One Time at Band Camp

For freshman Kyle Evans, the rigors of the USC Trojan Marching Band are just another way of tapping into the Spirit of Troy.

Being the “greatest marching band in the history of the universe” is no easy feat. If you think you can get 250 people to march, blow a horn, bang a drum and wave a flag with the simple blow of a whistle, ask anyone who went through the University of Southern California’s Spirit of Troy band camp.

What you see at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is, in a word, awesome. What you don’t see are the hours of preparation needed for one show, not to mention getting the new members in the mix of the Trojan Marching Band. It all starts with band camp—which is grueling, sometimes arduous—but always ends up with the results you see on the field.

By his own admission, trumpet player Kyle Evans is “so freakin’ sore.” He couldn’t believe the simple act of marching could wear out his body so much, so fast. Evans says he’ll disprove the critics who say, “Oh, how hard can band be?” in a heartbeat.

Sore muscles aside, Evans, a freshman majoring in music education, feels it’s all a part of paying his dues to be in the Spirit of Troy. Although freshmen players have the added task of acclimating themselves to the group, band camp runs virtually the same schedule and workload for everyone, from the drum line to the silks to the director, Dr. Arthur C. Bartner.

First Steps

The one-week program began a few days before move-in day, for the purpose of getting everyone settled in before the pre-semester rush. And with only two weeks separating band camp check-in and their first performance, those few extra days of training are enough to fix the slightest faux pas.

The mistakes are so small that the laymen won’t ever notice them, but big enough to warrant a scolding over the loudspeakers from Bartner. “Everything is crisp, everything has snap!” Bartner says to the camp members from the “God Tower,” the aptly named podium overlooking Loker Stadium. “Everything we do has style.”

The simple act of putting one foot ahead of the other is an exact science for the band. It involves taking a step with the thighs at a 45-degree angle, calves flexed and vertical, while the toes are pointed on a parallel plane with the thighs. Sounds easier than it is. The entire first day on the field focuses on body posture, movement of the legs, dress and alignment.

“It was really tough learning their style of march,” Evans says. “Just when you think you got it, someone comes up and says what you’re doing is wrong.”

But Evans, like the rest of the freshmen, seems eager to learn. “These kids are smart,” Bartner says. “The new members have a mindset of, ‘Tell me what I need to know, and I’ll learn it.’ They’re coming along faster than I expected.”

Already, charts have been passed out, all required to be memorized. From standard pieces like “Fight On!” and “Tribute to Troy” to contemporary tunes like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “In the Stone,” all are rehearsed in sectionals. Evans auditioned during the first night of sectionals and received one of the lead trumpet parts. “I’m starting to feel like I’m actually part of the band now,” he says.

Running of the Bulls

The next day, the group is up bright and early, enjoying a breakfast of eggs, sausages and cereal. Already Evans’ voice is hoarse from the previous day’s hollering—or as he puts it, “from displaying a lot of spirit.” Evans then gets even more philosophical. “For without spirit, we are only ‘of Troy,’” he says with a laugh.

The second day of camp begins with a review of the material learned the day before, and the band is already displaying more crispness and style. At the end of each tune, the players snap their instruments down like clockwork. “Down!”

The highlight of Evans’ camp, however, was when the football players walked by. “We turned around and started to play ‘Tribute to Troy’ when they came by,” he says. “It’s the most exciting experience to play and watch them flash the victory sign as they walk by.”

By the middle of the week, Evans admits camp is getting less grueling although his body and voice are still gone from the training. He is running purely on adrenaline now, even hitting the pelvic thrusts during “Another One Bites the Dust.”

As he counts down the days to their first football game, Evans says he looks forward to the famed “tunnel run” the most. Think running of the bulls—with no bulls—and all the craziness. Before each game, the band members line up outside the Coliseum, and at the sound of a whistle, run with flailing arms through the tunnel onto the field.

But good things come to those who wait, and Evans marches on, figuratively and literally.

As camp comes to a close, classes and rehearsal begin for Evans. “First week of class was exceptionally easy,” he says. Rest assured, our freshman friend will find out it’s not going to get any easier. Rehearsals take place on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons while game days call for a 7 a.m. practice on Saturday mornings.

Game Day

For Evans, the combination of fatigue, classes and lack of sleep proves too much. He wakes up feeling sick the day of the game but isn’t about to let a bug get in the way of his first game as a Spirit of Troy member. He’s pumped and ready to go.

“Putting on that uniform was something else,” he says. “I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and was like, ‘Hell yeah.’”

In front of a packed crowd at Heritage Hall, the Spirit of Troy gives its first public performance of the year. They go through their pre-game and halftime show, serving the purpose of one last play-through in case any mistakes come about. For the drum line during the Reel Big Fish tune, “Sellout,” Bartner points out that the rhythm must be kept steady, clapping along to the percussive hits at the tune’s intro.

After a few more strolling performances, the band marches on proudly toward the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Along the way, fans flash the victory sign while Bartner shakes hands with well-wishers.

The band stops. They stand 200 feet from the field, looking into the cavernous tunnel that separates them and their “yard.” Bartner blows the whistle, and it’s off to the races. Evans completely forgets that he is sick and runs, screaming with his now-recovered voice.

The halftime show is an eclectic set, from a Tower of Power medley to a song from The Offspring. The student section sings along to the words of “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” with some dancing along in the seats. As Evans gets back to the stands in the third quarter, he admits to feeling a bit woozy, but that doesn’t stop him from cheering along with the 45,568 in attendance.

It has been a long day for Kyle Evans, but a gratifying one. It was his first march to the stadium, his first tunnel run and his first halftime show, and all en route to a Trojan victory. At the end of the game, he’s dead tired. It’s been a grueling day, a grueling game and a grueling week. Grueling, yes, but awesome.

Copyright 2001 by the Daily Trojan. All rights reserved. Reprinted and excerpted with permission. This article was published in Vol. 144, No. 10 (Tuesday, September 11, 2001), beginning on page 7 and ending on page 10. The original article can be found on www.dailytrojan.com

About the Author:

Kevin Pang is a USC alum currently working as a features writer for the Chicago Tribune. He previously wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

Photo by Walter Simonsen. All rights reserved.