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Off Beat Empire: Thank You Sir, May I Have Another

I had a joke here, but this is a pretty dark topic... sorry...

Virginia v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

So, let’s talk a little bit about hazing and college marching bands. Why do I bring this topic up? Oh, no reason... no reason at all.

For some of our younger readers or those with short memories, this was actually a pretty big story about a decade ago. In November of 2011, a Florida A&M Drum Major by the name of Robert Champion decided to participate in what was referred to as a “crossing over” event. Basically, a band member would walk down the length of a bus with someone in front of them slowing them down as members on each side of the aisle would beat and pummel them. The beating would continue until the band member was able to touch the wall at the end of the bus. Unfortunately, Champion, who was only 26, died within an hour of completing his passage. A total of 15 individuals were eventually prosecuted for the event, with one individual receiving a sentence of six years and five months.

Of course, what happened to Mr. Champion was an extreme example, but there have been plenty of other hazing instances in our own conference as it relates to Marching Band. Just within my own memory:

  • In May of 1993, an individual at Michigan State filed a lawsuit over band members either pulling their own pants down, or pulling others pants down in public as well as assigning sexually explicit nicknames. I was actually working a camp with my former high school drum major who was a member of the Spartan Marching Band at the time, who explained that most of the activity originated from the drum line, and that in turn most of the individuals picked up their habits as members of a Drum Corps International competition band (I believe it was the Madison Scouts, but it’s been a while). Eventually, the court found in the student’s favor and awarded $100,000 in damages.
  • In October of 2006, the University of Wisconsin revealed details regarding various issues of misconduct ranging from females required to kiss each other in order to use restrooms on busses to upperclassmen “taking over” freshman female dorm rooms with alcohol and pushing them to drink. In some of the more colorful (although not fully explained) comments in the report, a bus driver once had to pull over and call the police on the band in 2004, and the school had to set aside a budget to allow the dance squad and cheerleaders to take a separate bus so they weren’t subject to harassment by the Band. Despite multiple attempts by the Director and Chancellor at the time to curb such activities, including a notice that the organization was “on probation”, some of the behavior continued and the Director suspended the Band from performing at (or attending - seats were sold to students) the game against Ohio State on October 4th, 2008.
  • In May of 2014, a parent made a complaint to Ohio State’s Compliance and Integrity division claiming that the Band’s culture was sexualized. A subsequent report revealed a variety of questionable traditions that included Midnight Ramp (a march into the stadium wearing only underwear, or less), sexualized nicknames, “Rookie Introductions” and “Rookie Midterms” meant to embarrass new members, sexualized songbooks, and an expectation of changing on busses in front of members of the opposite sex (the report does cite that this goes back to high schools, and I can confirm that this was pretty much the standard when I was in both high school and college). The report found that the Director knew or “should have known” (hmmm... where have I heard that before...) about certain inappropriate behaviors, and dismissed him as a result of the findings.

Google doesn’t seem to be telling me about other events before then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more that I’m just not aware of.

So, just how prevalent a problem is this? Well, three organizations out of 11, 12, 14, 18, still counting in 30 years isn’t anything to spit at, but there have been a few more comprehensive looks at the topic. Probably the most comprehensive study was prepared in 2015 by Jason Silveira and Michael Hudson that surveyed ~1,100 band members, and concluded that roughly 30% witnessed acts of hazing, but only ~4.4% actually reported experiencing hazing, themselves. Now, this is a bit problematic, because the study includes things like “sing/chant by self or with select others in public in a situation that is not related to an event, rehearsal, or performance” as potential hazing, along with “wear embarrassing clothes” and “being yelled, cursed, or sworn at”. I mean, yeah... that might not be the most pleasant experience for somebody sensitive to it and such things can definitely go too far, but that still seems to be a long way away from beating somebody to death on a bus or continually exposing yourself / being exposed. I’ve definitely been yelled at in Band, and sometimes, it was deserved and necessary to correct something that I was doing wrong. Still, 4.4% (where I assume respondents had a bit more of a filter with regard to severity) can be a lot.

Why does it happen? I don’t know... people are stupid and vulnerable. Bands are chock full of traditions, and when you throw in being away from home for the first time, not knowing anyone, hormones, and alcohol, it’s not hard for those traditions to start crossing some lines. Apparently, busses (the only transport known to bands) are also the root of all evil.

Did you see any hazing at Northwestern, GTom? You know, it’s funny, because a part of me knows individuals who I could have seen doing something inappropriate, but the reality is that I never really did witness or even hear a rumor about anything close to what I would call hazing. That said, I actually joined band late in my Freshman year after the first home game against Boston College (the only game I ever attended as just a normal student), so I missed “Band Camp” as a Freshman. The only three non-Bowl road trips I took were a day trip to Iowa and two overnight trips to MSU and Michigan, where I just stayed with my Parents (and hosted the whole Alto section for the Michigan game - that was fun). Two of those bus rides started before 5:00 AM, so we pretty much slept most of the ride. We were so awe-struck to be at the Rose Bowl, I don’t think anybody wanted to do anything too crazy, and it still all seemed pretty new for the Citrus Bowl the next year.

