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Off Beat Empire: Taking Band Too Seriously

Washington State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Sooo.... In the fine history of Off Tackle Empire, we have tackled some very serious, controversial topics ranging from institutional blindness toward sexual predators of children and young women to the exploitation of players for athletic prestige and financial gain. We have had some very hot takes and some very passionate arguments where battle lines were drawn and lifelong friends became enemies. However, all of this was nothing... NOTHING like the volcano that I would unwittingly unleash last week by suggesting that *GASP* baton twirlers don’t belong in college marching band!

For those who missed it, about a day after last week’s article in which I presented by views on the sequined glitterati, there were suddenly about 1,700 votes on a poll that maybe gets 100 on a good week. I did not experience it first hand, but LincolnParkWildcat indicated that whoever manages the OTE twitter account gets a little ping when there is a Tweet response to an article, and apparently that thing was going off in rapid succession to little gems like these:

By the way, kudos to whoever was in charge of responding...

Anyway, once I stopped laughing hysterically at the destruction that I hath wrought, I reached out to the originator of the tweet that got everybody worked up in the first place and had a bit of an off-line conversation. They demanded I apologize, I told them they overreacted and I stand by my piece, I offered the chance to rebut which I would either publish or link to (which is still open to anybody who wants to do so), and they politely declined. As of now, there are 2,852 votes in my poll saying that I’m a damn miserable fool for not loving the Golden Girl.

All of this, and particularly the response from my off-line exchange got me thinking about something that I’ve hinted at before, but haven’t really delved into. Specifically, some people take Marching Band, and in particular College Marching Band, WAY TOO F@#KING SERIOUSLY.

Marching Band is a ton of fun. It’s a great way to get involved in a group activity at school. You’re going to meet a couple of hundred other young men and women your age, all of whom have a passion for ensemble music. You’re going to make friends. Many even meet their future spouse on the marching field. You’re going to be one of the most visible ambassadors of our school. You’re going to carry some of the finer traditions forward, from the fight song to leading the cheers in the student section. It’s a really good time, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience it.

However, if you’re in college, you should be exploring all sorts of new and unique opportunities, including:

  • Meeting new people in your dorm or apartment and share the adventure of living on your own away from your parents.
  • Delving into your studies and getting to know others who have an interest in similar topics.
  • Taking up an intramural or club sport.
  • Pledging a fraternity or sorority.
  • Getting involved in a charity.
  • Sharing fellowship with others of your religion, or possibly exploring new ideas about faith and spirituality.
  • Experiencing the culture and food (and... er... beverage) of a new city / region.
  • LARPing with offensive lineman (vaudvillian).

Now, the vast majority of band members are very well-rounded, but there’s a small minority that just eats, lives, and breathes Marching Band. That’s their social circle - those are the parties that they’re going to go to, those are the people that they’re going to eat with, and they just live and die each week according to what is happening in practice and on the field. These are the people who enjoy band camp (sure, I want to spend a full week in uncomfortable, crowded conditions with lousy food to rehearse a pre-game, songs, and traditions that we went over my Freshman year - OK, OK... there’s the occasional individual who just sees it as an opportunity to drink all week... I’m not judging). They’re the ones who come back for every reunion, as opposed to the occasional five-year or ten-year cycle.

I’ve been friends with more than my fair share of Allyson Hannigan wannabes, but even when you’re part of that inner circle there’s something that is just a bit off about the way that they look at the world. Specifically, they start thinking that the Band is more important than it really is... as if the tens of thousands of people who show up on Saturday do so because we have that awesome 270-degree left turn when setting up the pre-game counter-march. They get really emotional about the slightest of remarks about a show that didn’t work, or a song that doesn’t play well in the stands. They develop an us-against-the-world mentality where others just can’t understand what an amazing experience we’re all going through, and all the other students and fans are just a secondary piece of what the Band is doing. In short, they get very clique-y, and very protective of their role and their traditions.

So, anyway, some of the feedback on #bigtwirl brought me back to those days and those attitudes and it just kind of left me scratching my head at times...

You crossed the line by stating the twirlers are worthless. Especially since you are a college band alumnus you were on the inside and know the uphill climb bands have had for respect.

Uphill climb bands have had for respect? This is an activity that we freely choose to take part in. Most of our fans love us - thousands watch our shows, they sing and clap to our music, they slip us beers when we play the fight song at their tailgate. I mean, I get that maybe in junior high or high school the jocks might have picked on you, but you’re in college for goodness sake. My dorm friends liked to play “find GTom” like it was some grand scale version of Where’s Waldo. Again, you CHOSE to do this. In fact, you are probably paying tuition for the right. Aside from the occasional marshmallow attempt at the Sousaphone “basket” and the rare encounter with terrible opposing fans, does anybody feel disrespected as part of a college marching band? I realize that not everybody knows how much work goes into each week (which is one reason why I started this column), but DISRESPEKT? What do you want or expect that you’re not getting?

[Also, for the record, I never said twirlers were worthless. After pointing out that they work hard, I talked about how they were “talented”, “flexible”, and “graceful”. My view was that they just don’t fit what bands are otherwise trying to do on the field, which is create unique visuals through collective action. Of course, that would have required reading and comprehension, though, which Twitter is apparently not conducive to.]

