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Off Beat Empire: The Final Serenade for 2017

Time to wrap up the marching season

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 03:  The Minnesota Golden Gophers marching band performs prior to facing the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on November 3, 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Illinois defeated Minnesota 44-17.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Gophers are hibernating early this year
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

A weekly review of B1G Marching Bands and related topics

Although there is still some football to be played in the form of the conference championship game and bowls (most of which will probably be repeat shows), it’s time for me to hang up my spats for the year until drum lines report for 2018 band camp. This has been a fun topic to write on - I appreciate all of you who have shared your own thoughts and experiences in the comments. I especially appreciate LincolnParkWildcat’s support in getting this up-and-running. Several of you gave some good ideas for topics to cover next year. There is still a great deal that I don’t know about the various bands in the conference, and I hope that I will be able to reach out to a few of you who were a part of those groups to share more of your traditions and memories as part of next year’s discussions. I would also welcome anybody who wants to make their own contributions in 2018 - I’m more than happy to let others write a week or two (or more) if they feel so inclined.

In a moment, I will give a few parting observations on the various bands that were covered here this year, but first let’s look at some final halftime shows that were posted.


The Wolverines finished the year with a simple tribute to 200 years of University history, including variations on “Victors”, “Varsity”, “The Yellow and Blue” (Note: See! Even you don’t call it Maize all the time!) and other songs central to the history of the program that were not quite as familiar to me. Drill is just multiple variations on an “M” and a few numbers. The band was then joined by alumni to play a few crowd tunes that were common over the years. Overall, just a simple, nostalgic show to celebrate the bicentennial.


Wisconsin did something similar to Michigan featuring variations of “On Wisconsin” worked into a bunch of other songs like “The Sting” (and many more that I don’t recognize). Drill is the usual abundance of high-stepping, pure 90 degree cardinal point turns, and final positioning on either a yard line or halfway between. I don’t know if this is a traditional end-of-season performance or not, but it kind of has the flavor of one.


I really should have posted this weeks ago. I held off because it was outside of a football stadium setting at a High School band competition, but in the absence of other stadium performances to review, I don’t want to end the year without sharing a bit more color of the Cornhusker Marching Band. This performance was based on Queen hits, including “We Will Rock You”, “We are the Champions”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. What truly struck me about this performance is the full, clean sound that Nebraska is able to sustain throughout. The brass is really spot on in this piece, including some fantastic solo and small ensemble work done by trumpets and mellos. Drill is above average for a B1G performance - no full park n’ bark songs, but a bit of a pause in motion during extended key hits. I was intrigued and somewhat impressed by the use of rifles by the flag corp. I don’t believe I have seen this from other B1G bands most of this season (I apologize if I missed it in any performances). Rifles are definitely a step up in difficulty and visual impact from flags, so kudos to Nebraska for adding them.


For Minnesota’s final show we apparently get a tour of Minnesota’s various departments, although I’m having an incredibly hard time following the announcer just given the microphone and interference from crowd noise. I got the first song as “ABC”, second as “Respect”, and the final number as “El Toro Caliente”, but can’t place the two intervening tunes. Sound in this video suffers a bit throughout as the band was playing toward the far sideline for long stretches, but that has more to do with the microphone placement than the Gopher band’s musicianship. Drill was fairly good up until “El Toro”, but it’s an absolute crime to perform that piece as park n’ bark. I see that Minnesota also featured rifles for a segment. Huh. I wonder how many times I have missed that for other bands this year?

For those who cannot see the embedded image below, video can be accessed via this link.

Everyone Else

Unfortunately, we don’t have video for the other home bands in action this weekend, which included Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, and Maryland. Ohio State visited Michigan for their annual rivalry and performed a repeat of their Symphony show. I already reviewed last week, but here is a link for anybody who wants to listen to the show without the interference of a downpour.

The Final Serenade

I learned a lot about various bands that I did not know particularly well before going into this season, and in honor of the BTN’s Final Drive recap of the games, following are my final thoughts on each band for the year:

