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Off Beat Empire: You Can Never Really Go Back

Yet, some alumni do every year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 15 BYU at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First, apologies for not writing last week. I was driving back from my twirler-safe compound in the U.P., trying to enjoy the last remnants of livable weather before ice fishing.

I did, however, come back just in time for a big personal 25th Anniversary - the 25th year since I graduated in which I once again did not join Northwestern’s NUMBAlums in Homecoming festivities.

Why not? Well, for starters I left my saxophone (which I finally re-padded so I can play in a local town band named after my deceased Uncle) in the U.P. However, beyond that, even as somebody who writes a Band column on a football site every week, I’ve always just felt that was kind of a part of my life that was fun while doing it, but not really that important for me to go back for. Sure, it would be nice to see how a few old friends are doing, but I already had old friends sitting next to me in the stands and I suspect that the few folks who I would really want to run into aren’t the kind to come back, themselves.

Fortunately, not every alum is as lazy as myself, and alumni bands throughout the conference are pretty interesting and entertaining around this time of the season. Most, of course, take things pretty easy and just join for a nice little park n’ bark with their flip folders (because we’re too old for phones) and let their kids marvel that their parent once played the flugelhorn when they were young. A few of the more brave ones will try and show that they can still high-step to pre-game, and that usually leads to at least one person being carried out on a stretcher. Apparently, any 70+ year-old drum major / twirler deciding to toss a baton can really enrapture audiences throughout the conference (light it on fire, you cowards!).

Ohio State basically lets their alumni take over halftime and finishes with a quad script Ohio - that is quite an impressive showing, and they don’t even wait until homecoming... they just do it for one of the early non-con games.

All of this is fun, but it led me to think about what role alumni play in the various marching bands, and whether or not we could, or even should be doing more for our various schools.

At Northwestern, I can’t really say that alumni have played much of a prominent role in the organization over the years, and maybe that’s a mistake. Staff are hired from other schools for their roles and students provide almost all of the organizational infrastructure for the year. Alums don’t really come back and get involved in any of the recruiting, training, or organization of the Band. There is an alumni organization that does send e-mails from time-to-time and occasionally I see something that might actually help the Band, like a drive to establish some scholarship money for things like travel pre-season for Band Camp and for Bowls. However, it seems that most efforts are geared toward recruiting alums for homecoming, and then occasionally some fundraising for the organization, but I don’t really see sustained solutions that will help in the long run.

In the meantime, NUMB has five Sousaphones. Five. That’s one more than 2019, but still less than my senior year in high school (and I did not go to a big high school) and about a third of what I counted in a clip that MNWildcat posted earlier this season from a little over ten years ago. [MNW note: I was one of...11? the 2011 NUMB.]

We can blame the Director, we can blame smart phones (at least according to Fitz), we can blame academic pressure, we can blame today’s lazy youth (as opposed to our super awesome generation that is better than all others)... I’m sure there are a thousand different things that contribute to the great purple Sousaphone die-off, but maybe most of all we can blame a kind of apathetic collection of people like me who don’t tell their school that Marching Band is important and we’re ready and able to provide donations, time, and other resources to try and help build and sustain the organization.

I get the impression that it’s not like this at all of the other schools in the conference. Just looking at Ohio State’s alumni band, you can tell that there is a lot of pride and resources in that organization to pull from. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a very active alumni presence at places like Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue as well. My guess is that when these schools need new uniforms, an updated practice facility, someplace to perform before the games, some money to get to a key neutral site / Bowl game, they’ve got folks ready-and-able to step up and help them with what they need.

However, at Northwestern, I’m more likely to get a donation request from the athletic department to “buy a ticket for a band member” to the Bowl game than I am to be contacted by an actual Band booster organization, and I suspect that reality is similar at places like Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, and Indiana.

Anyway, I am curious as to what other B1G Band alums here have to say about their organizations and alumni involvement, and whether or not you have some good tips and activities that might help restore the purple Sousaphone player to the wild.


Marching Band Alumni are great for...

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Twirling batons
    (2 votes)
  • 60%
    Reminding the young to carpe diem, as they will look like this in ten years
    (47 votes)
  • 24%
    Opening wallets
    (19 votes)
  • 12%
    Adding a few more Sousaphones for those bands (cough) that need them
    (10 votes)
78 votes total Vote Now


I’m kind of covering two weeks given that I missed last week. It’s probably a good thing given that the non-con games have stopped and many teams took a bye week - there weren’t that many shows in the past two weeks.

Win: The Ohio State University Marching Band, Oct. 9th “Music by Rush”

Damn it Buckeyes. I hate Rush. I freaking can’t stand them. I can’t stand the fact that people actually think they are good. I would rather listen to a dentist drill continuously for a half hour than have to listen to a set of Rush songs on the radio. My brother was shocked to learn that it was, in fact, a male singer featured by this group.

