Sound Wave: Building a Tradition

Seattle’s new Major League Soccer team also boasts a new pep band, already creating a huge following and added excitement for the team.

I’m bundled up in four layers as I step out of the car and into the gray Seattle air. After fighting through traffic, crowds and $15 parking, I’ve arrived at Qwest Field for the March 28 soccer match between the Seattle Sounders Football Club and Real Salt Lake. Arriving an hour and a half early for the match, I’d planned to head over to Pioneer Square to catch the Sound Wave—the Sounders’ marching band.

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I could hear the pulsing drums and high-energy trumpets of the Sound Wave. Several blocks away, the band was just beginning its pre-game concert in Pioneer Square before the march over to the stadium. As I followed the crowd into the square, the band’s sound became louder and clearer in its vigorous rendition of local rock star Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.”

I was surprised when we stepped into the square to find a crowd of hundreds watching this brand-new marching band. The crowd swelled as the group progressed through its 15-minute set, and throngs of supporters joined in as the band marched to the stadium in its “March to the Match.” The band stopped one more time before heading to its seats, playing a long set outside the stadium entrance for fans heading into the game.

“The March to the Match is a rallying cry, if you will, to get all the fans that are in the various bars in the area and let them know that it’s time to get to the match,” says Sound Wave director Keith Rousu. “Last game—our first opening day—we had three or four thousand fans in a huge mass marching to the match. It was crazy to see this sea of people all going down to the stadium together.”

Origins of the Team and Band

To give some background, the Sounders soccer team is new to Major League Soccer (MLS) for the 2009 season. TV personality Drew Carey bought the Sounders Franchise, taking over the smaller franchise that had played in the United Soccer Leagues Division 1 since 1994.

As part of his ownership agreement, Carey made several stipulations for the team and front office. First, Carey stated that the organization would be about “Democracy in Sports,” giving the team’s season ticket holders a voice and the ability to “vote on the fate of the general manager.” Additionally, Carey demanded that the team form a band to bring an exciting atmosphere to the stadium, leading to the creation of the Sound Wave, the first band of its kind in the MLS.

Fans arriving at the Sounders second home game (I unfortunately missed the team’s home debut a month earlier) didn’t look like the soccer newbies you’d expect in a city boasting a team less than a month old but more like seasoned MLS veterans. They knew where to be, what to wear and how to chant. The band played the team’s fight song with precision and led the crowd with energy and enthusiasm.

This didn’t seem like a city that had endured one of the worst years in sports in decades (departure of the Seattle Supersonics, worst season in Mariners’ history, worst season in University of Washington Huskies football history, worst season in Washington State University Cougars football history, decline of the Seahawks) but a city ready to jump on the bandwagon and support this exciting young team.

And along with a young team comes a young band—young as a group, but with members from all walks of life. The Sound Wave includes 54 members, ranging from 18 to 54, according to director Keith Rousu. Some come from drum corps, others from area universities, but all are there to be part of a high-energy group and most importantly to support the team. “That’s what it’s all about,” Rousu says. “Let’s get a championship.”

“If you take your typical high school or college band and make it a little more rock and roll, that’s where we come into the picture,” Rousu adds. “We’ve got some great players from all walks of life. It’s really powerful, we’ve basically got two volumes: loud and louder.”

According to Rousu, the band is actually more of a pep band than a marching band. The group encourages crowd participation during the “March to the Match” but doesn’t otherwise march, even during halftime.

“The only marching we do is parade-like going to and from,” says Rousu. “Based on the structure of professional soccer, most of the time during halftime the reserves go out on the field and stretch out, warm up and whatnot … We’re actually more of a pep band.”

High Energy and Entertainment

In my experience, Rousu’s description of the group held true. From the moment the group stepped out from Pioneer Square to the end of the game, the group maintained a high-energy pace and fed off the crowd’s energy. Rousu’s experiences have led to his philosophy for the group. “I’m an entertainer,” he says. “I’m a rock and roll drummer; I’m not a drum corps geek. I’ll take 20 or 30 percent sloppiness for entertainment. That’s what it’s about. It’s an entertainment entity—you’re entertained from front to back. That’s really the key.”

Rousu also directs the Seahawks’ “Blue Thunder” drum line, which plays at the football team’s home games. The Sounders and Seahawks share a stadium as well as many members of the front office, so when the Sound Wave position opened up, the Sounders gave Rousu an opportunity to take the reins and produce his vision.

“I would liken the spirit of the group to a college-type pep band except for the difference in age and experience,” he says. “You still have to audition to get into it. The arrangements are all custom, all original. We’re not playing anyone else’s stuff, nor are we selling it. That’s the beauty of having two in-house arrangers.”

The band holds auditions each season and draws from music groups throughout the area. Initially Rousu contacted Seattle Brass Attack, a local brass group, as well as the University of Washington’s Husky Marching Band, where he played in the drum line.

In addition to the March to the Match, which begins 1.5 hours before kickoff, the band plays during the game when the team’s rabid fan section isn’t busy cheering on the team. Basically, the band fills in the gaps between supporters’ chants. “You go to the stadium for the atmosphere,” Rousu says. “You go for all the other things that you can’t get when you watch it on TV … The fans drive most of everything that we have going on in the stadium. They’re not going to chant the entire game, so we let one out once in awhile.”

For more information about Sound Wave and to keep up with the Sounders, visit www.soundersfc.com.

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