  • Illinois: I was pleasantly impressed throughout the year with what Illinois brought to the table. Despite being “rivals”, I had only actually seen this band once at Soldier Field and was confused at the time as to whether or not the Three in One was the constant halftime show or if they mixed things up. Obviously, they mix things up and have shown solid sound and drill. Hopefully, the football team will pick things up before too long so these kids can be rewarded with crowds and bowls for their hard work.
  • Indiana: The Marching Hundred were the first visiting band that I was exposed to in 1993. At the time, they played a great little trumpet lick as part of an opening segment to the Who’s “Tommy”, and their sound this year kept taking me back to that memory of a clean trumpet hit. I do wish they did more on drill, but overall they should be proud of their work for their year.
  • Iowa: Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes are a bit more protective of their shows (perhaps licensing issues) and we didn’t get to see nearly enough of them in action this year. From what we did see, they had a nice mix of sound and drill. I still love the Tractor shape and the performance of the Wave. I’m hoping that we get to see more of the Marching Hawkeyes in years to come.
  • Maryland: Alas, all I really have to go on is your one night in Piscataway, but that was definitely a solid performance worthy of B1G affiliation. We might reject your flag, but we’ll take your Marching Band any day of the week.
  • Michigan: I always knew that the Michigan Marching Band was good, but watching their shows this year reminded me just how good they really are. There was a lot of variety throughout Michigan’s repertoire this year, from the John Williams crowd favorite to the smooth, cool sound of their jazz show. This is definitely one of the top bands in the conference and a group that we all can be proud of. I also give them prop of the year with those great dancing dinosaur costumes.
  • Michigan State: I knew beforehand that MSU was good as well, but damn... that performance of Malaguena was off the charts. I get the feeling that when Michigan State pulls out all of the stops, they are the best band in the conference. I don’t think anybody else’s drum line is really even that close to what Sparty does. Overall, they are capable of a quality of sound that I just didn’t hear anybody else match throughout the year. They usually have very good drill, but if I am going to dock them a few points, there are some moments where they maybe could have done a bit more with their shapes. Still, I love listening to the Spartan Band and they are definitely one of the top tier groups in the conference.
  • Minnesota: When I see Minnesota shows, I just see good, solid entertainment. I’m not necessarily blown away by anything that they do, but they bring together drill and music in a way that’s always fun and always worth watching. After having to review something like 6-7 renditions of Salute to the Services, I can hands down say that the Gopher rendition was the best. I still chuckle thinking about the drum major getting fired out of the Tank gun.
  • Nebraska: Unfortunately, it was hard to get many Cornhusker shows to review as well. From what was posted, they have a very full, very clean sound that is impressive - perhaps one of the cleanest in the conference. Drill appeared to be effective particularly for a band of that size that takes up a lot of the field (albeit, there is only a limited sub-set to choose from). They kind of have a nice, clean look as well with their white uniforms. From what little I have seen, this is a very solid group that represents the conference well.
  • Northwestern: Obviously, my alma mater and a group that I am personally very proud of. Pound-for-pound, I will put the ‘Cats up against any other band in the B1G. Unfortunately, in sharp contrast to my own personal physique, the total number of pounds seems to be way lower than when I took the field. I’m not even sure if NUMB membership is at 130, and that’s disappointing (we don’t even seem to have enough to field all the conference flags for pre-game). Still, great sound for a band that size and drill is always active and effective.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes over the course of the season have absolutely earned their moniker as the Best Damn Band in the Land. Nobody else consistently prepares as much drill as they do. Nobody else does more to prepare a complete story that fans will recognize, appreciate, and be entertained by. Nobody else takes greater advantage of recognizable moving figures the way that the Buckeyes do. It’s all highly entertaining and very well executed. That said, if I am allowed a mild criticism of OSU, I kind of wish that they would take one show away from the kitsch that they put on the field and just try and blow us away with abstract, complex drill complimented by an equally complex musical score. I would love to see if they could match MSU’s peak musicianship, but I don’t get the sense that they have challenged themselves with a score this year that rose to that level. We also got a taste for some extensive pass-through and pinwheel drill in their Symphony show, and I would love to see what more they can do if they took that concept further. Still, at some point I’m just splitting hairs - OSU’s Band is awesome and we’re all lucky to have them in our conference.
  • Penn State: The Blue Band is another group that I knew very little about before I started this column where I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of their work on the field. Almost all their shows feature good drill in the opener and the closer and the sound holds together very well. I’m just a bit disappointed that there is always a park n’ bark piece sandwiched in-between. They had some very fun shows this year ranging from Disney to SquareBob Spongepants, and it was great to see what they are capable of.
  • Purdue: Given the size of Purdue’s undergrad population and the nature of the studies for which they are known, I am constantly amazed that the All American Band can maintain a group of this size and this quality. Any secrets you can share with the ‘Cats to help them get their membership back up? The Latin show was fantastic... maybe not quite as good as MSU’s, but a high bar for others to match nonetheless. The early Western show also remains memorable for its moving shapes and great soloist. I always knew that Purdue was a high quality band, and following the shows for this year, that feeling has been significantly reinforced.
  • Rutgers: I don’t care what anybody says about the Scarlet Knights football team, or your toilets, or your New Jersey-ness... your band has shown that it belongs right in the thick of this conference. The Rutgers band might not be particularly large, but they definitely put together a string of some very good shows this year that featured good drill, flowing melody, and solid brass hits. It was a treat to see what this group could do.
  • Wisconsin: Wisconsin has a style all its own and an enthusiasm toward high-stepping that would make the most aggressive spin instructor blush. What they do is unique to them, and despite the havoc it plays on their ability to sustain a melody as their mouth bounces three inches on every step, the Badgers always give it their all and a are a real crowd favorite in the land of Cheese. It’s just... can you please do a formation once that either i) has a curve or ii) actually puts people somewhere other than right on a yard line or halfway in-between? You can still do everything else that you love, but the world just isn’t “on a line or in-between” my friends - experiment with the gray area in-between! You might like it!

Thanks to everyone for reading my humble entries this year, particularly those who have left comments afterward. Thanks to LPW and others at OTE for giving me a chance to write it. Most of all, thanks to the hard-working young men and women who take part in marching band across this conference, and I hope that this column has brought just a tiny bit of recognition for all of the talent, skill, and hard work that you bring to us every time you perform. I hope those going to Bowls enjoy it every bit as much as I did when I was younger, and I hope those staying home enjoy their richly-deserved rest after a long season.