Marching Bands have been around as long as I can remember… Being twenty years old, I guess that doesn’t give me a lot of experiences to draw from, but it does show that I have been surrounded by marching bands for my entire life. The media tends to stereotype them all as “nerds.” Not everyone in the band is a nerd, and I personally consider myself pretty cool. I never realized the true history of the bands until I got to college. The alumni would come back and visit every homecoming; some elderly people even pulled out their old trombone to participate in the festivities! The pictures lining the hallway of the rehearsal rooms in the music school were taken far before my time. There was a long history behind MY band, and all the other ones in the country.
MY band is the Kent State University Marching Golden Flashes. It was started in 1919 as an all-male band. Soon after, the twin bands were introduced in 1940 after the band had proper uniforms for the women. By 1959, everyone was wearing the same uniform. In 1981 the Drum and Bugle Corps. Style was introduced to the band, and still used in performances today. Due to several budget cuts in the School of Music, the Marching Golden Flashes became a sitting band and played only in the stands at home football games. By 1993, the band was put back on the field, thanks to petitioning of active and alumni members of the band. Eighty years after the band started, KSU Bands celebrated, along with the largest marching band in our history! In 2013, the band made history, along with the football team by going to the GoDaddy.com bowl game in Mobile Alabama. Starting this year, we have two wonderful directors leading us to an even richer history that we will all be proud to leave behind one day.
A short video of what the Kent Bands look like NOW can be found here.
That’s where my band came from, but what about some of the oldest bands in the country? One band calls itself the “All-American Band,” and holds true to its name. It has been around since it was originally formed as a drum corps. back in 1886. That’s a 128 year old band! The band was originally made up of five people and attached to the military training at the university. If you haven’t guessed by now, that band is the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band. This band overflows with tradition and love for music. In the early years of the band, there was no director. There were a lot of changes happening until 1902 when the band had grown to fifty members, and finally in 1904 things became more consistent with the band as Paul Spotts Emrick attended the school as a freshman. Coming from a long line of musicians, he was easily elected president which made him director of the band. He continued in that position until 1954 when he retired. A lot of the band’s tradition still stands and is used in performances today. One of my personal favorites is the bass drum they have. It is the largest bass drum in the world, and they use it regularly in performances. I went to a band fraternity convention and my chapter had their picture taken with the drum.
If that gives you any idea of how big it is…about twice the size of my short 5′ 1″ person. Along with this huge drum of tradition, this band has had so many firsts. They carry all colors of the Big Ten schools, and were the first school to do that. They also were the first band to perform at the Indianapolis 500, which is a tradition that still goes on to this day. They also have an alumnus who has been on the moon – Neil Armstrong. Aside from playing in well-known American venues, such as Radio City Music hall, and being the first Big Ten band to play in the Macy’s thanksgiving day parade, they have gone internationally to play in Singapore, China in 2008.
More information on the Purdue All-American Marching band can be found on their band’s history page.
This is a long and rich history, much similar to older bands in the country. I love history and knowing where I’ve come from, and who came before me. I personally gained a lot of respect for bands once I learned their history. So many people worked so hard to make our bands what they are today. All of the directors, members, assistants and fans have encouraged the marching band community and helped it grow to be a part of football and a part of many schools’ traditions. Respect them and cheer them on. They’ve worked hard to be where they are today.