With the first college football playoff national championship game just days away this Monday between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks, I can't help but think back on all of the great experiences I had while being a member of the Ohio State University Marching Band. Having the chance to travel across the country and represent my school and our team, as well as the state of Ohio, is something I will always treasure. Of course, I can't forget the amazing friends I made along the way.
The performances we were able to put together were a team effort and took tons of work; not just the student members, but the directing staff, show designers, and music arrangers. Being the largest all-brass and -percussion ensemble in the world, all of our music has to be arranged specifically for us. Hundreds of hours are spent each season preparing for our shows so we are able to provide the exceptional performances that our fans have come to expect from us. In order to make those pages of marching drill and the sheet music come to life, a game day in Columbus could be more than 12 hours long, and starting as early as 5 a.m.
While the kickoff of an Ohio State game might start at noon, the members of The Best Damn Band In The Land are up much earlier putting the final touches on their shows. During my five years as a member we would traditionally have a report time of 5.5 hours before kickoff, with the percussion section (of which I was a member) reporting seven hours in advance. This means that for a noon kickoff the percussion section would be at the band center in full uniform at 5 a.m. with the full band in their seats by 6:30 a.m.
The percussion section would report and complete a full run-through of all the music for the day and then would go into the stadium to practice the Ramp Entrance. After we finished, we would meet as a section, recognize anyone marching their first game (not as an alternate), and give any final thoughts to the group before heading back up to the band room and relaxing for a few minutes and then joining the band for the start of morning rehearsal.
Full rehearsal would start very similarly, running warm-ups and then rehearsing the pregame and halftime music and watching the video from practice the night before. After any final announcements we would leave the stadium and fall into our ranks for our uniform inspection. Every member was individually inspected by their squad leaders to ensure that our cross belts, spats, and gloves were white, uniforms were cleaned and hemmed properly, and guys had a fresh shave and everyone's hair was up under the band hat. It was a way of sticking to the band's strict military roots.
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
After we finished with the outside rehearsal of pregame and halftime, the group would grab a quick lunch at 9 a.m. and line up in the stadium for our first performance, marching from Ohio Stadium to St. John Arena for Skull Session. Skull Session is a mix of concert and pep rally and regularly attended by thousands of people every home game. Fans get to hear the band perform the school songs, see the team walk through with Coach Urban Meyer and a have a player or two address the fans on their way to the stadium. The fans also enjoy hearing the halftime music performed in a concert setting before the game. This is the last chance TBDBITL members have to play the music before the show on the field and get it into their skull; hence the name Skull Session.
From there, it's game time. The band marches back to the stadium, performs the traditional Ramp Entrance and the incomparable Script Ohio for pre-game and into the stands to cheer on the Buckeyes until we take the field for halftime. Once we enter the stadium for the game, time begins to fly.
It's amazing to see how much more detailed the current band's shows have become in just five years: a T-Rex walking down the field to eat a rival football player; Superman flying from a phone booth to push up a falling building or battling pirate ships. These type of shows, as well as ones I was a part of, couldn't have happened without the support of each other. Gender, race, religious or political views or sexual orientation isn't an issue for the group, especially while on the field performing. We are a team working together to put on one exceptional show after another.
I'm sure that the current members of the band and staff have spent just as much time and energy, if not more, getting ready for this next game. They will travel to Dallas, perform for several Ohio State events, hold a final rehearsal to continue to fine-tune their shows (usually open to the public) and end their season Monday night. It has been an extremely difficult seasons for our TBDBITL family, but the students this year have come together and supported each other to achieve amazing things. We alums have been very proud.
There are very few things comparable to being part of the college football game day atmosphere on a cool autumn Saturday afternoon. Having the opportunity to perform some of your school's greatest traditions for more than 100,000 fans is a pretty exhilarating experience. I always viewed my time with The Ohio State University Marching Band an opportunity to represent the university that I loved but also to carry on great traditions that were established by those members before me, while creating new standards for years to come.
I want to thank the band family for all the support I received when I came out as gay to my family and friends in my previous article. Good luck to the current band in this next week. I know you will make us proud!
Brian Gill, 29, is a graduate of The Ohio State University in Sports and Leisure Studies and was a band member from 2005-2009. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).