Toot for the U of M

The venerable tradition of Marching Band continues unabated.

Keri Carlson

For as long as anyone can remember, marching bands have had a nerdy reputation. With their genesis in military bands, the marching band is a wholesome, parent-approved activity steeped in tradition. Band members continue to wear spats – chunky white covers on their ankles – and sport cockatoo-like feathers on their hats. They play ancient rousers written by dead people and march in strict formations.

This veneration of tradition is precisely what gives the band such a dismal reputation. The success of the marching band is contingent on rule-followers.

The 1999 teen movie “American Pie” only served to reinforce the band-geek image. Its annoying flutist character repeats the line “This one time, at band camp” ad nauseam.

Asked about the portrayal of school bands in “American Pie,” University marching band tenor saxophonist Jeanne Boortz rolled her eyes and said she received plenty of flak after the film’s release.

However, subsequent to another recent film, the image of marching band members has taken quite a turn. “Drumline” made marching band seem fun, even exhilarating.

University Marching Band director Jerry Luckhardt said the movie definitely “Hollywood-izes” marching band. However, he also said “Drumline” accurately portrays the excitement and entertainment value of marching bands. Boortz and

mellophonist Miranda Bernhardt do not believe “Drumline” had much to say about the tradition of the University’s Marching Band, because it showcased a marching band from a historically black college where the form and aims of bands are much different.

Despite the differences, “Drumline’s” story has reinvigorated interest in marching bands. As proof, Luckhardt cites his experience of witnessing band members signing autographs for younger kids at the band’s recent concert in Rochester.

Perhaps this flashier new image is what has inspired Luckhardt to liken the marching band’s indoor concert at Northrop this weekend to a rock show. The concert will feature video, lighting effects and smoke machines all while the band marches down the aisles and fills the auditorium with vibrancy.

“I try to provide something for everyone,” Luckhardt said. “No matter how old or young you are or what music you like, you will find something enjoyable.” The concert will commence with classic rousers and patriotic marches, the same songs that have been featured in every indoor concert since the first one 42 years ago – the part of the program Luckhardt said he “can’t add or subtract from. It is what it is.” In the middle, Luckhardt switches things up by including a Blues Brothers medley, Glenn Miller selections, superhero theme songs and a section entitled “That 70s Music” which features Jackson 5 favorites and even Kansas’ “Point of No Return.”

The difference between the marching band’s regular gig at sporting events and this indoor concert is the primacy of the band itself. During games, Luckhardt said, “Our role and function is to provide spirit in support of the team; they’re the focus.” What makes the indoor concert special for the student members, Boortz said, is that “People come for the band and can actually hear what the music is suppose to sound like.”

It’s too soon to determine whether the cachet that “Drumline” provided to marching bands will stick. Perhaps another movie will create another band geek stereotype. None of that bothers the marching band or its director. Luckhardt said entire generations of family members come every year and there are quite a few die-hard fans who have never missed a show. Not even Hollywood can mess with tradition.