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.