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Off Beat Empire: Pre-Game

Hype!!! Tunnels!!! Drum Majors Doing Weird Things!!!

Notre Dame v Michigan State

The main focus of this column each week is on the individual halftime shows that are performed. However, if you were to ask average fans or band members what the most memorable part of the band’s performance, more often than not you’ll probably end up talking about pre-game.

What makes pre-game so special? Well, it’s high energy... it’s the early 20th century equivalent of a hype video before video screens had even been invented. It’s the band’s attempt to take all the jitters, all the anticipation, all the home-field bravado of a big match-up and distill it down to ~10-15 minutes of singing, clapping, and cheering.

At one point, I thought that I was going to do a preview of each school’s individual pre-game performance, but the truth is that while there are a couple of key differences, they’re pretty much all a variation on the same theme, which we’ll demonstrate using one of MSU’s recent performances:

  • Entrance: Got a tunnel? Good. A chunk of your band is going to run out of it. Basically, you have a high energy, high speed run on to a drum cadence into a block.
  • The Fanfare: Everyone’s in a block... you stop... lift your instruments... and play some sort of a fanfare as loud as possible. If you didn’t have flags honoring the rest of the teams in the conference come out on the entrance, then they are probably working their way toward the front, now. The Drum Majors are probably being introduced and contorting their bodies in some way that will make everybody above 40 in the audience start to cringe.
  • The Moving Block: All right... you’ve announced your presence with authority. You maybe ease up on the volume and start the block moving down the field in perfect formation.
  • The First Logo: Whatever lead-in piece you were playing, right toward the end, the block starts to quickly transition to some form of logo to what is usually the second fight song, or second favorite school tune.
  • Be Nice to the Visitors: Thank the visiting fans for contributing to your sports fund with a rendition of their fight song. Make sure you don’t play it with quite the same enthusiasm that you reserve for your fight song.
  • ‘Merica: Patriotism on display (sadly lacking from MSU... bunch of commies).
  • Second Logo: OK, you’re serious now. You’re in your second logo playing your fan’s absolute favorite fight song.
  • National Anthem
  • Team Entrance: Welcome the team with the fight song.
  • Get the Hell off the Field: Drum cadence run off. Do your best not to collide with the opposing team. Find your way to your seats.

The vast majority of the pre-game will utilize a high step as opposed to the more common, more low key glide step reserved for halftime. 90 degree or higher turns are to be executed with a sudden snap. Your band probably has some stupid tradition that they think is super special to them (at Northwestern, every right turn during my era was really a 270 degree turn to the left... they don’t do it anymore). Almost no band will use music for this segment, and the good ones use spats so you can see feet up in the air for most of the performance.

So, how fun is it as a band member? Well, there is a certain pride, no question. Even at schools where you don’t need to try out for the band, because the drill is written for a certain number of students and they don’t change that based upon the band membership for that year, there is competition for a spot in pre-game. This wasn’t really pronounced at Northwestern when I was there, but I understand from members of other bands that you can basically challenge somebody for their spot with either the section or some larger group (i.e. whole band in some cases) deciding as late as Thursday as to who is going to march in that spot. Just being on the field can be an honor.

However, the real joy is the energy that you feed off of the crowd if it is a big game. If it’s a good match-up and the stadium is full, people can get really into the fight song and it’s one of the better crowd responses you will ever receive as a band member.

When is it not fun? When it’s at 11 AM, you’re in the midst of a six-game slump, nobody’s there, and the weather is bad. Basically, not all that much different from performing halftime, except halftime is at least usually something new for you as a band member where you can just enjoy being a part of an interesting ensemble. Pre-game, especially if you are an upperclassmen, might be the 15th+ time that you’ve performed the same show and can get boring after a while.

How hard to bands work on their pre-game? Usually, this will be the first thing that is nailed down during the preseason period (band camp!!!). The band will continue to practice the routine throughout the season, but it might just be for 40 minutes to an hour once a week... usually later in the week. You might do a few run-throughs on game day as well. Again, aside from perhaps the opponent’s fight song, the music is predominantly the same fight song that you play in the stands and will have thoroughly memorized a few weeks into the season.

Anything else to call attention to? Well, this is obviously when Ohio State does their famous script Ohio. The drill really isn’t that hard, but it does take practice to make sure that it is executed cleanly each time. I’m sure a few of the other bands will have their own unique item that they take pride in for pre-game (i.e. Indiana has Sing, Sing, Sing). Still, I think it’s fair to say that most bands stick to the formula above.



This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Never miss it. Gets me going at the start of the game
    (49 votes)
  • 18%
    I’m usually still tailgating at that time
    (14 votes)
  • 4%
    Dude... it’s an 11 AM game and I’m a student... I’m still sleeping
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Dude... it’s a 2:30 PM game and I’m a Wisconsin student... I’m still sleeping
    (0 votes)
  • 12%
    I passed out and never even made it into the stadium. How was the Twirler?
    (9 votes)
75 votes total Vote Now


First and foremost, take a look at some of the poor souls, or as weather would have it, “pour” souls performing for our enjoyment this week. The weather was miserable and yet a lot of bands were in action and completed a full performance despite downpours. Those Michigan uniforms looked like they were sopped... you guys need to get some rain gear for use during halftime. Anyway, I was able to get video this week for Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, OSU, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin.

