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Off Beat Empire: Batons don’t Belong

Duke v Florida State
OK, maybe fire makes it better...

For those who have read my work before, you’ll know that I am mostly about praising hard-working men and women of marching bands who entertain the average slob at a college football game. Everybody who takes the field has put in their time. Everybody practices. Everybody had to earn their spot. Everybody has the guts to step in front of 30,000+ people and perform. Everybody is equally miserable when they have to sit through November sleet with their team down 40 points. That said, somebody just doesn’t belong, and far too many Big Ten bands have them on their roster. I’m talking of course about the Baton Twirlers.

Marching Band is the ultimate team sport activity. You put 150+ people together, you make most of them dress in the same uniform, and it’s only when those members hit their spot at precisely the right time, playing precisely the right music that you get the kind of effect that makes a successful band. Sure, you might feature a soloist for bits of a song or two, or maybe even a whole show if they’re the right kind of guest. However, you don’t see the one piccolo trumpet marching and playing their own feature every time they are on the field. That would be just silly... one person doing their own thing for a whole show...

Well, apparently if you add enough sequins, a few leg kicks, a spin or two, and twirling metal rod, you get the one position in the entire band who just sorta does their own thing for the whole halftime. Are they leaders like Drum Majors? No. Are they making any unique music? No. Do they march in formation? No. They like to stand usually up front and perform their whole routine within a small little area. Honestly, they barely have a routine... most performing solo can simply improvise according to whatever the hell they feel like at the time. What is their purpose? I guess they do something to hide park n’ bark pieces, but most people watching them just want to see if they drop the baton or not. They’re talented. They’re flexible. They’re graceful. I’m sure most of them are beautiful, charismatic, and charitable people. Still, they just don’t belong.

When I was at Northwestern, we visited Iowa and had a great laugh at their Golden Girl. Then, a few years later... lo’ and behold...

There one was. Sigh

Anyway, a lot of Big Ten bands have baton twirlers. I don’t know where they come from. In some places, it’s a competitive process and considered an honor to become one (i.e. I’m pretty sure Iowa and Purdue). I still don’t get it. I would rather have a full troupe of talented jugglers than one, two, or three people just doing their own thing to the music.



This poll is closed

  • 88%
    Damn, GTom, you’re a miserable old fool - Golden Girl all the way!
    (2892 votes)
  • 2%
    Yeah, they’re kind of dumb, but those flames look pretty cool
    (89 votes)
  • 5%
    And I thought you hit a new low talking about the Color Guard...
    (195 votes)
  • 2%
    Prima donnas in sequins have no purpose - get rid of them
    (81 votes)
3257 votes total Vote Now


With the introduction of Big Ten play, we’re going to have far fewer home teams in action (meaning less halftime shows), but there were still a few good ones this week, including a few catch-up videos for earlier in the season.


For the game against PSU, the Illini started out with a reprise of the cinema show they previously performed at soldier field, including music from Star Wars and E.T. I love, love, love that this time when they formed E.T., they used their orange capes to light of the finger tip! However, the Illini added to their show by also performing music from Jurassic Park (including everyone’s favorite marching drill, the moving Thumpasaurus... er... T-Rex) and the theme from the Incredibles. I have to commend the guard... I hadn’t seen Illinois use rifles before, but that was a nice touch to add. The music was pretty good throughout, but unusual for Illinois, I felt like they lost a bit of cohesion during some of the transitions - they’re usually very, very clean. Of course, the Marching Illini finish with their Three-in-One routine. This was a good, full show with a lot of crowd-pleasing animation drill that was executed nicely.


We got two new videos posted for the Marching Hundred this week, one for the game against Ball State and he other against MSU. Unfortunately, Indiana’s format does not play nice with SB Nation, but can be found by clicking this link ( and selecting the appropriate show.

We’ll start with the 9-15 Ball State performance. The show begins with a red stepper (i.e. park n’ bark) version of Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. Next, well, let’s just say that all of you who picked N’Sync as being on my iPod last week were way... way... off. I don’t know anything about boy bands, other than after they split up somebody usually becomes an actor. We have a complete medley of boy band music, from which I recognized the Jonas Brothers “Doo-Wop” and one other theme that I have no clue the title of (or who performs it), and that is it. Indiana’s music is fairly clean, the drill is super simple, but I have to say that they really seemed to have hit a nice sweet spot with their crowd. Specifically, the dance (which was very well executed) got a ton of cheers, I could clearly hear the crowd singing along to the music, and there was a nice round of applause afterward. Marching Bands should be first and foremost entertaining, and there is no doubt that the Marching Hundred were entertaining.

