Show of Unity

Joined by their love of music and a common cause, many marching bands find ways to collaborate during halftime even despite perceived rivalries.

“There was a moment of silence … and it was very quiet—I’ve never heard a stadium be so quiet during a halftime show,” says Zach Arms, drum major of the Clemson (South Carolina) University Tiger Band. But by the end of the show, “it seemed like every person in the stadium leapt to their feet. It was a standing ovation. Even in the video, it’s hard to hear the band because the applause was so loud.”

So what kind of halftime show can garner this kind of extreme reaction from both the home and visiting crowds? A combined performance. In the last few years, more bands are putting aside their differences and collaborating, whether it be just for fun, musical goodwill, poking fun at a common rival, or even overcoming tragedy.

SC Strong

In June 2015, South Carolina was rocked by the Charleston church shooting, where nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were killed during a prayer group. Then in October, a storm complex caused massive flooding throughout the state.

Arms felt that the power of music could help heal some of the pain. He took his idea to his band director, who contacted the University of South Carolina “Mighty Sound of the Southeast” Band in Columbia.

“If there’s ever suffering or heartbreak, one of the main things that all of mankind can connect to is music; music can be a great healer,” Arms says. “I just thought that one of the best things we can do to show that South Carolina is still standing and we’re still strong is during the highlight of the year when the state is divided in half, we come together as one state healing through music.”

The storied rivalry between Clemson and the University of South Carolina goes back to the 1880s. Now known as The Palmetto Bowl, the annual football game against the two schools can get ugly, including a 2004 brawl so bad that both teams issued self-imposed post-season bans.

Regarding the 2015 joint show, the idea was met by mixed feelings that later turned into great enthusiasm. “When people started realizing that this is about more than just the rivalry, this is about our state, they really got behind it and were very supportive of the idea.”

The show included each band separately playing the tunes of Dizzy Gillespie and James Brown, two South Carolina natives. They then came together to perform “Goin’ Home” by Anton Dvorak as the band announcer talked about the shooting and flooding and read the names of the victims. The halftime performance concluded with “Take My Hand Precious Lord,” the same hymn that was played at the Emanuel Nine memorial service. When the two bands finally formed the words “SC STRONG,” the crowd went wild.

“I think it is a great way to show that we believe in putting our state first before the rivalry,” Arms says. “We are not going to let something like a football rivalry tear the state apart because, at the end of the day, we all are SC Strong.”

show-of-unity-2The Downfall of Troy

In the University of California system, the bands at Berkeley and Los Angeles (UCLA) united together for a very different reason—disdain for a common rival. Every few years since 1984, the UCLA Bruin Marching Band enlists an opposing band for help in reenacting the famous Trojan War of Greek mythology in a fan-favorite halftime called “The Downfall of Troy.” The tradition originated as a way to poke fun at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans and its band, whose campus is also in Los Angeles just 12 miles away. 2015 was the first time Cal participated.

“A lot of people at Cal actually hold a lot of animosity toward USC, some even more so than Stanford, our official rival,” says Dean Caudill, a member of the Cal Band. “Between Cal and UCLA bands, both of them are very large rivals of USC’s band.”

With Cal’s resentment of the Trojans and UCLA’s intense cross-town rivalry, the collaboration seemed like a match made by Zeus. The show featured members of both bands dressed in bedsheet togas and makeshift plastic helmets as they acted out a simplified version of the long war—culminating in the appearance of a homemade-looking Trojan Horse.

“The fan response in the stadium was very positive, overwhelmingly so,” Caudill says. “They were basically really happy to see two friendly schools coming together to really bash on one of their most hated rivals.”

For Caudill, the non-traditional show was a chance to relax and have fun with another band. “It’s more of a giant play than it is an actual marching show,” Caudill says. “We do have the form of a military-style band, so we put forth this demeanor of strictness, but in this one, we got to be more laidback and less strict for a while and really got to have fun with it.”

 show-of-unity-1We’ll Always Have Paris, Texas

For Paris and North Lamar High Schools in Paris, Texas, the heated rivalry is something they live with every day. With the option for open enrollment and being just three miles apart, it’s not uncommon to walk down the street and see someone in each school’s T-shirt, according to Charles Grissom, band director at Paris High School. Students at the rivaling schools may live next door to each other, go to the same church, or been lifelong friends.

In his 13-year tenure at Paris, the two bands have combined three times. “The football team and everybody else is still wearing their colors and yelling and screaming, but the bands are just having a good time because, really, the kids are all friends with each other,” says Grissom about the bands’ combined performances.

In the past, the game fell around Halloween, so the students from both bands wore costumes and played spooky songs, such as the theme from “Ghostbusters.” But in 2015, they decided to go a different direction and do a Super Bowl-style halftime show featuring singers from both bands on tunes from Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, and Silentó’s viral dance trend “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” Students from both bands wore matching T-shirts.

“We built the stages out in the middle of the field, so we could turn and play to both sides,” Grissom says. “Both bands are very aggressive corps style, so we kind of decided to do a halftime show with pop tunes, and it was fun.”

Because the bands participate in the Texas State championships every other year, the bands don’t always have time to collaborate on a fun project because they’re still preparing for contests. Those years, Grissom gets calls from community members saying they missed the combined show.

“The crowd reaction is so incredible; the community loves it,” Grissom says. “They love to see the togetherness of the two schools because that’s kind of how you have to live every day. The game is when you have a rivalry, but not really at any other time.”

show-of-unity-3The Battle for the Golden Horseshoe

For the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, there is no natural geographic rival in the Big Sky Athletic Conference. So, together with the University of California, Davis, they created a rivalry known as the “Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.” The schools are nearly five hours apart, but even so, many years they are the only opposing band seen at each other’s football games due to budget and distance.

“Our schools have a very close relationship in terms of the bands,” says Cal Poly’s band director Christopher Woodruff. “When we travel, we have a little post game band-off, and then the last three years, we decided it would be great to share a bit of the halftime experience.”

In the combined halftime show, each band performs one song separately, then they come together in a block of alternating ranks to play a popular tune together such as Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” or Fall Out Boy’s “Thnks fr the Mmrs.”

“Both our bands are very different,” Woodruff says. “Cal Poly has a rich tradition of being Big Ten style, and we borrow a bit from the [drum corps] world as well. And the Davis band has a lot of fun on the field and [is] a boisterous group. It’s always fun to see the two contrasting traditions get together.”

Fans and band members alike appreciate the joint show. “It’s really become an audience favorite because it’s not often that our fans get to see a guest band on the field,” Woodruff says. “Even though ostensibly we’re there to compete against one another in football, it’s nice to see that the kids who do music and do the marching band activity get along so well and can work together for a performance end.”

The relationship between the two bands goes beyond football season. A few years ago, Cal Poly began traveling to San Francisco to perform in its Chinese New Year Parade, which UC Davis also traditionally attended. Together they give an hour-long pre-parade band-off concert in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building, a popular tourist spot.

“It’s not intended to be any kind of competition at all, just a cool opportunity for the bands to mix for a little bit and hear each other,” Woodruff says. “No matter what school or style it is, it’s just really fun to be able to see how other people do what we do.”

Featured image courtesy of Chris Sloan – Imagine! Studios.
Photo of “Downfall of Troy” courtesy of Jennifer. Ding.
Photo of Paris, TX bands courtesy of TonyCorsolmages.
Photo of “Battle for the Golden Horseshoe” courtesy of Cal Poly Mustang Band.