Win: MSU Latin Jazz show (Oct. 26th)

The rest of the bands didn’t even have a chance this week. A top notch musical ensemble like MSU playing Latin Jazz? That’s pretty much going to be #1 on my list anytime that it happens. Music included “El Toro Caliente” by Marquina, Bernardino, and Antonio and “Malaga” by Stan Kenton. Just forget the drill for a second... literally just listen to this music independent of any visual reference. It’s being played on a wet night and it could be a studio recording... it’s that clean. Every punch lands a counter-punch. Every rhythm is perfectly placed. The drums are driving throughout with tons of little riffs and other activity. The full range of the ensemble is on display, with lower voices giving to mid voices giving to the trumpets, and vice versa. The solos are awesome. It’s just fantastic music performed on a grand scale. Then you throw in some really nice, well-executed drill that includes moving shapes like the bull... Magnifico! Bravo! The best show I’ve seen all year.

Place: Purdue Rocket Man (Oct. 26th)

A wonderful performance of Elton John music, including “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”, “Rocket Man”, “Crocodile Rock”, and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”. About two years ago, I started listening to a lot more Elton John music than I used to, it’s been fun hearing “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”, a piece that I think translates well to large ensembles, being performed by so many bands this year. As I wrote last week, there is a part of me that, while I enjoy these shows, has gotten a bit sick of seeing the exact same drill performed by all the groups, so when I figured they were building to a fire extinguisher driven rocket, I was very pleasantly surprised and entertained when they performed a jet pack in flight instead. The grand piano stick figure drill for the final numbers seemed to work pretty well, also. As is usually the case for Purdue, the sound is very clean and the arrangements are very well designed throughout to feature the full band. I also love how Purdue does a good job building contrast between softer lyrical moments and bigger hits, particularly in “Don’t Let...”. This was a well-executed, entertaining performance.

Show: Michigan We Choose to Go (Oct. 26th)

This show was Michigan’s take on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I couldn’t quite pick out all the music, but I assume that most of it was arranged from the most recent Neil Armstrong movie and you had other standards this year, like “Rocket Man”. I thought that the band sounded great throughout this performance, which is tough to do in a downpour, and the drill was very clean and well-executed. However, I will admit that with so many shows reviewed this year celebrating the landing, this one just didn’t have as much emotional impact for me as it might have if it was the only one. They’re also one of the few bands who did not do the unveiling of the flag on the lunar surface. I felt horrible for the band members as they spent time introducing the astronauts... holy crap did that look miserably wet. At least they were able to enjoy a nice crushing of Notre Dame. Still, it’s a really good show and very entertaining.

Honorable Mention: OSU Spongebob Squarepants (Oct. 26th)

I’ll admit it, the subject matter did not help their placing on the GTom list, but the Buckeye band put together an entertaining little show featuring various music from Spongebob Squarepants. Music sounded fine, but there weren’t any really great hits or melodies to play ... it was all just happy, brief “Fair” music that didn’t really give the band a good chance to stretch out to their full capabilities. Drill featured the usual OSU assortment of story-telling through pixelated figures, which is always a crowd-pleaser. The audience seemed to have a bit of fun with the theme and the show was entertaining, but I’m just not their target audience for something like this. Still, it’s worthy of highlighting as a Special Mention.

Others in Action

Minnesota 10 Years at the Bank (Oct. 26th)

In kind of an interesting topic, the Gophers performed music from various artists who have played concerts at TCF Bank Stadium since it opened. Music included everything from U2’s “Beautiful Day” to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” to There Might be Dragons “Believer”. I was a bit intrigued to hear a U2 piece... another example of an influential band that I haven’t seen translated to marching band music much in the past. The show certainly had its moments and the drill was decent throughout, so a nice performance by the Gophers.

Rutgers Various Eras (Oct. 26th)

Started by celebrating the 150th anniversary and then transitioned into music from the ‘70’s, ‘80’s, and ‘90’s. A reasonably good show with some nice moments. I haven’t quite made up my mind if I think the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” worked or not... it was an interesting combo of guitar and band, but I think the guitar might have been a bit too bright for a Guns N’ Roses piece. I do have to say that this is another instance of a major rock band that I’m hearing for the first time in a marching ensemble and part of me likes the fact that they tried something unique. Sound was very good throughout... clean with impact in the right places.

Wisconsin Modern Broadway (Oct. 12th)

There are actually a number of other older performances posted on the Wisconsin YouTube site in addition to this one, but I’m just going to add one for this week. I’ll repeat my comment from last week... it’s subtle as to what the differences are, but I think that drill has gotten much better this year with more movement and better use of the full field without just spreading out for spreading out’s sake. Sound seems to have improved as well. I’m still waiting to see my first curve out of the Badgers, but I’ll take progress.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

I still haven’t seen much video on Nebraska and pretty much zero video on Indiana this year. NUMB also hasn’t posted, but I saw their Earth, Wind, and Fire performance live and it was pretty good, but slightly abbreviated for homecoming. Most of the other teams were just on the road this past weekend.


Just hook up Latin Jazz to an IV and stick the needle in my arm. Sparty is awesome. Other bands sounded pretty good as well... I hope that they have dried out over the past several days.