Band is a family and that doesn’t mean just instrumentalists. It means majorettes and color guard too. We welcome all talents and elements of the band culture and that is why record numbers of students are flocking to bands each year. We will always celebrate & welcome majorettes

Family? No. There are hundreds of people in band, and it only takes place during one season - maybe basketball band if you want to carry it over into the Winter. There were probably just as many band members that I would like to choke on a given day as I would consider close friends, and it’s a small miracle on the part of wonderful directors, drum majors, and other student leaders that things didn’t come to blows at times. We’re part of a special music ensemble. We make beautiful music, work together to create some interesting visuals to accompany the music, carry some wonderful traditions to the football stadium and beyond, and of course make a few really good friends along the way, but that’s not family. When practice or the game is done, we go back to our dorm or apartments and do all the other things that normal college students do. It’s not like Drum Corp International where you’re literally living with your band mates all summer and touring the country for the sole purpose of competition. Let’s not get carried away about our relationship with our fellow band members.

[Also, feel free to check out my article on color guard if you’re going to get so worked up about it As for twirlers, well, a lot of great bands (like Ohio State) don’t have them. They certainly don’t play a role in competition Band, so... no... if you want to focus on some really good groups that help to define the best of what Band can be, twirlers are not part of that picture. Don’t like that? Write your own Fan Shot.]

So do us all a favor. Ignore this article. Don’t read it. Don’t share it. Don’t tweet at them. Let them bash us. It’s not worth your time nor energy. We all know feature twirlers are going no where.

Haha! Joke is on you! For one week, my dinky little niche column actually led the site in views! Of course, I was paid absolutely nothing for my efforts, because you know I just do this for the hell of it, but thanks for the publicity, I guess.

Anyway, yes Band is a lot of fun and its worth the effort. However, it’s just one part of well-rounded college life for its members. Not all of us like Baton Twirlers, and no I don’t feel like a traitor to the cause or a horrible person for saying that out loud. If you’re a proud Twirler, you keep being proud and shouldn’t really care what I think. If you can’t put that in perspective, you might be taking band too seriously.


Are you going to join Crabby Mary at the next Twirler practice?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    I’m bringing beer
    (32 votes)
  • 32%
    I’m older than 40, so it will be extra creepy
    (53 votes)
  • 19%
    Is it too much to ask that they just learn to juggle, instead?
    (31 votes)
  • 28%
    I’ll be too busy watching the cheerleaders
    (47 votes)
163 votes total Vote Now


Unfortunately, there isn’t much video this week from the conference bands in action, but we do have some snippets from Michigan, MSU, and Purdue.


I apologize, as this video has been up for a few weeks, but I mistook it for a pure public service announcement and didn’t realize that portions of a show were buried within. For their Sept. 15th show, the Wolverines encouraged all of us to go out and vote through a recitation of quotes and performances of portions of the Beatles’ “Revolution”, Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”, something I couldn’t quite pick out, and John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Obviously, this is a pretty tough show to follow with the video coming back to graphics and the announcer talking over most of the music, so I don’t have a whole lot to say other than it was pretty simple word drill with a few patriotic twists and the music sounded cohesive. You would have thought this might be a bit closer to the election, but I’m in the Chicago area, so I guess vote early vote often applies.

Michigan State

For their game against Central Michigan, the Spartans gave us a rendition of several Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame artists and their tunes. Specifically, we start out with James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, transition to Elvis’s “All Shook Up”, and then finish with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Living on a Prayer”. Michigan State is always one of the top tier musical groups within the conference in terms of tone, cleanliness, cohesion, and the ability to successfully carry both melodies and big hits, and much of that was on display during this performance. However, this time the whole show just felt kind of flat. As I said a few weeks ago for Minnesota’s rendition, it’s just incredibly hard to replicate the funk of “I Feel Good”, and MSU’s sound was just way too technical and pristine to match up to the Godfather of Soul. Same thing for Elvis and Bon Jovi, although those arrangements were a bit more indicative of their musical source. I did enjoy the low voices (trombones and baritones) carrying a solid verse in “You Give Love a Bad Name”. Drill was also pretty good and continuous throughout... the Michigan State “S” in Elvis was a cute touch. Overall, a solid performance by the Spartans, but maybe not quite as strong as some of their other shows.


For the game against Boston College, Purdue honored their 150-year anniversary by celebrating the College of Science with various science-themed tunes. The All-American Marching Band started out with Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” with drill culminating in a nice “smoking” beaker. We then get a park n’ bark piece featuring the dance squad to Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded me with Science”. This was followed by a variety of TV themes to “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, “Big Bang Theory”, “Dexter’s Laboratory”, and the “Jetson’s”. I have to say that the drill “Dexter” and “George Jetson” shapes were pretty doggone good... I’m kind of impressed that they’re that complex and yet that clear. Finally, the AAMB closed out the show with the theme from “Back to the Future” featuring DeLorean drill... because if you’re going to do time machine drill, you might as well do it in a DeLorean. Although something didn’t seem quite right in the microphone, the music was great throughout - very clean, very cohesive with some nice hits in the right spots. This was a fun, complete show from the AAMB.

And yes, I did notice the twirlers at spots... no matter what my other views on the subject are, I will never deny that the ladies work hard (and at least Purdue features a full squad instead of just a solo artist).


I know from seeing it personally that Northwestern performed a nice Disney show (my three-year old niece loved it), but we’re still behind a few weeks of video for the ‘Cats. I did see video for PSU’s joint performance of various broadway hits that included students from the music theater program, but I’m going to hold out for the Blue Band’s official video, which is usually of higher quality. A lot of teams were off last week.


Twirler hate feeds us, but you should probably chill out (or at least actually, you know, read the article) before you get into a twitter war with General Sherman. Michigan did their patriotic duty, Michigan State rocked out to a few legends, and Purdue got weird with their science.

Finally, I’m just going to say that I’m ashamed to remember when this was cool and the height of its popularity (1984 was a good summer if you were in the Detroit area). I doubt they ever thought it would be part of a pro-vote marching routine. Also, damn... that’s Niedermeyer?