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Off Beat Empire: Thanksgiving and Marching Band

Want to really avoid travel hassles? Just stay home and play in the cold.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 19 Northwestern at Purdue
Give me one chance to hit this on senior day and I would absolutely destroy this drum
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the spirit of get-away day and the holiday, I figured I would keep things brief and just talk a bit about Marching Bands over Thanksgiving. This Saturday, we’re going to have at least half of the bands in action because of games taking place after Thanksgiving, and maybe another one or two traveling to a road venue because this is rivalry week. For those band members, unless their school is really close to home, that probably means that they’re not visiting with family and stuck on campus as their fellow students leave in droves.

For once, I can’t really talk about what this is like from a personal experience. Until football expanded to a 12-game format, most of the conference sorted out their schedule before Thanksgiving. I say most, because people forget that the Michigan Ohio State Game was traditionally a week later than everybody else wrapping up. I don’t know about Purdue and Indiana… somebody is going to have to clarify if the Old Oaken Bucket was served before or after Turkey. Nebraska historically had their Black Friday game with Colorado, but that was well before they joined a proper athletic conference. Aside from those few names, though, when Thanksgiving rolled around, Marching Band students were free to go home just like everybody else.

Although I could have left, for some reason I chose to stay on campus my Sophomore year, and I have to say that the dorm holiday experience is not a good alternative to home. You do get the pity turkey dinner in the one dining hall that the school leaves open, and I still laugh about the beer can that my eventual best friend tried to jerry-rig to open with a chord when I came through the door (it doesn’t work… there’s too much force and the tab just rips off). However, that near-empty campus experience combined with homesickness was strong motivation to learn how to get an Amtrak ticket for subsequent years.

Maybe it’s because I’ve elected to not travel this year to family for the privilege of watching Chase Brown set new career records against my ‘Cats (if he’s healthy), but I’m starting to feel bad for band members who are going to be stuck on campus this weekend. Sure, they too will probably gather for a pity turkey dinner and platitudes about how they’re all “family” will be spoken. At the end of the day, though, nothing is going to replace Grandma’s secret sweet potato recipe and getting back to your real family and hometown friends.

Is it right that they’re one of the few groups of students who can’t leave for the holiday? I guess you know what you’re getting into when join Band. Maybe if I was a member of the Michigan or Ohio State bands, I might be willing to give up a trip home for that game. However, if I’m in NUMB, or the Marching Hundred, I would probably rather be at home. This Thursday and following weekend is going to kind of suck for some people, and a part of me is questioning if this is really necessary, or if schools should do more to manage around key holidays. Why can’t we wrap up the conference schedule before Thanksgiving? Does every team really need two bye weeks? Can’t we just start a week earlier? Do bands really need to be there if the team is already at double-digit losses (asking for a friend)?

Anyway, safe travels to everyone who is doing so this week, and if you’re going to a game like I am, maybe show a little extra appreciation for the band members who gave up their holiday to be there.


Thanksgiving and Marching Bands

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Suck it up, buttercup. You’re here to entertain me at all costs
    (20 votes)
  • 1%
    You are severely under-rating the quality of dining hall turkey dinners
    (1 vote)
  • 10%
    If you knew my family, you would rather be on campus
    (8 votes)
  • 19%
    Maybe we apply a mercy rule... if your team already has 7-8 losses, no band for that last game
    (14 votes)
  • 24%
    There is no greater glory than watching football in a comfy chair after consuming leftovers. Don’t you dare take games away from Thanksgiving weekend!
    (18 votes)
  • 5%
    Go back to 11 games so we don’t have to do this anymore
    (4 votes)
  • 10%
    Smarter scheduling. I’d rather have one more game in August than football on Thanksgiving weekend
    (8 votes)
73 votes total Vote Now

Pre-Game of the Week

This week, I’m going to review the Michigan Marching Band in their pre-game on Nov. 19th versus Illinois.

