While the marching band makes up only a small fraction of a student body, any member will tell you that it’s so much more than an extracurricular—it’s a way of life. And while they make it look easy, life as a member of a collegiate marching band is no walk in the park. Here’s the lowdown on what it’s really like to take the field.
1. Wardrobe Malfunctions
We all know marching bands wear the snappiest getup around, but such style comes with a price—there’s nothing pleasant about wearing them. University of Michigan senior Ryan McCormack summed up his uniform woes in one word: “Wedgies,” he said. “So many game day wedgies.”
2. Not Enough Recognition
Band members work hard, but they’re often underappreciated for all they do. “I absolutely hate when people don’t view the color guard as part of the band,” Michigan State freshman Riley Smith said. “[As] a colorguard member who also plays an instrument, I find this insulting.”
You may also notice a lack of television appearances from the band, despite the fact that members are present at every game. “I would like to have marching bands get more coverage on television,” MSU sophomore Evan Bahm said.
3. Standing on the Sidelines
For many band programs, being a member doesn’t guarantee a spot on the field. “The reserve block is basically a nice term for ‘Sorry, you don’t get to march the show, but you still have to practice,” University of Michigan freshman Brian Tang said.
A spot like this can come with its own anxieties, too. “My first year in the band, I was an alternate,” MSU sophomore Colleen Morence said. “All morning long on game days my section mates would tease, ‘Yeah I’m feeling kinda sick this morning, hope you know my drill!’ The other alternates and I would have that split second of fear thinking, ‘Are they joking or are they serious?’”
4. Early Mornings
What many people may not realize is that, for the band, game day begins long before kickoff. “You’re on the field hours before the football players are,” Central Michigan University sophomore Kailey Grubb said. “It’s so hard to get yourself out of bed at that time and into a full uniform.” Think about it—for a noon game, the rehearsal process can start as early as 7 a.m. Yeah. Ow.
On top of worrying about exams and jobs, members get a slew of extra stressors. “When you have to perform a show in two days and you are still learning choreography and drill, it is extremely stressful. The pace at which college marching bands learn shows is intense,” Smith said.
Plus, marching works your body as well as your mind. “Our pregame is easily the physically hardest thing I have ever done,” University of Michigan sophomore Eric Killian said. “Imagine doing intense cardio for six minutes, but since you’re playing your instrument, you’re basically holding your breath the whole time.”
If the heat of the last few weeks of August isn’t bad enough, bands have to keep going through the freezing elements of early winter. “It got so cold our hands went numb and our instruments would not thaw no matter how much we tried to prevent them from freezing,” Tang said.
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
All those new shows, drill work and music don’t just appear out of thin air—members put in hours upon hours of vigorous rehearsal time every week. “Trying to explain our rehearsal schedule to my non-band friends is like, yes, we actually do practice that much,” MSU junior Nathan Kujacznski said.
And all that practice isn’t just learning new material. It’s polishing… and polishing… and polishing. “’Alright, run it one more time.’ Seven times later…” Killian said.
8. Too Many Pros
Perhaps the greatest problem of all is that there are just too many benefits of being a band member, both obvious and unexpected. “It’s a creative outlet, workout and support group in one,” Kujacznski said. Talk about overwhelming!
And don’t even get band members started on the people they’re surrounded by, who almost seem too good to be true. “Students in marching band are some of the most talented, respectful, generous and responsible people I’ve met,” Tang said.
That sense of camaraderie through the ups and the downs runs deep, making for a one-of-a-kind friend base and support system. Bahm put it simply – “My band is my family.”