‘Win, lose or tie, the band always wins’

On the last day of Gophers football in the Metrodome, more than just football players had reason to relish the night. The University of Minnesota Marching Band started preparing for its final Dome performance at 9 a.m. âÄî a full nine hours before kickoff. They mused about how grateful they were that SaturdayâÄôs game didnâÄôt start until 6 p.m.; for a typical afternoon game, the band gathers as early as 5 a.m. to refine its routine. But this day, there was more to think about. For graduating seniors, this could have been the last rehearsal, the last game, the last time for this band to be together. Aside from a bowl-game berth allowing the band to perform again, Saturday was it âÄî the swan song of their collegiate marching band careers. Forty seniors were part of this yearâÄôs band. âÄúSince this may be our last rehearsal,âÄù band director Tim Diem addressed the 304-member band after the two-hour morning practice, âÄúIn many respects, IâÄôve had the easiest year IâÄôve ever had.âÄù The band went through its many-times-rehearsed motions all morning, dancing and chatting in between. But the finality of seasonâÄôs end wasnâÄôt lost. âÄúItâÄôs been quite an accomplishment,âÄù said senior Annie Bunkers , whoâÄôs been part of the bandâÄôs flute section for four years. âÄú[IâÄôll miss] spending time with the same people every day.âÄù Diem estimated that a four-year band member devotes between 2,000 and 3,000 hours to the band, and performs at more than 400 events. And that time can feel long, fifth-year senior tuba player Nick Olson said. âÄúIâÄôve had a good five years, but IâÄôm ready for a new generation to break in the new stadium,âÄù he said. The farewell to the Metrodome was less emotional and more exciting for the band which, despite its necessary load of large metal instruments, is excited for its new outdoor home. Beginning next season, the band will call TCF Bank Stadium home. The facility will be the first in the bandâÄôs 117-year history with space specifically and permanently designated for them, said Jerry Luckhardt, the bandâÄôs former director. For a group steeped in tradition, that means a lot, he added. The band paid halftime homage to the Metrodome by playing swing standard âÄúBig Noise from Winnetka ,âÄù the same song featured at halftime at the GophersâÄô Dome debut 27 years ago in Sept. 1982. Junior trumpet player Parker Duncomb , who soloed during the song, said he was honored. âÄúItâÄôs a big deal and I appreciate it,âÄù he said. And with one year left in the band ranks, heâÄôs glad to be saying farewell to the Teflon sky. âÄúI think weâÄôre all pretty excited about it, especially with the new stadium opening up on campus,âÄù he said, adding that the band toured TCF Bank Stadium after the previous home game. âÄúThe new one on campus feels a lot more like ours.âÄù Despite the kind, always-bright, always-temperate Dome forecast, current director Diem said, as the band played its last song on the MetrodomeâÄôs outdoor plaza, that he welcomes the much-anticipated change of scenery. âÄúWeâÄôve had 27 great years in the Dome, but itâÄôs time to move on,âÄù he said. And the band did its best to leave a lasting impression in its Metrodome curtain call. Former director Luckhardt joined the band to direct âÄúIn the Mood.âÄù The bandâÄôs formation swelled into a tight cluster, percussion and tubas tucked in the center as others fanned out around them. They marched outward to the crowdâÄôs cheers. ItâÄôs a difficult configuration, Luckhardt said, one busted out only every other year or so. The band also filed onto the field after both football teams cleared following a dismal 55-0 Gophers loss. But the band seemed to go untouched by the teamâÄôs embarrassment as the tuba section raced and the band posed for photos, marking the close of another season. Even through the game, band members traded pranks with mascots and cheerleaders. âÄúWin, lose or tie, the band always wins,âÄù said drum major Aaron Marks , who has two more years ahead of him with the band. âÄúThis group of people has so much fun with what they do.âÄù ItâÄôs a tight-knit group thatâÄôs a âÄúpart of something thatâÄôs bigger than they are,âÄù former director Luckhardt said. âÄúThey really take care of each other.âÄù Assistant marching band director Alicia Neal began her time with the band this season. SheâÄôs got plenty of marching-band experience, and said this one has been a prime example. âÄúThey have a lot of pride in what they do,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs just invigorating to be around it.âÄù Diem agreed, adding that he doesnâÄôt enjoy seasonâÄôs end. After all, he said, heâÄôs spent more time over the past three months with the band than with his family. But heâÄôs all right with that. âÄúItâÄôs always a pleasure to be with this with band,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs the best job in the world and IâÄôm glad to have it.âÄù