If you happen to be registered for a class called MUSI 100: Band this fall, then your first week on campus is guaranteed to be wildly different than everyone else’s. It varies a little depending on if you are a percussionist, an auxiliary member, or an officer, but it’s always a memorable week for everyone. I want to share my annual marching band experience from the perspective of a bell player on the drumline.
Your first move-in day: your first real day of your college experience and possibly one of the most terrifying days of your whole life. I’m not going to tell you that mine wasn’t bittersweet, but something happens when you arrive that makes you focus more on what’s ahead than what you feel like you’re leaving behind. For percussionists, it’s a day jam-packed with driving, getting your room key, mail key, and ID card, unpacking, frantically trying to get organized, and running off to Pew to see why the band director possibly needed you two days before the rest of the band arrives. (Side note: if you do move in on Wednesday as a percussionist or band officer, they don’t feed you lunch. Make sure to bring either food or money to grab fast food in town.)
A more important side note: The College is known for having Orientation Board, or OB, help freshmen move their things from their cars to their dorms, but it is also known that band students do not get this luxury. Fortunately for freshmen starting in 2017, the band has developed its very own Band Orientation Board, or BOB! You can expect members of BOB to help you as you arrive for your first day of band camp.
When you do arrive in Pew, it seems intimidating at first. The drumline is instructed to meet in the Little Theater, which is a small black box theater in the bottom corner of Pew Fine Arts Center. (Don’t worry, there will be signs in Pew and people who can tell you how to get there). Once you get there, you’ll be bombarded with new faces; there are generally around 20 people in the drumline, as well as our instructor/hero, Mr. RJ Heid. The drumline always consists of a mixture of new students and “veterans,” or students who have been in drumline before. The new students are generally a mixture of freshmen and upperclassmen music majors who have to take one semester of marching band. After you arrive, you are soon sent out into the hall while Mr. Heid hears everyone play in order to determine who plays snare, who plays bass, who plays tenors, who plays cymbals, and who plays mallets. If you play mallets here for multiple years like my section-mates and I have, eventually he stops testing you when you arrive and he just assigns you to mallets, no questions asked.
I affectionately refer to the nine-hour-long pre-band-camp intensive drumline rehearsals from Wednesday to Friday as Percussion Camp. Being the backbone of the band and providing necessary rhythm for each piece, the drumline has to have a solid basic understanding of each piece before the woodwinds and brass even arrive. Even though it’s draining, this is the time when members of the drumline first bond. We eat together in between rehearsals, get a pizza party after rehearsals, and on Thursday afternoon, we take time from rehearsal to actually introduce ourselves in an environment that has ceased to intimidate us.
After percussion camp “ends” (it never completely ends; the drumline still spends a lot of time perfecting pieces in the Little Theater while the band rehearses on stage) and the band arrives on Friday, we all get welcomed with a hamburger-and-hotdog picnic outside of Hicks Dining Hall. On different years, this has been followed by different things. During my first two years, we met on stage to start sightreading music on Friday night, but last fall, we went out to the marching field for the first time. I think it depends mostly on the weather.
Saturday is the first day of full band camp. That’s right, out in the sun, with your bells and harness on, learning the drill, learning the music, and getting that nice socktan that everyone loves. When I’m still struggling to learn the music, I can’t imagine how I will be able to play it and march at the same time, but once the time to multitask comes, it’s all just second nature, and I find it to be less stressful than the days in the Little Theater.
On the final night of band camp, we all go down to the actual football stadium (as opposed to the band practice field) and run through the show in its entirety. Parents and friends are invited to come see how our hard work has paid off. After this final rehearsal ends, the band holds a talent show in Pew’s Ketler Auditorium as a time to just relax, have fun, and see what your peers can do other than march, play, and be exhausted. It’s quite impressive.
Kennywood, Freshman Convocation, and On With Our Lives
Another time that we get a break from band camp is when we take a trip to Kennywood for a day. We still typically practice on the field before lunch, but we spend the afternoon and evening riding rides and marching in a short parade.
The one final push between band camp and the start of classes happens on Thursday morning (one week after Percussion Camp). First, we all gather in Pew in our uniforms, line up by height, and get our picture taken out on the steps. Afterwards, we march over to the Wolverina in the Physical Learning Center to play for the Freshman Convocation. When I was a freshman, and I had to play to welcome my fellow freshman, I already felt as though I’d been at school forever, and that I was welcoming them to my new home. It’s hard not to think, “I didn’t get a long, sappy welcome speech when I arrived. I just had to go play!” but I wouldn’t have it any other way.