College Bands: Unique and Universal

Photo by Tom McGrath/TCMcG Photography from 2012

We growled. We did rearbacks. We held Spirit Sessions and pre-game fire-up concerts. We made up alternative lyrics or even entire new hymns about our opponents. We did dance moves and Tootsie Rolls (high-step kicks) during cadences. We sang the Alma Mater at postgame and turned our shakos and capes backward when the football team won.

As the years continued, we wore baseball caps in the stands. Our fire-up concert turned into a standing performance at the alumni-sponsored tailgate. Now, the band’s new uniforms no longer have double-sided capes. But as an alumnus, I can return to campus and still recognize the traditions that I hold dear to my heart.

During my days with the Northwestern University Marching Band, I felt that these traditions set us apart from other ensembles. Now many years after graduation, watching college football on television and working as publisher of Halftime Magazine, I have come to realize that these traditions are not all as unique as they might have seemed.

In reality, they bind us together with the rest of the collegiate marching world as many university bands have similar game-day rituals.

There are some routines that have become synonymous with specific conferences, such as the Big Ten’s drum major backbend. And there are some that are almost completely universal, such as snippets of stand tunes that get played during special plays on the field.

As I saw more similarities rather than differences among college bands, I became curious: How and why did these traditions get created and spread across the nation? What makes college marching band so unique and yet so universal?

Our feature “Get Pumped for College Game Day” explains some of the quirks of college band that help make college football so exciting to watch and listen to.

Keep on Marching!
Christine Ngeo Katzman
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief

Play What You Hear

Playing by ear is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal. “But I can’t play by ear,” you say! You can and, to ...