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In Defense of a Marching Band [VIDEO]

I grew up in Southern California rooting for UCLA.  That was due in large part to my Dad working as the Bruins’ Head Cross Country and Assistant Track Coach in the 1970′s.

One of the many perks to being a part of the athletic family at UCLA was getting tickets to football and men’s basketball games.  Those were the days when John Wooden was leading the Bruins hoopsters to championship after championship and Dick Vermeil was leading the UCLA football team to a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State.

Apart for those exciting times, the one other thing I looked forward to each and every season was when Stanford came to town.  Not that I was a big fan of the team from Northern California, but because when Stanford came to town they always brought their marching band with them.

If you’ve never seen this rag tag group in red blazers and white hats, you’ve missed something special.  In a world where there’s always pressure to look, act, and sound the same, the Stanford band stood out. From the contemporary music they played (Free’s ‘All Right Now’ has been their theme song for years) to the haphazard way they approached their time on the field, the Stanford band kept people in their seats at halftime because you never knew what they were going to do next.

Two weeks ago, my marching heroes were in the national spotlight at the Rose Parade, where the bands from the two teams participating in the Rose Bowl got a a chance to represent their schools.  I’ll be the first to admit, a parade does not do this band (and what they’ve been famous for since 1963) justice, but it was nice to see them right in the middle of all the grandeur that is the Rose Parade.

Sadly, not everyone was impressed.  In today’s Argus Leader, Jonathan S. Eckrich of Sioux Falls has this take on the Stanford band:

The only complaint about my entire Tournament of Roses experience concerns the Stanford University Band.

 

In the Tournament of Roses parade, its “body work” was gratuitous to the point that is was unprofessional and clown-like. They didn’t march; they ambled. They didn’t play as an ensemble; it was helter skelter, near total dissonance.

 

Their “uniforms” looked like they found them in a dumpster. Their disgraceful behavior was an insult to all those other bands who put in countless hours of dedicated, focused practice, with the single-minded vision of providing the best show that they possibly could to millions of Tournament of Roses parade fans and viewers. Kudos to all the other bands (University of Wisconsin, Marines, Lincoln, etc.); shame on Stanford band.

 

Their “style” is very appropriate for some venues such as a circus side show. It has no place in a parade. They shouldn’t defend themselves or pat themselves on the back for being nonconformists. Nonconformity can be a very good thing, but they took nonconformity so far outside the envelope that their true talents (and I’m sure they are many) were obscured in absurdity and mediocrity.

 

I don’t have an issue with creative nonconformity. I have an issue with nonconformity to quality, to professionalism, to respect, to doing justice to the incomparable nature of the entire Tournament of Roses organization. If the Stanford band has any musical talent, they failed to show it, not by their artistic nonconformity but by their lack of respect and pride for their own God-given talents.

Let me start by giving Mr. Eckrich the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he’s never seen, and is not familiar with, what the Stanford band has done for the last 50 years.  It is an acquired taste – I get that.  But ‘unprofessional’?  Last time I checked, college students aren’t professionals – they’re 18 to 21 year old kids.  Isn’t there enough time in their lives to learn how to conform to Mr. Eckrich’s ‘cookie cutter’ world after they graduate?

I enjoy a good marching band performance as much as anyone, and regularly attend the Festival of Bands Parade in Sioux Falls every October. But one of the things I really enjoy is each band showing a bit of personality, something that sets them apart from every other group matching that day.  For some bands it’s the music they play.  For others it’s their outfits.  Some other groups exert their own flair by occasionally stepping out of standard marching formation to throw in some sort of wrinkle, usually much to the delight of the crowd.  Good thing Mr. Eckrich wasn’t there to witness those ‘transgressions’ or we might have seen him attempt a citizen’s arrest  for a violation of some archaic marching band code!

My last bone to pick with this letter is the notion that:

Their disgraceful behavior was an insult to all those other bands who put in countless hours of dedicated, focused practice, with the single-minded vision of providing the best show that they possibly could to millions of Tournament of Roses parade fans and viewers.

What possible damage was done to the other marching bands in that parade, or any other band anywhere, by what the Stanford band did?  Every band worked hard to represent themselves and what they and their bands stand for.  Why does one band’s performance have to come at the expense of any other?  Last time I checked, every float in that famed parade exhibited its own personality through a variety of different presentations.  The only thing they had in common was that they used all organic materials.  Other than that, no two were the same – the same kind of diversity that events like the Rose Parade celebrate every year.

My suggestion to Mr. Eckrich:  If you want an event where everybody looks and acts the same, might I suggest you take in the next big parade in North Korea.  I hear they’re big on ‘conformity’ there.

 

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