I so... so... so... badly wanted to mark down the Buckeyes for bringing this musical monstrosity to the field. But... ehhhh... they sound good. What can I say, if I didn’t know that it was Rush, I probably would have enjoyed the show. Drill features all of the classic stick-figure motion that we have come to associate with Ohio State, but they did some pretty neat merge drill on XXY [MNW note: A WHOLE SHOW ABOUT KLINEFELTER’S?!?!?!] and few other elements as well. As a marching band show, it just works.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about rock selections. I get that it’s a lot easier to translate certain groups to band music, which is why you get anything Motown, the Beatles, Queen (several tunes in the shows below), Elton John, and a few others (like Rush) featured on a regular basis. I think Band Directors are also of a certain age, and we tend to play the soundtrack of their youth. But just pull up Wikipedia’s list of some of the best-selling albums of all time, and ask yourself, why can’t a Marching Band bring some of these to the field? Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” would be fantastic, or “Dark Side of the Moon”. I think I heard “Money for Nothing” from Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” last year, which was great. How about some Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” or Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” (it’s there for the taking, Rutgers)? These are all albums that sold over 20 million copies.

Where is Rush? Their best album sold 4 million copies. That’s it. They’re 88 (per Wikipedia in 2005) on the list of best-selling artists. Let’s get to the other 87, first.

(And some of you thought I was stirring up controversy with the twirlers... I can’t wait to see the Rush hate mail that I get!)

Anyway, nice job OSU, but pick a better group next time.

Place: Purdue Boilermakers, Sept. 25th “Tribute to Healthcare Workers”

This is a little bit of dated video, but I don’t always get something on Purdue and the show was pretty good. As usual, Purdue sounds incredibly clean throughout, especially their trumpet voices (I think Purdue has the best trumpets in the conference). There were some good individual performances, including a saxophone / flute duet (not typical) and a great vocal performance by Dr. Twana Harris accompanied by Victoria Knotts on piano. Purdue, of course, was busy harboring Iowa City and otherwise off for the past two weeks.

Interesting fact (not necessarily fun), the first doctor to get infected with Covid in the United States was Ryan Padgett, who was a Northwestern Offensive Lineman on the 1995-1996 Big Ten Winning squads. He almost didn’t make it, but luckily he was back on the field on Saturday as part of the 1996 team’s 25th reunion.

Show: Mighty Sound of Maryland, Oct. 9th “Today’s Hits”

The Mighty Sound of Maryland wasn’t really in (football) action these past two weeks and normally I wouldn’t include these shows, but they did post some YouTube video for what I assume was a local band competition where we got much better sound (and a better video angle) for what I think was a piece of their show three weeks ago (or it might be a preview of what we’re going to see in a week or two).

I thought this sounded and looked great. The music is perfectly clear and everything is clean. Of course, it helps that they have a few really good field level microphones to work with (it’s amazing how the quality of sound equipment on video can influence what you think of a performance), but still, every little melody comes through clear and the music has to sound good to begin with for the microphone to work its magic.

Honorable Mention: Northwestern University Marching Band, Sept. 25th “Flight”

This show is also a little bit dated, but we finally get some video on the ‘Cats in action and I wanted to show it. I know that I pick apart some shortfalls for Northwestern from time-to-time simply because that is what I know best, but I want to say that I am proud of those that do take the field. It took them a while to get into full form, but this was a pretty good, complete show and I often feel like Northwestern does more with less than some of their larger counterparts.

Still, save the purple Sousaphone.

Honorable Mention: Minnesota Golden Gophers, Oct. 16th “Video Games”

What can I say, I’m a sucker for video games. However, this did make me feel old, because I was expecting old school Mario Brothers or something, but the only thing from my era is Tetris. Other entries included Skyrim, Halo, and Pokemon, all of which are after my time. I loved the show, but something seemed to get edited out (probably for copyright reasons). Minnesota would have really impressed me if they had made that row disappear for Tetris.

Other Good Shows

Indiana Marching Hundred, Oct. 16th “L.E.O.”

I’m happy that I’ve been able to get video on Indiana for a few weeks now. A tongue-in-cheek play on songs involving “Love” in the title for Tom Allen’s motto. I wonder if that motto is wearing thin, yet, given the Hoosiers’ performance for the year...

Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Oct. 9th “Flying Part 2”

Much of this is actually a repeat from a few weeks ago, but I think Rutgers added a tune or two toward the end (basically from “Wicked”). A good show, but still a repeat.

Wisconsin Marching Band, Oct. 16th “Panic! at the Disco”

OK, I’ll admit it. I know just about nothing of “Panic! at the Disco”. What is it, some sort of pop crooner group? Anyway, if you like them, Wisconsin is playing it. Unfortunately, this was the best angle that seemed to be available.

Did not Play, Coach’s Decision

PSU, MSU, Maryland, and Michigan had byes or were on the road for the past two weeks. Even though we got some video from Northwestern, they did a full Broadway musical show for this past week at homecoming that isn’t posted yet. I don’t have anything updated for Iowa or Illinois, and Nebraska is still a no-show on YouTube.


Alumni need to stretch more before that high step. Crowds like to watch old people twirl batons (sigh). I’m anti-social, and should probably do more for my ‘Cats. Rush sucks, and if you don’t think that, you are either Canadian or wrong (but I repeat myself).



This poll is closed

  • 20%
    (18 votes)
  • 14%
    (13 votes)
  • 64%
    Neil Peart stands alone.
    (57 votes)
88 votes total Vote Now