Game day with the Blue Band: Part Two – Follow the Band Wagon

In a continuation from my previous article, I will pick up where I left off, with the entrance into Beaver Stadium.

Upon entering Beaver Stadium through the tunnel, we finish our drum cadence and set ourselves up in the stands designated for the Blue Band. Then, it’s back into the tunnel to retrieve our pregame drums. As a bass drummer, there are different rituals we go through before either halftime or pregame. For pregame, we retrieve our blue pregame drums and march back out of the tunnel in single file. A hype circle is formed by the seven of us. We stretch, debrief, and then get ourselves pumped up. If you ever watch the entire ritual from the stands, I’m sure it looks rather silly. But actually being in the huddle with your “teammates,” screaming and cheering each other on, there isn’t anything in the world quite like it.

Pregame lasts all of about 10 minutes, give or take a few depending on if there is anything special going on that day, such as the Parade of Champions or if we are saluting the other team with their Alma Mater. Then, it’s back to put our drums away, and up into the stands for the rest of the first half.

The fight songs we play in the stands are pretty standard–Hey Baby, Seven Nation Army, and so on. We do try to mix things up, add a few new songs each week – some more popular songs like Poker Face by Lady Gaga or Look Down from the musical Les Miserables. The point is to please the student section and get them singing along with us and cheering as loud as they can for the team, and we aim to do just that with the stands tunes.

Halftime is something that changes each week for us. Sometimes we have as little as 7 days to prepare a new show. Sometimes we get lucky with a bye week in-between performances though. This allows for us to be a little more relaxed and work on cleaning up the show. The shows consist of 3 songs normally, with the middle piece being in place, without drill. The shows almost always have a theme as well. Sometimes, depending on events in history or on popular trends, we may try to revolve a show around that with music and drill that all works together.

The wind instruments in the band have the sheet music with them during the shows, but the drumline, silks, and majorettes all have their shows completely memorized. Because of this, many times a week we have extra practices to prepare for this. Personally, the drumline puts in about 16 hours before game day. If you ever hear the drumline playing into the late hours of the night, you know they are only trying to put together the best show for their fans, not trying to annoy students while they study or relax in their rooms near the Blue Band building.

We then spend the rest of the game in the stands playing more stands tunes and cheering on the football team. Ever since Coach O’Brien became our head coach, the joint singing of the Alma Mater has become a tradition after the game ends, no matter the outcome. This coming together of the students, the athletes, the band, and the rest of the community is something very special that I think should be carried on long after O’Brien retires.

From the stands, the band returns onto the field to play through a few more songs from halftime or other shows for the few fans that stick around. After that, the real fun begins. The drumline takes center stage, playing the corner version of Parade Order (the cadence we march over to Beaver Stadium playing) complete with different visuals by the cymbals to entertain the audience. All eyes are on them as the rest of the band and directors take a seat in the grass, a nice time for them to relax and for us to show off how our hard work has been paying off.

Near the end of Parade Order, the music stops and the drumline takes their place for the corner skit of the week. Each week we put on a hilarious and entertaining skit to perform for the band. Some of the material is a bit on the inside-joke side, but we aim to entertain everyone who watches us. I can’t exactly disclose what happens during those skits, you will have to stay after the next home game to find out.

The drumline completes their skit, finishes the cadence, and the rest of the band picks up their weary bodies and we march one last time from Beaver Stadium to the Blue Band building. Once we arrive, a few announcements and congratulations are said by Dr. Bundy, our director, and it’s off to the locker rooms.

Hopefully I have made it clear that being a part of the Blue Band is more than just fun and games. First off, it’s practically a job in itself. We have a boss, plenty of supervisors, group projects with deadlines each week, lots of team building activities, and plenty of curveballs thrown at us.

And – oh yeah – we’re not paid, nor do we receive any sort of scholarship money. The only compensation we obtain for our good deeds is food, applause, and that warm feeling in your stomach when you know you did something right.

But really, our duty as a member of the Blue Band is vital to the university. When on campus, we act as role models of how to act at football games. We cheer constantly, never giving up on our team or our university, even in the darkest of times or in the toughest of environments. We were there when everything happened to Penn State a few years ago. We were there when Ohio State beat us a few weekends ago. And you can bet we are going to be there if anything else happens in the future.