  • I can say from personal experience that Michigan’s tunnel is uniquely long and uniquely steep going down (Michigan Stadium is, after all, basically one big crater in the ground). It’s quite a trip to come through it with 150+ of your screaming friends.
  • High energy run-on. It took a bit less than 40 seconds to get there, so Michigan is is slightly less than 4 Minnesotas on entry time. That’s still ~10-15 seconds quicker than PSU and Illinois.
  • The arm thing is kind of weird. Does anybody have a backstory, or is it just one of those things of Marching Bands being slightly odd?
  • Beautiful spats.
  • Of course no conference flags. I wouldn’t expect Michigan arrogance to allow for such things.
  • Fanfare: I think it’s just microphone placement, but I don’t really get the wall of sound effect that I was expecting. Can anyone tell me if it is more powerful in the stands?
  • Fantastic drum major back bend.
  • The “M” marching down the field is fine, but kind of anti-climatic considering that you already come out in a “M”. I realize it’s a different “M”.
  • Play the Illini fight song... classy. A lot of boos from the crowd, though. Do you really get that worked up over Illinois?
  • “Varsity” was my high school fight song.
  • And we’re on to our third type of “M”. I’m sensing a theme.
  • A little bit of sound equity for “Let’s Go Blue”.
  • Kind of a clunky transition to the circles. Considering they were just going to Park N’ Bark anyway, I’m not sure why there isn’t a better shift.
  • Groan... Blues Brothers pun for a Blues (not “The” Blue) Band. Schmaltz lives forever through stadium PA announcers.
  • Ah, the old Ball of Band formation.
  • Silence for Virginia shooting. I haven’t been following that story, but it seems pretty ugly. Condolences to all who have suffered and are grieving.
  • ‘Merica honored.
  • Split “M” tunnel with the leaping banner greets the team.
  • March off to “Hail to the Victors” in a (surprise, surprise) “M” formation.

Another quality B1G conference pre-game.


Lot of senior days this week. Thanks to all those seniors who so generously dedicated their time to entertaining the fans. Scoring rules are here.

Win: All-American Marching Band (+9), Nov. 19th “Afternoon at the Opera”

Purdue sends their seniors out with a performance of Pagliacci, selections from Phantom of the Opera, and then shakes the theme up a bit with The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

There were some elements where other Bands this week maybe out-did Purdue, but I thought this was the best balanced performance between theme, sound, and drill. I haven’t heard a Purdue show yet that didn’t feature top-notch sound, and this show was no exception - a very clean and clear performance that had plenty of punch when called for. Ever since I first heard Indiana perform the same song in 1995, I’m always interested to hear how bands work through the acoustic guitar opening in “Pinball Wizard”, and I kind of liked Purdue’s feathered, nuanced approach using the trumpets. I liked some of the call and answer portions in the middle of “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well. Drill was solid with plenty of entertaining sets, and the dance squad earned their feature. A very entertaining show that I thought was the best mix of everything this week.

Purdue finished by honoring their seniors and letting them hit the drum.

Place: Illinois Marching Illini and Michigan Marching Band (+10 each), Nov. 19th, “Hans Zimmer”

Wow, that’s three team-ups in the course of one season. Usually, I only see one a year.

The Illini and Michigan give us various tunes from movies composed by Hans Zimmer, including Interstellar, Gladiator, The Prince of Egypt, and Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m kind of glad to see a movie composer show other than John Williams - there are a lot of other great film composers out there (although JW is great).

The sound for the combined performance is fantastic. It’s amazing that you can combine two bands and still have something sound this clear. However, those are both big bands on the field, and they played it pretty safe on drill. There were moments where I thought I was going to give this the first place vote, but I just didn’t feel like there was enough visual energy to carry it through. That said, I did like the Pirate ship and drumline sail “X”. The crowd seemed to love it.

Just to clarify scoring, this is +4 for Place, +2 for video, and +4 for combining bands.

Show: Michigan State Spartan Marching Band (+4), Nov. 19th “Senior Day”

I’ll admit that when the Spartans opened with “El Toro Caliente”, I figured this was going straight to the top with a win and bonus “Malguena” points. However, while I think this is by far the most musically interesting arrangement this week with a lot of neat licks and counter-melodies coming through, it just felt like the sound wasn’t as clean as normal. There were times where I felt that phasing came into play and you just had portions of the Band slightly off relative to others.

