As one of the largest music ensembles on college campuses, marching bands typically have students majoring in a variety of degrees. For music majors, this diversity can be both a positive and negative experience during their school years.
Music majors typically begin their journey in their high school years—or even earlier. Most instrumentalists decide on this path during their time involved with their high school marching band; however, music majors don’t necessarily continue with marching band in college.
Those who do join their college marching bands do so for a variety of reasons. Some music programs require it; some music majors do it out of love for the activity; and some students do it for fun even if it has no relation to their degree.
Most of the music majors that continue with marching band through college are pursuing a degree in music education. At some schools, such as the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) and the University of Kansas (KU), music education majors are required to join marching band for at least one season. Many music majors who attend CU, however, stay in the marching band well past that.
Music education student Alex Mondragon joined the CU marching band not only because it was required but also because it was something he wanted to do. “I did marching band in high school,” Mondragon says. “It feels weird to think about not doing it. It’s my sixth year in marching band.”
Andre Silva, a music education major at the University of Kansas, says that his reason for joining the KU marching band was a combination of having the requirement and wanting to stick with it through college. “We have to do at least one season, but most people stick it out for at least three, usually four,” Silva says.
Both Silva and Mondragon understand and appreciate the positive benefits for having a marching band requirement in music education. “Some people are going to end up in a high school with a marching band,” Mondragon says. “There are too many directors who haven’t ever marched, and they have unrealistic expectations. It’s important to know what it’s like to be on the field marching.”
Silva agrees with this sentiment. “I think you [need] some experience past high school to be able to teach it effectively,” he says. “It’s good to have different points of view and different experiences.”
The music education majors believe that having that real-world marching band leadership experience has helped them learn how to teach music firsthand. “It’s given me a lot of excitement and a lot of drive for [my program],” says Mondragon, who hopes to conduct a high school band after college. Silva also believes that marching band has helped him in his music education path. “It’s really given me a lot of opportunities to practice rehearsing outside of clinic classes,” he says.
Not all music majors at KU are required to join the marching band, however. Jamie Venzian, a sophomore in the KU marching band, is majoring in music therapy. For her, joining the marching band was not a requirement for her program. “I did marching band all through high school and loved it,” Venzian says. “I wanted to try it out at KU, and I liked it last year, so I did it again this year.”
Other schools, such as the University of Cincinnati (UC), do not even require their music education majors to join marching band. Melanie Richardson, a fourth-year music education student at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, says that she joined the UC marching band because she wanted to, despite how the music department feels on the matter. “It’s actually frowned upon for music majors to join marching band,” she says.
Michele Currenti, a sophomore vocal performance major within the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, has no requirements to join the pep band. However, she has loved being involved. “I did it for fun,” Currenti says. “It’s such an amazing group of kids and such a good community to be a part of.”
Within schools or programs that don’t require joining marching band, there are mixed feelings among students regarding whether or not it should be required. Venzian believes that marching band would not necessarily be beneficial to music therapy students. “It doesn’t touch on the points of our major since we specifically work one-on-one with clients, and we wouldn’t be teaching anything about marching band,” Venzian says. She adds, however, that she thinks it should at least be recommended to other music therapy students.
On a similar note, Currenti believes that joining marching band would not necessarily be beneficial for vocal performance majors. “I think that ensembles are important for sure, and you should get to pick the ensemble you’re in,” she says. “But marching band shouldn’t be required.”
Richardson, who is a drum major at the University of Cincinnati, has mixed feelings on whether or not marching band should be required for music education majors. “Class-wise, [marching band] takes away from some time I could be studying,” she says. “But as an educator, I have the chance to try different things out that I’ve learned in class.”
While being in marching band has been beneficial to these students, it can also pose a challenge to others. Kati James, a recent graduate of the University of Dayton (UD), was in the marching band during her time as a music performance major. She says that marching band made it difficult to balance rehearsals and practice for her major.
“The biggest challenge I had when I was in marching band was trying to balance rehearsal and practicing, especially because I was a euphonium major and played mellophone in marching band,” James says. “Band made it really difficult to find time to rehearse for small group ensembles, especially since marching band rehearsals were already scheduled during most people’s class breaks.”
Many music majors who are not pursuing education believe that marching band has helped their schooling in different ways. “It gives me a different perspective on music,” Currenti says. “It lets me see different types of music and how different types of people react to the classical community.”
Venzian says that marching band has helped her in the aspect of time management. “Marching band takes up so much time and takes up a lot of the weekend,” she says. “I do have to be able to manage my time doing my other studies. Also it has helped me know how to work with people who aren’t music majors, so I can get used to that for my career.”
Despite the difficulties surrounding marching band, James says that it was still beneficial to her performance major in some respects. “Band helped when it came to musicality because the director really broadened my concept of music and playing,” she says. “Marching band was the only time I had with him.”
Regardless of whether or not marching band is required, all of these students love being a part of it for various reasons. Some, like Currenti, Mondragon and Venzian, love being in marching and pep band for the people. “What I really love about it is I get to use my talents to support my school,” Currenti says. She also adds that she loves feeling like she can use that talent “to cheer on teams and make people feel better in the aspect of sports and support other people in [the] community.”
Venzian likes being in the KU marching band because of the fact that it is not full of music majors. “I get to see people that I wouldn’t normally see in my classes,” she says.
Students also enjoy marching band because of unique opportunities it offers. Mondragon enjoys the travel aspect of the CU marching band. “Last year, we went on four trips: two for marching band and two for basketball,” he says. “Travel alone is a huge opportunity, and it gives you experience on different instruments.”
Richardson likes the opportunity of having a group of friends in marching band that are outside of her major. “When we get together, it’s about making music in a fun way,” she says.
Silva enjoys the KU marching band for its long-standing traditions and its presence at different school events. “Our pregame at KU is very extensive and traditional,” he says. “We also get to do other athletic events like pep bands for volleyball and basketball. It’s a really fun time.”
James was only a member of the UD marching band for two years but says that she enjoyed being a part of it for that time. “Despite quitting after my sophomore year, I’m really glad I joined because I met most of my closest friends through it,” she says.
Venzian says that the most important thing she has taken from marching band has been learning to be patient. “We’ve had a lot of marchers that didn’t have marching band in high school; they’ve never been on the field before,” she says. She adds that she loves “seeing halfway through the season how much better they’ve gotten and how much they’ve learned.”
Currenti believes that the most important thing she’s learned from marching band is that life is an ensemble. “We always have to work as teams, and you play one part in this big ensemble,” she says. “Learning how to make my part by itself isn’t that important, but it’s really important for the whole collective group.”
And that lesson is an important one to remember throughout everything in life.
About the Author
Liz Wright is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is a senior at the University of Cincinnati (UC) studying creative writing, communications and journalism. She marched trumpet for five years in the Kenston High School Marching Band in Bainbridge, Ohio, and for three years in the UC Bearcat Marching Band. After graduation, Liz hopes to pursue a career in copyediting.