We act professionally around other team’s fans or anyone who approaches us at any time or anywhere. Some people might go into a conversation with us thinking that we are terrible students, students who should be ashamed of their university and what their university has done in the past. But we can blow them away with our pride and respectfulness, making them forget all bad preconceived notions of what a Penn Stater is and how we act.

We don’t jump on the bandwagon, we are the bandwagon. We are the people that eyes look to in times of trouble. That’s because we have always been there, for our fans and for our students, never letting them down.

The Blue Band is a lot more than what people think we are. Sure, we play the Alma Mater and have a cool drum major who does a front flip. We like to have fun at times, taunting our opponents with fight songs and passing the lion as he crowd surfs over the students. But we are there when no one else is, practicing before the break of dawn, leading the team cheers when all hope has been lost. We may be small, but we are mighty, and we will never give up. Because no matter the score, no matter the situation we find ourselves in, the Blue Band always wins.

And when you stick with us, you’re going to be alright, we promise.

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Game day with the Blue Band: Part One – Up for the fight

It’s 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. Most students are still passed out from a long week of school and other activities. Professors are enjoying their weekends off, and people visiting for the football weekend are still in their hotel beds. The sun isn’t even up yet, but we are.

We’re the Penn State Blue Band. Always working, never sleeping, preparing for our long day ahead before most people have even gotten up for their day.

As a member of the Blue Band, the idea of game day has always been biased. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of sleeping in, or tailgating before the game, or throwing girls in the air in the student section when the team scores. But lucky for us, there are quite a few benefits to balance out the experiences that, as a member of the band, we will never have.

The Blue Band has a bigger job than most people think. As I said before, we are practicing at 6:45 for a noon game. The general rule we go by is to begin preparing for the day at least 5 hours before kickoff. This gives us enough time to do everything we normally do before a home game.

Our day begins with a full run-through of the pregame and halftime performances. Time is of essence because the tailgaters are rapidly surrounding our field, unloading for their tailgates and waiting for our part of the field to be exited. Once we finish, it’s off to fill our stomachs with the traditional game day meal: a hoagie, chips, a bottle of water, and a halftime cookie (the best prepackaged cookie I’ve ever eaten).

From when we finish lunch until uniform inspection, Blue Banders have a number of activities they participate in. Some take a nap, some clean up their facial hair and others pin their long hair back into a slick, professional looking bun. Some choose to spend this time with their families, taking pictures and catching up during one of the few breaks we get all day. This is one of the few times we get to relax, be a little bit less professional, and enjoy the excitement of game day with our friends and family.

Some Blue Banders have the privilege of traveling to President’s Tailgate at the Penn Stater to play for an auditorium full of alumni and other important university staff. The major benefit of signing up for this, something only about 16 people each week get to do, is not having to be as sweaty or tired as the rest of the Blue Band. A delicious, not-dining-hall prepared meal awaits them, and the bus ride to the Bryce Jordan Center is a lot more relaxing than marching over in either the unbearable heat or the frigged cold. State College weather, am I right?

While the people at the President’s Tailgate are busy entertaining one crowd, the rest of the band is getting prepared to entertain a much larger crowd. After singing the Alma Mater as a whole band, we form up outside into our parade block. The drum major and feature twirler are up front, behind them are the silks, the majorettes, and the rest of the band, split up into two even sized sections (front band and back band) and divided in half by the drumline. From the Blue Band building, we march over to the Bryce Jordan Center to play for TailGreat, an event in the BJC that features us, the Penn State Cheerleaders, and a couple other special guest organizations including THON orgs and famous past Penn Staters. Once we arrive, we march into the arena, perform the fight songs from pregame, play our halftime show while the majorettes and silks do their routine, and finish off with some stands tunes and some songs with the cheerleaders. After TailGreat ends, we again have a short window of time to see our family and friends who were watching us from the stands.

On a more personal note, the time after TailGreat is over is something I always look forward to – unless my parents aren’t there for that game. Some Blue Band members don’t have family that can make it to some or even all of the games. While it is nice to relax and talk to your friends, there is nothing that brightens my day more than a random Penn Stater approaching me to ask me about being in the Blue Band.

Approximately an hour and a half before kickoff and we are departing the Bryce Jordan Center for Beaver Stadium. We block up in our normal parade formation for a short march down Curtain Road, pumping up the fans that line the roads and watch us from the stadium railing.

