Life as an LSU Tiger Bandsman: The First Foot Forward

Crystal Logiudice-US PRESSWIRE

In the first part of a series describing what football season is like for an LSU Tiger Bandsman, former TGBFTL member zrau outlines what happens during the LSU Tiger Marching Band's preseason week.

We’re in the home stretch of the college football offseason. A week separates us from the first Thursday night kickoff, and two days later LSU kicks off against TCU under the lights of Cowboys Stadium for one of the more interesting matchups of Week 1. Our Tigers – along with other schools around the country – are in the full swing of Fall camp, honing their skills for what will hopefully be a successful football season.

However, another group of beloved Tigers are gearing up their offseason activities. For the better part of the last week, members of the Golden Band from Tigerland have been preparing for their role in the upcoming football season. You have seen them marching to and from (and playing in) Tiger Stadium, accompanying the team on road trips, and performing in pep rallies all over campus and elsewhere. As the largest and most visible spirit group for LSU, they're everywhere – few large campus events happen without the band’s presence.

However, what’s behind the final product is where the real story lies, and that is what I hope to illustrate over the coming weeks. This is the first of a series where I hope to outline what goes on beyond purple and gold uniforms, shining brass, thumping drums, glittering sequins, and (of course) those ubiquitous four notes. However, if you stripped this article of every reference to LSU, it could easily take place in Tuscaloosa, Columbus, or South Bend. It’s also a taste of what members of marching bands at universities across may be doing at this very moment in preparation for football season.

First and foremost, I write this series as a former trumpet player in the LSU Tiger Marching Band, serving as a bandsman from the 2008 to the 2011 football seasons. I am proud to say that I had the opportunity to represent LSU and be a part of the gameday experience for Tiger fans in Baton Rouge and across the country. Everything I am writing about, I have experienced in some form, and I hope to convey the ups, downs, ins, and outs of football season for an LSU Tiger Bandsman over the course of the Fall.

***

Auditioning for Tiger Band is more or less an ongoing process, with instrumental auditions for new members usually occurring during the spring and summer before preseason camp starts. It’s a fairly informal event that determines if you have the musical chops to even attend preseason week. My audition in the Spring of 2008 took about 20 minutes, but probably seemed way longer to my 17 year-old self. While I recall little from it, my most vivid memory is current director of athletic bands Roy King snapping a faster tempo in my ear than I was playing my prepared audition piece at. I’m fairly sure all that was going through my mind was a string of nervous expletives about not messing up. When I finished, he looked at me, laughed, and said "we’ll see you in August."

August is when the real fun begins. About two and a half weeks before classes go into session the band begins its annual preseason week, which is characterized by the gradual addition of personnel day-by-day until the final Tiger Band roster is finalized. It starts small, with student staff, auxiliaries (the irreplaceable Golden Girls and Color Guard), and the drumline reporting for the first few days. While camp may seem long for everyone in the band, this small group is there from the very beginning.

Preseason begins in earnest on Sunday afternoon the week before school starts, when the prospective new members (incoming freshmen and otherwise) arrive for their first few days of instruction with their section leaders. The idea is for all of the new members to learn the ropes of the band’s marching and musical styles from their section leaders before the returning members come back for camp on the following Tuesday.

The early days of camp (from Sunday to about Thursday afternoon) are pretty easily summed up. They consist of rehearsing music and practicing marching fundamentals – both as a full band and in individual sections. I won’t get into the finer points of marching and playing because unless you were in a marching band you’d likely rather watch cement dry. But if you think it looks good, even if you don't know anything about marching band, it's because this what the bulk preseason week is - working on the little things for hours on end. Usually this starts in the morning, around 8:00 AM or so, and lasts until the nighttime. Sometimes I remember them running as late as 10:00 PM, though that was only in my first two years. While it can be mundane, it's ultimately what makes the band as good as it is.

Even though the hours can be daunting, at least rehearsals take place both indoors (at the Maddox Fieldhouse and Indoor Football Facility) as well as outdoors (at the band field in the north part of campus – where else?), in an effort to limit exposure to the elements. It is August in Louisiana after all. In my last two years they tried to have marching rehearsals indoors as much as possible, which was great. And yes, the band gets lots of breaks with hoards of food provided for free. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't take full advantage of the free grub, but I ate my share. And your share. And probably your friend's share too. Speaking of that...