I actually probably experienced something closer to hazing when I was part of the High School band. Most of it was pretty stupid and primarily confined to Band Camp, but a few upperclassmen did make life difficult on newcomers by doing things like taking their nametag (which resulted in having to sing “I’m a Little Teapot” at meals). I wouldn’t call it hazing, but my mind was also opened (and not in a good way) when the guys in our cabin decided to light their farts for 2-3 hours straight one night.

Anyway... yes, hazing has existed in B1G Marching Bands and some of it was pretty disgusting. I wouldn’t call it a common problem, but it is there and something to be wary of if you’re connected to those organizations. If you’re a Freshman or somebody who feels vulnerable, just remember that this is a small sliver of what is going to be your overall college experience, and that you have dignity that deserves to be respected. Don’t let somebody ruin your experience, and don’t be afraid to speak up if somebody makes you uncomfortable.

Poll

Thoughts?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Assume the position
    (9 votes)
  • 26%
    It makes sense that [MSU] / [Wisconsin] / [Ohio State] is that disgusting
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    I was in one of those maligned bands at or near the time in question, and will share my thoughts below
    (0 votes)
  • 7%
    Yeah... hazing happens at our Marching Band, too, but it hasn’t made the headlines
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    Our Band is clean as the driven snow
    (6 votes)
  • 23%
    This one time, at Band Camp...
    (23 votes)
  • 29%
    Busses are an abomination and all bands should return to travelling by train
    (29 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now

Halftime

As a reminder, scoring rules can be found here. It’s amazing how many less shows there are to review when you don’t wait four weeks and we get into conference play (when only one Band out of two is usually in action).

Win: The Mighty Sound of Maryland (+9), Sept. 30th “Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration + Corazón Folklórico DC”

In case it isn’t readily obvious, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything Hispanic when it comes to Marching Band. I don’t have anything on my iPod, nor do I ever listen to Spanish language radio or anything like that, but throw those beats into a halftime show and it is pure magic (and if you get between me and a live Mariachi Band, I’ll cut you).

I really don’t want to take a stab at these titles, because even though the announcer is pretty clear, I’m not sure exactly what they are and I don’t want to butcher the names (if somebody wants to list them in the comments, I’m all ears).

Whatever the tunes are, they sound great. There’s a lot of interesting percussion, frequent back-and-forth between different voices, and plenty of little trumpet hits throughout. I especially liked the Puerto Rican arrangement that took place after the guest dance number - there was just a lot going on that was musically interesting and the tune just sounded so bright and fun. The guest dancers costumers were fantastic and they added some great color to the performance, but I get the impression that this is more their hobby than their profession (which is fine... not every cultural dance requires a degree from Julliard to be enjoyed). The student dancers were quite accomplished in their feature as well. Overall, just a fun performance featuring a great genre of music for Marching Band.

Place: University of Minnesota Marching Band (+6), Sept. 30th “Mound of Sound”

I must say, I have seen the Gophers do their Mound of Sound in previous shows, but for some reason, I guess I was just really “In the Mood” for it this time around. Apparently, so was the audience because they gave a few ovations. Other tunes included “Scream Machine” and “What is Hip?” before the Band was joined by the alumni for a few other pieces (including the “Minnesota March” and school staples).

The mound was fun, but what really impressed me this time around was the sound, which I thought was really clean. There was also some really good solo and small ensemble work that took place during the show. I see the rifles are back for the Minnesota color guard as well. They always look so sharp... I wish more Big Ten bands would use them regularly (I think Purdue does, but not too many others).

Show: All-American Marching Band (+4), Sept. 30th (I have no idea why they say Oct. 1st in the video) “Trailblazing Women”

Much like several other Bands this year, Purdue broke out anthems featuring or alluding to women, such as “Respect” and “American Woman”, in celebration of 50 years of having women in the Band (other than as a Twirler or Color Guard member).

As is usual for Purdue, the sound is great. Drill was a bit on the simple side, though... lots of words.

None of this is Purdue’s fault, but I am now two weeks into the 2023 season, and I can tell that I’m already getting annoyed by two shows, with this being one of them. We had a lot of 50th Anniversary of Title IX last year, and now we’re getting a lot of 50th anniversary of women in Band (which, BTW, was a direct result of Title IX and is probably the dumbest exclusion of women that has taken place in my parents’ lifetime). I understand, it’s a big moment, and it was nice to see the original ladies as part of that 1973 group on the field, but I’ve now seen it 10+ times in the past two years. This is why I assign point deductions for certain 50th anniversary themes (but I never seem to accurately predict the ones that the Bands are going to select that will eventually get on my nerves).