The attention we receive, both during the parade and in general, is at first overwhelming. The amount of people cheering for you, the pressure you are under, and the sheer size of Beaver Stadium from the field. But after the first few games, you get into a rhythm. Game day doesn’t change a whole lot, so you find yourself not even thinking about the music coming out of your instrument or your marching. Instead, I found myself focusing on pleasing the crowd, pumping them up and making them smile, and having fun at the same time.

I feel it is an honor to be treated as nicely as we are treated by our fans. In high school, marching band was lame and not very well respected by the rest of the school. They came for the football team, not for a bunch of kids marching around the field playing music they had never heard before. But the one thing that turned me on to Penn State’s marching band was the fact that they are respected, sometimes even idolized. As a high school student, I never thought I would be good enough to make the Blue Band, but here I am now.

Beating Michigan, Two Weeks in a Row

“Our band’s better.”

The chant echoes down from the third floor of our hotel, over and over, from the mouth of a single Ohio State fan.

That is how I was greeted along with the Blue Band at our hotel. Not with cheers and pats on the back, the things we are used to at Beaver Stadium. It’s not the most welcoming way to arrive in Ohio, but all we can do is hold our heads up high and hope for a better reception at The Horseshoe, Ohio State’s stadium.

As we get closer to the stadium, a mixture of middle fingers and taunts come from groups of students and adults alike. Dressed in their burgundy and grey, they hold their red solo cups and flip us the bird as our caravan of busses passes by. Not much better.

The people of Ohio State are an interesting breed. In ways, they are actually similar to some Penn State fans. Though we would hate to admit it, we do have some fans that act the same way around opposing teams as they did around us. But on the positive side, they have plenty of school and band pride, just like we do, along with a fancy stadium comparable to ours, and a football nation to fear just as much as Penn State’s.

Oh, and we both hate Michigan.

Their hatred is slightly more openly expressed however. But somehow, that mutual hatred of a team, a team that wasn’t even involved in the game taking place that evening, brought our two fan groups just that much closer together.

The Michigan bashing all began at Skull Session, a concert devoted entirely to the Ohio State marching band, before the football game. For those who don’t know, we have a similar concert known as TailGreat, loosely based on Skull Session, but on a smaller scale. At one point, the announcer congratulated Penn State, saying that there were never more Penn State fans in Ohio than after last weekend’s victory over Michigan. A nice gesture for once, something I thought I could get used to. We laughed awkwardly at their strange but kind gesture, and the concert proceeded.

Later in the session, the announcer introduced a small boy who had been previously diagnosed with brain cancer. This child had named his cancer “Michigan,” in the hopes of beating Michigan (cute, right?). He did beat Michigan, and again cheers and laughter filled the room.

And finally, during the Ohio State band’s halftime show, as the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean rang out through the stadium, the image of two boats was created on the field from the bodies of the band members, one with the Michigan flag, and one with the Ohio State flag. With the help of some fancy pyrotechnics, the Michigan ship was sunk and the crowd erupted into cheers yet again.

Not once that day did I hear taunts of “Beat Penn State!” They didn’t use our flag during the halftime show. The kid didn’t name his cancer Penn State. It was all about Michigan, all the time.

It was almost comforting, not being attacked in a foreign land, not feeling like we were the main enemy of their team (though we were). They were busy feeding off of the hatred of Michigan to really focus on hating us. We did receive our fair share of heckling from countless people in the stands and throughout the stadium, which was expected. But the large portion was focused on Michigan, Ohio State’s metaphorical punching bag, the one figure they use over and over again to get themselves fired up for any and every game.

Strangely enough, I think that the overuse of the joke against Michigan brought us closer together. Both of our teams don’t like Michigan, and that one item in common made it easier to bond with each other. It’s similar to sharing a hobby or a favorite movie, something as simple as that can spark a conversation that can lead to an understanding of each other, possibly even a friendship. It’s strange to think hatred can bring people closer together. However, we are all human. We all love and hate. Football is something we all breathe. It’s the rope that connects our heart to our University. And from each rope, we are connected to our friends, our family, creating one giant web of rope, crossing over each other and encompassing our university and connecting ourselves to other universities. All of us, we are all connected. All connected by football.