STORY TIME: My freshman year, we were rehearsing in the IFF after we had just eaten dinner. Coincidentally, this was just as the football team was leaving from some sort of team activity. An unknown football player (I’ve heard varying accounts as to who it actually was) threw up a yellow-ish substance on one of the sidelines. When rehearsal began, we got yelled at for it, despite no one associated with the band actually doing it. Luckily getting yelled at for someone else's mistake is typical for members of any marching band, so we shrugged it off. That is until we "swept the field" (you know, the "fast part" of LSU’s Pregame show) a few times, when several of us may have actually wanted to vomit. I don’t think anyone did, not inside the IFF at least, because apparently they frown upon that.

Anyway, the daily grind of music and marching fundamentals continues until Thursday night, when the dreaded Cut Night occurs. The band gets whittled down to its final 325 members, and it can be nerve-wracking for all involved. Section-by-section prospective Tiger Bandsmen enter and leave the IFF over the course of the evening. The directors post the final list on the LSU Department of Bands’ website a few hours after. My freshman year was actually the last year they actually posted a paper list to the band hall door, and a less-than-sober 18 year-old Zach may or may not have called his parents at 3:00 AM to say he’d made Tiger Band (oh, you bet we checked at 3:00 AM).

I won’t get into what criteria the band staff uses to judge each person, honestly I'm not even sure, but let’s just say they know what they’re looking for. Even as a member of one of the larger sections (trumpets make up roughly 20% of the band each season, our odds were better than most) I still remember being nervous going into each Cut Night, even in my later years. People get cut every season, and it doesn’t matter if they’re returning members or not. Oh and that’s a BIG catch – you have to re-audition every year. While it does hurt to see returning members not make the cut – it happened every year I was in Tiger Band – it’s a way of ensuring that the 325 members who make up the band are of consistent quality from year-to-year. The organization does what it has to do.

After the stresses of Cut Night, new members of the finalized Tiger Band roster get to face – you guessed it – another day of cuts on Friday! Once the parade block for the weekly march to the stadium is set earlier in the day, it’s right back to the IFF for more fun. However, this round of cuts is to see who makes the Pregame show, which has space for around 225 people or so. While a significant number of people across all sections get "tapped out" or cut from Pregame, no one who makes the show initially is safe. I marched every Pregame my freshman year, then got cut and added back in to the show twice before the first home game of my sophomore year (luckily I marched every Pregame during my four years in band). People are interchangeable in Pregame, and there’s likely new people marching in it every week of the season in Tiger Stadium. However, unless you knew it, you probably wouldn’t notice.

Saturday was always my favorite day of band camp preseason week. It's when the newly-minted band rehearses its gameday march from the Old Band Hall to Tiger Stadium, including the ever-popular run down Victory Hill. The band then enters the stadium for a short music rehearsal in the stands, only to march back about an hour later for a long lunch break. If you feel like walking about campus this Saturday morning, I don't know when exactly, chances are you'll see them doing it. It's slightly less majestic without the uniforms, but it's a pretty neat sight to behold anyway.


As great as it may be for spectators to see this first run of gameday activities, it could be brutal for members. The march to the stadium wasn't terrible, but when you're in an empty Tiger Stadium during the oppressive Louisiana summer you may as well be standing in the world’s largest frying pan. But it was the first taste, the first hint of what was to come during the Fall. Soon the field would be painted, and soon an empty stadium would have over 92,000 people waiting with baited breath for you to play four notes – four notes which excite the LSU faithful in Louisiana and elsewhere. It can rattle you, but in a good way.


However, once you're done contemplating how wonderful football season will be, you realize how sweaty and uncomfortable you are. Usually by then it's time to leave Tiger Stadium and finish up the last real difficult day of preseason. Saturday ends with more Pregame rehearsal and my favorite Tiger Band tradition of all - the conclusion of preseason. On Sunday the band staff conducts a uniform inspection, which they issue prospective members over the course of the week. Oh and that year's Golden Band from Tigerland has its first performance – the annual Chancellor’s Welcome at the PMAC. After an off day on Monday, guess what! It’s time for more rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon! But hey, it’s what you signed up for, right? Besides, there’s more fun to come on the weekends. It’s finally football season, baby!

Part II of this series, detailing how road trips for the full Golden Band from Tigerland work (sometimes), will appear next Friday. Onward to Arlington...

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