We’re in the throes of football season, which means many of us are wearing our favorite team’s colors and pulling for them to win each week. But for some of us, the fun isn’t just about the game itself – it’s about the halftime show. Yes, I’m a band mom, and the main thing I care about on Friday night is that my son and his buddies have a blast in the stands and on the field.
Marching bands originated with traveling musicians who performed together at festivals and other celebrations. They became more structured through armies, forming the basis of the military band. That’s where today’s marching band emerged.
Marching bands and their music became increasingly popular in part through the work of John Philip Sousa, who led the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 until 1892. Sousa wrote many well known march tunes and began a tradition of take the Marine Band across the country for an annual fall concert tour.
Many military traditions survive in modern marching band. For example, bands that march in formation will be ordered to “dress their ranks,” they may be called to attention, and they might be given orders such as “about face” or “forward march.” The formations that they create on the field and the way they move from one to another are known as drills. Even their uniforms might still resemble military uniforms.
Some U.S. universities had bands before the 20th century. The first modern halftime show by a marching band during a football game was by the University of Illinois in 1907 at a game against the University of Chicago. That same year, the first marching band formation was the “Block P” created by Paul Spotts Emrick for the Perdue All-American Marching Band. He had seen a flock of birds flying in a V formation and decided that a band could make the same type of formations during its show.
The fight song was another addition to football games around the same time as the field show and marching in formations. Many of the more recognizable and popular university fight songs are used widely by high schools across the country, such as “The Victors” from the University of Michigan and “Victory March” from the University of Notre Dame.
Since the 1970s, many marching bands have also adopted changes that parallel developments with modern drum and bugle corps tradition. These changes include:
- Marching with a fluid roll step to keep musicians' torsos completely still instead of a traditional high step
- The adaptation of the flag, rifle, and sabre units into "auxiliaries" who march with the band and provide visual flair by spinning and tossing flags or mock weapons
- Moving marching timpani and keyboard-percussion into a stationary sideline percussion section, which has since incorporated many different types of percussion instruments
- The addition of vocalists and/or electric instruments
So – the next time you’re at a football game, be sure to enjoy the “stand tunes” the bands play during the game to keep things lively and encourage their teams. And maybe reschedule your trip to the concession stand so that it doesn’t overlap with the halftime show. Stick around to hear the bands’ performances and enjoy the show – you’re watching history come alive!