Others Receiving Votes

Mighty Sound of Maryland (+2), Sept. 15th, “Hip Hop Hits 50, Featuring Mawty Maw and Friends”

I am not hip with the hop, so when this video started out, I didn’t think I was going to particularly like it. However, as the show kept going on, I just kept warming up more-and-more to the performance. At the end, I almost decided to list this as an Honorable Mention.

I couldn’t name you a single tune that was performed. I don’t know if the music was unique to the feature guest, Mawty Maw, or not. I have no clue if Mawty Maw is a real thing on the hip hop scene, or if he’s just some guy who the Band brought in for this performance. He’s no Dr. Doreen Kitchens, but I will say that his performance was infectious and he was really putting some effort out there to spice things up. The use of auto-tune added a very unique flavor as well.

The Band sounded really good. Everything was clean, they didn’t overpower Mr. Maw’s performance, and they had some nice little instrumental licks that got dropped in. The drill was simple, but still covered an appropriate amount of steps. In the end, it felt like something a little different that was well-executed, and I’ll give the Band props for pulling it off.

Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band (+2), Sept. 30th, “Divas”

First of all, congrats to Nebraska for also having the good sense to shift to T-Shirts versus a full uniform on a hot day. After seeing more-and-more of these videos where schools are starting to make sensible decisions about what Bands should be wearing during hot weather, I think it’s becoming obvious that strict adherence to traditional heavy uniforms doesn’t really have an impact on the quality of the show. Full uniforms are quite dangerous to the students, and more Bands need to wake up to the fact that they should be using alternatives.

Nebraska gives us a performance featuring prominent female artists, including Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and the late Tina Turner. As usual, the performance sounds good and the Band looks very clean. They do practice some stadium equity, though, so not all of the sound is coming to the camera.

Again, this is nothing against Nebraska, but this combination of Beyonce and Taylor Swift is also getting old after reviewing for the 5th+ time already. My guess is that this was the publisher special for this year, and about half the Bands in the nation bought it. I also wish more Bands would feature “What’s Love Got to Do With It” when celebrating Tina Turner. Yeah, “Proud Mary” is great, but that’s a CCR tune to me whereas “What’s Love...” is 100% Tina.

Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision

Iowa posted an intro video that leads me to believe that they played their own Metallica show this week, but I unfortunately don’t have video of the show, yet. Hopefully, it will get posted next week. Northwestern played a reprisal of their Earth, Wind & Fire show with one additional tune. I dunno... we’re in the fifth game of the season and one show was Band Day and two were repeats (plus one song). I will admit, I’m a little disappointed as an alum. I hope that they bring something better for Homecoming.

Poll

Reader’s Poll: Best Show of the Week

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Maryland "Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration + Corazón Folklórico DC"
    (26 votes)
  • 15%
    Minnesota "Mound of Sound"
    (9 votes)
  • 24%
    Purdue "Trailblazing Women"
    (14 votes)
  • 5%
    Maryland "Hip Hop Hits 50, Featuring Mawty Maw and Friends"
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Nebraska "Divas"
    (5 votes)
57 votes total Vote Now

Updated Standings

Last Week’s Readers Poll Results

Early on, it looked like most of you were as excited as me to see a Metallica show from Maryland, and they were pulling an early lead. However, over the weekend, it seems like a lot more folks starting looking at MSU’s performance with Dr. Doreen Kitchens, and the Spartans started running away. MSU’s “New Orleans” show got 82 (30%) of the votes and earns an additional six points (double given how many shows were features last week). I’m not surprised... I came very close to putting them first, myself.

Last week’s poll was also worth a rare additional three points for second place in votes, given how crowded the field was. Again, I thought that Maryland was going to take this out of the gate, but while they ended up toward the top, voting became more dispersed over time, with Ohio State, Illinois, MSU’s other show, Rutgers, and Wisconsin all receiving a fair amount of fan support. Ultimately, Purdue’s “Stranger Things” show (also featuring Metallica, I might add) took the Reader Poll silver with 25 (9%) of the votes and is awarded three bonus points.

Updated standings, pending this week’s Reader’s Poll

Current Standings

School Week One Week Two Total Average
School Week One Week Two Total Average
Ohio State 21 0 21 10.5
Michigan State 20 0 20 6.67
Purdue 15 4 19 4.75
Maryland 4 11 15 5
Michigan 10 0 10 2.5
Minnesota 2 6 8 4
Penn State 8 0 8 2.67
Nebraska 4 2 6 2
Iowa 5 0 5 2.5
Indiana 4 0 4 2
Wisconsin 4 0 4 2
Illinois 3 0 3 1.5
Rutgers 2 0 2 2
Northwestern 0 0 0 N/A

Conclusion

Band is fun, but not perfect. Don’t let a few meatheads bring your organization down.