, the buses become more than vehicles to transport people from point A to point B; they become spirit headquarters.

When Sabino High School band members are riding home and get to the mile mark from their school, they stop talking. The buses are dead silent. “Lots of people take that time really seriously and actually think back to either their freshman or sophomore year and what they’ve done in the program,” Rockefeller says. “Victory Lane,” the name of the tradition, is a time for reflection.

But the bus only stays silent until it reaches a stop sign and turns before the school. “Right when the bus driver puts the gas on the turn, the whole bus breaks out cheering as loud as they can,” Rockefeller says.

Call and Response

It feels good to be appreciated. And the parents of Nazareth (Pa.) Area Blue Eagle Marching Band know how to share the love. After the band lines up and is ready to march onto the field to compete, a single parent stands up and shouts, “Nazareth on three … ‘One, two, three!” All the parents then scream, “Wahoo!” It is a way for the parents to wish the band luck and show their support.

Upon hearing the cheer, the band members then yell, “Wahoo,” back to the parents. The tradition, which began in 1981, shows how a strong connection with the parents can boost spirits.

Parent Cheer

Band parents at North Penn High School in Lansdale, Pa., also have an organized cheer to support their kids. As the band is coming onto the field for competition, a parent will stand up and yell, “Give me an N,” and all the parents will repeat until they have spelled out North Penn, says Alane Corrado, co-president of the North Penn Music Aides. The students are appreciative of the gesture. “They love it,” Corrado says. “They like the fact that the parents are there to support them. We aren’t the largest band, but we have a large parent commitment.”

Switch Places

The Thursday night practice before a championship, the marching band students at North Penn High School switch roles with their parents. The parents attempt to march the halftime show while the students watch from the football stands.

“We get dressed up as best as we can, whether it’s a makeshift uniform or makeshift instrument, and we practice in the parking lot,” Corrado says. “We get a recording of the music, and we try to do what they do.”

The director introduces the parent group as “The Knightmares,” a spin on the high school’s knight mascot. And then the parents will perform their child’s part, using things like garden flags or quad drums made out of laundry detergent tubs, Corrado says. After the performance, the students take the field and show the parents how it is really done.

Get Creative

On the last day of band camp, the seniors of Warren Hills Regional High School Marching Band in Washington, N.J., foster unity through a senior prank, says Doug Foley, drum major. The seniors have secret meetings and plan how they want to decorate the field. This year, all the seniors signed banners that represented each of the shows they marched during their four years at the school. In past years, students have toilet-papered the press box and have spray painted their names on the grass, he says.

“Everything we do, whether it’s pranks or anything like that, it’s all in good fun and the band directors love to see our camaraderie through it,” Foley says.

Pep Talks

Before any football game or festival, Foley also pumps up his band with pep talks. He uses humor to keep the band going when people start to tire. “I like to think that I’m kind of a coach in a movie, you know, in the locker room, in a huddle giving a pep talk, but at the same time, being very frank about how we can be a better band,” Foley says.

Not only does the drum major address the band, but the director is known for telling the band, “‘You’re only as good as you want to be,’” Foley says.

In the end, all of these pep talks and special traditions certainly do help the bands succeed.

About the Author

Sabrina Lochner, a senior at Syracuse University, is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. She is majoring in magazine journalism and political science and minoring in architecture. She currently serves the Syracuse University Marching Band as head drum major and has served as the band’s associate drum major for two years. She has played the clarinet since fifth grade and is a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, National Honorary Band Sorority

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