The performance on 9-22 features a tongue-in-cheek take on various competition. We open with a static performance of the Olympic theme and then go into a Red Stepper feature to Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America”. I will take a moment to say that I just really liked the arrangement and musicality of this piece. It didn’t feature anything particularly difficult in terms of rhythm or range or anything like that, but the sound was excellent throughout and I was kind of impressed with Indiana’s musicianship. We next get a maze sequence with music that is incredibly familiar, but for the life of me I can’t figure out where it is from. Can anyone help me out on the theme (it’s going to bother me until I figure it out)? Things are made easier to “First Call” and “Yakkity-Sax”, but to no avail. Finally we get, a tuba toss following another theme that I can’t quite place and conclude to a race during “Sabre Dance”. Super simple stuff... a little immature picking on Purdue (which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon your perspective)... but overall some really nice, clean sound throughout the performance.

Ohio State

This week we get a large reunion show featuring well over 1,000 current members and alumni after a brief introductory show featuring “Fanfare for the Day” and “Good Vibrations” from the Beach Boys. In typical Buckeye fashion, we get an entertaining convertible top coming down and a fantastic surfing / wave sequence (although I have to admit... at first I was confused and thinking “the shark is going the wrong way”). Performances with the alumni include “A Few of My Favorite Things”, “Celebration”, and “God Bless America”, including a little bit of drill in between (mostly) the alumni frame. Finally, we conclude with quad Script Ohios, apparently featuring a 100 year-old “i”-dotter (good health to you sir, and many years to come). I can’t quite figure out why this isn’t done on Homecoming, but these reunion shows are apparently an annual event for the Buckeyes (and that is a LOT of alumni).


In our first view of Rutgers this season, we get a variety of hits from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, starting with Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” (I kind of liked the use of the guard for the “tv” portion of Mtv) flowing into a-ha’s “Take on Me”. The sound in both of these tunes was very crisp and the drill had a nice constant motion flow about it. I don’t know why, but I particularly liked the arrangement and sound for “Take on Me”... maybe it was the way that the end theme built up from the lower and middle horns. Next, we get a pairing of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”. Sound is a bit tough here, mostly because it is going away from us, but the drill looked good and from what I could hear the music was cohesive. Finally, we finish with a performance of Madonna’s “Vogue” (sans dance) and Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit”. Again, once facing the camera microphone, Rutgers demonstrated really solid sound throughout - I’m actually quite impressed with what they do musically on the field. The drill is no slouch either... that was a lot of different sets to go through over a six-song span, and frankly a more complete show than most B1G bands will perform over the course of the season. The only thing I don’t understand is the scatter drill between the pieces... maybe these are segments from prior shows that they combined or something like that? Also, Rutgers knows my jam...


What is the only song that GTom does NOT have on a CD?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Money for Nothing
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    Take on Me
    (12 votes)
  • 12%
    (18 votes)
  • 9%
    Addicted to Love
    (14 votes)
  • 26%
    (40 votes)
  • 36%
    Smells Like Teen Spirit
    (54 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now


For their show on 9-15, Wisconsin performed a number of different tunes from “Music Man”. This is probably the best-suited show that the Badgers could have performed... I mean, it features “76 Trombones” (which is likely literally true in this instance) and “Iowa Stubborn” - how is that not the most Wisconsin show ever?! Actually, in all seriousness, this kind of music is perfect for Wisconsin’s marching style... it’s energetic, it’s punchy, and it sounds fairly good throughout. Drill is typical Wisconsin with lots of lower-body movement and variations on a line either on or between a yard marker, but it is constantly in motion with very little park n ‘ bark. Toward the end, the Badgers are joined by their alumni for “Varsity”.


With the start of conference play, more bands are going to be off as their team takes to the road. We’re still a bit behind on video for a few, but nothing has popped up for the other schools this week.


Twirlers don’t belong (get off my lawn). Illinois reprised and expanded their cinema show, Indiana shared two new videos featuring boy bands and a cheesy take on competition with Purdue, OSU went big with alumni, Rutgers performed the classics of my childhood, and Wisconsin performed a tribute to a flim-flam man capable of fooling Iowans.

As I stated above and UCLA figured out a few years ago (although I think the position went away when this guy graduated), Jugglers are better than Baton Twirlers...