Still, even a slightly less than stellar performance by MSU has a lot of sound going for it, and the show was enjoyable. Drill was complex and interesting, but the whole performance was a bit shortened due to the Senior Day celebration. Had this been longer and a bit cleaner, I feel like the degree of difficulty alone would have carried the Spartans to the top, but ultimately I felt that Purdue and the Michigan / Illini shows were cleaner and more complete performances.

Others receiving votes

Minnesota Marching Band (+2), Nov. 19th “Stand Music”

I’ll admit, I’m a little confused on why Minnesota went in certain directions for this, but basically you have a fun little season recap video, the drumline performing their various cadences, and then the band joins for a rendition of “Mr. Brightside” and music from Black Panther. Somewhere toward the end, we go to an indoor playing of the “Minnesota Rouser”, which... why? Was that when they recognized seniors or something? Oh well... some unique choices on show and / or video composition, but I did really like the opening video. I thought it was a pretty good example of some of that performance energy that comes out when you’re in band.

Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2), Nov. 19th “Dragons”

This starts with a full senior day recognition, but I’ve fast-forwarded in the video to skip that portion. The recorder also notes that she picked the wrong side this time - I guess the Cornhuskers really do mix it up with their performances (which I salute). As always, I’m sorry about the angle, but thankful to the person who keeps posting these videos so we at least get a glimpse of Nebraska. This Dragon theme show ranged from the “Game of Thrones” theme to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” to music from How to Train Your Dragon.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

I did get another zoomed in video on a Rutgers color guard member, but I think it was a repeat from earlier in the season. Unfortunately, it was from the opposite side, and I felt a bit icky the last time I included a video that showed only one member (even if it is her family that uploaded it in the first place). Still, the Green Day portion seemed like they were repeating one of their earlier shows. Apologies if I’m not appropriately granting points. The other Band in action this past week was Maryland, but I haven’t seen anything uploaded for them, yet (and they’re usually pretty good about doing so this year).

Reader’s Choice


Which show was your favorite?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Purdue "An Afternoon at the Opera"
    (17 votes)
  • 35%
    Illinois and Michigan "Hans Zimmer"
    (20 votes)
  • 10%
    Michigan State "Senior Day"
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    Minnesota "Stand Music"
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Nebraska "Dragons"
    (1 vote)
  • 14%
    I can’t answer... I fell asleep on the couch after eating Turkey
    (8 votes)
57 votes total Vote Now

Scoring Update

They didn’t quite get the same 102 vote love that Illinois got two weeks ago, but Ohio State did get selected by 26% of you in the Reader’s Choice poll for their “Tribute to the Rolling Stones” show, giving them another three points. Four other schools got into double digit percentages with what appears to be some late-season party line voting (which is encouraged).

Constructor’s Cup Standings*

School Total
School Total
Ohio State 47
Michigan 42
Illinois 37
Purdue 34
Penn State 31
Minnesota 29
Michigan State 27
Maryland 21
Nebraska 19
Indiana 15
Iowa 15
Wisconsin 12
Rutgers 6
Northwestern 2
* Does not include this week’s Readers’ Poll

Performance Average Standings*

School Average
School Average
Iowa 7.50
Ohio State 6.71
Penn State 6.20
Illinois 6.17
Michigan 6.00
Purdue 5.67
Minnesota 4.83
Michigan State 4.50
Maryland 4.20
Indiana 3.00
Nebraska 2.38
Northwestern 2.00
Rutgers 2.00
Wisconsin 2.00
* Does not include this week’s Readers’ Poll

It’s a long shot, but things might have gotten interesting between OSU and Michigan for the final game of the season. If Michigan brings their band and performs a new / unique show, then they could have a shot. This week’s bonus points could play into the equation as well (and two band voting blocs have done well earlier this year). However, usually traveling bands (if Michigan is even traveling) just repeat a show, so Ohio State might have this wrapped up. With regard to average standings, Iowa will be disqualified if I don’t see more shows on YouTube by next week, so OSU is on top there as well. However both Michigan and PSU have a shot if they play and score good points next week. Purdue is done for the year, and I think Illinois is as well, but they might travel to Evanston for some reason (if they do, I’ll enjoy hearing them first-hand, but would feel sorry for them).