What’s big and loud and red all over?
Even amid what the athletic department hopes will be 25,000 hollering Big Red fans on the sold-out Schoellkopf Crescent this Saturday, it’s impossible to miss it. With over 200 members cheering and playing fight songs, and doubling in size due to returning alumni at Homecoming, the Big Red Marching Band is, according to its motto, “the only real marching band in the Ivy League.”
“The Big Red Marching Band is an extraordinary orginization. The group is student-run, alumni funded and performs at a level that belittles any other Ivy band,” said David Conn, the band’s faculty advisor. “Just go to a football game and this is all too obvious.”
Originally the ROTC marching band, the group has been a fixture at campus events for almost a century. The lengthy parades and musical performances, however, are simply the end result of weeks of rehearsals.
Practices on Tuesday nights, Thursday and Friday afternoons, and Saturday mornings before games commence with Drum Major Tovah Minster ’01 climbing a ladder, sharply blowing her whistle and commanding, “Band! Atten-hut!” The band responds with, “Go Red, dammit!”
At the practices, the band puts together a new field show for every home game and practices from a catalog of over 30 songs. Featured tunes at Homecoming will include “Copacabana,” “Emerald Eyes” and “Fire Dance.” The band also plays traditional marching band fare, such as the theme to Jesus Christ Superstar and Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.”
While improving musical ability, participation in the marching band counts toward one credit of physical education — for a reason.
“Just think about marching up the slope or around campus, carrying about 30 pounds worth of quads, playing non-stop in about 80-degree weather with a wool uniform on,” said Karen Liu ’03, a percussionist.
Although the band is one of the largest student-run organizations at Cornell, the members form close friendships within and across their sections.
“The band has really been like my family from the moment that I arrived at Cornell,” Minster said.
“The band is the most personable and friendly organization on campus that I’ve come across,” said Kurt Guenther ’04, a trumpet player. “It is a great way to meet a lot of people, and it certainly helped me meet some new people my first few weeks here.”
Alumni are looking foward to the annual return to their place in the band at Homecoming, especially if they can play before a soldout stadium.
“Being on the ladder and listening to the Band was just as exciting after two years as it was the first day,” said Lowell Frank ’99, former drum major. “Every time I come back to campus, I realize that the memories — as strong and wonderful as they are — don’t really do that feeling any justice.”
“The band adds excitement and a certain amount of pageantry to the football games,” said Assistant Athletic Director Tom LaFalce ’94, the band’s advisor and former head manager. “It’s got a tradition of its own, intertwined with the tradition of Cornell Athletics.”
Part of the ties that bind the alumni and undergraduate band members together stem from the timeless traditions and jokes that are carried forth from year to year. Duct Tape Appreciation Night, a free-for-all on Schoellkopf Field at a Tuesday night rehearsal late in the season, quite literally binds the band together .
“Duct Tape Appreciation Night can trace its origins to 1994, when the tuba section decided that it would be fun to duct tape a certain flute player to the goal post. Things that night were kind of dull, and this was just the sort of thing needed to enliven people,” said Jeffrey Newman ’98, a tuba player who will be back for Homecoming. “Every year since, the band has celebrated ‘Duct Tape Appreciation Night’ to relieve stress near the end of the season, when classes are heating up and the available time to learn a new show for every home game is shrinking due to end of season commitments.”
Each section of the band also has its own identity, attitude, traditions and inside jokes. The percussion section favors black clothing and Chinese food; the horn players prefer milkshakes.
When Cornell scores and the band launches into “Davy,” the Cornell Fight Song, trumpets and flutes race down to the track to certify the score with push-ups and “flute-ups,” which involve tossing a flute player into the air for each point.
Trombones celebrate the last home game of the season by donning bathing suits, despite the chilly November weather, and playing “Hawaii Five-O” for the fans.
Perhaps the most lasting tradition, however, is evidenced by the saxophone tattoo.
“The sax tattoo originated with the class of ’93, and the newest addition was a freshman who got it last week,” Chris Payne ’02 said, showing off the two eighth notes stamped on her hip.
While most of the traditions are not quite as permanent, each display of spirit enables the band to go forth with its primary objective: to boost the spirit of the Cornell athletes and fans.
“The band is a great organization to be in because not only to we have a lot of fun but we actually give something back to Cornell,” Minster said. “Every time we get out there to parade or perform a show, we’re not just doing it for ourselves; we’re doing it for the whole Cornell community.”
“The Big Red Marching Band is so important to the Cornell community because of the spirit that we provide on campus,” said Heather O’Dell ’01, head manager of the band. “I am really proud of the band this year, and I’m really excited for Homecoming. I think that the alumni will enjoy the band’s performance and parade.”
Archived article by Sun Staff