The purpose of college marching bands

It is college football season, and nothing adds to the atmosphere like marching bands. But, bands are more than crowd entertainment. 

Turn on any college football game on a Saturday afternoon and you will hear the sounds of marching bands filling the air. These bands are filled with young students that participate for various reasons. This could be simply because they love the atmosphere, or enjoying performing. Others enjoy the social aspect of the activity.

For spectators, they see the marching band as part of the package, or a spirit organization. Bands are visible during pep rallies, tailgating, or other athletic related events. What is often overlooked are the multiple functions that these organizations fulfill for the university, community, and the student members.

For the University and Community:

Bands performs a crucial role within the college or university as a whole. Sure, they are part of games, leading cheers and providing timely music, but there is a great deal more. These groups of students and leaders are responsible for creating an exciting and enjoyable spirit throughout the school. Bands are the keepers of the fight song and traditional songs, and are asked to maintain their energy and importance.

It is the band that is responsible for turning students into active alumni and community members into supporters and fans. Through performances of traditional music, bands help alumni recall their “glory days.” It is the energy and song selections that kids turn into fans and students into alumni. And, the visibility and performance quality of the band that draws the community to the school.

For the Student Membership:

While the function of the marching band is regarded to many as a spirit organization, the true purpose is to serve the students in the ensemble. This is done in several ways.

First, the marching band gives students the opportunity to interact and work together with other from various academic pursuits, races, cultures, and backgrounds. For many of these students, marching band serves as a social or creative outlet. But, whether it is at band camp or at a football game, the students are working with others that are different and building quality relationships.

Band encourages working on tasks in order to meet a deadline. Sure, this happens in other classes as well. But in marching band (and other music ensembles), students have a limited amount of time in which they can meet with the entire team to learn a show for the next game. Add to this the standards of high achievement and performing in front of thousands and tens of thousands of audience members. No stress, right?

But there are other functions within the ensemble that do not get discusses as greatly. One function is leadership training. Within an ensemble, opportunities for leadership abound. A student could be a section leader responsible for keeping a small group on task and provide musical or visual instruction at each rehearsal. Others could be drum majors. These students often fulfill administrative tasks like attendance or distribution of copies to 100 – 400 people, and lead musically from the front sidelines during performances. Every band has some level of leadership established, and the opportunities are endless.

Lastly, many of the students within the marching band are going to be teachers. Through their experience in the ensemble, students can learn organizational skills and classroom management. Future music teachers are provided laboratory experiences by teaching or creating music and drill for performances.

It is more than just a marching band – it is a community of college students keeping spirit alive and energy flowing while learning to be leaders and creators. Marching band just fits on a t-shirt better.

3 Replies to “The purpose of college marching bands”

  1. I like what you said about the band’s responsibility to turn students into active alumni members. I would say that working with a professional marching band arranger is a good move if you want to blow an audience away. If I were in charge of a marching band, I would be sure to hire an outside arranger in order to take their performance skills to the next level.

  2. This is absolutely wrong. It is the students who serve the marching band. It is individual people who decide to come together to serve the greater whole. The greater whole (the marching band) does not directly serve the student. I’m sure you know the countless hours a student puts in to be apart of the band.
    I can use myself as an example because I was a member of the Marching Band at a major university. I had to sacrifice my job, my grades, my back, my complexion, and my overall physical appearance to be part of the band. The band did not help me improve my life. The band required me to put my life on hold while I served it. I did it in order to serve the school and the community. I did not do it for personal recognition. I did not do it for the perks because the amount of work I put in far outweighs the occasional cup of free ice cream or t-shirt.
    The primary purpose of the marching band is to entertain the crowd. It sets the mood. Its sound will signal the start of a game. It cheers on the team. These things do not serve that single, tiny, faceless individual who decided one day to play clarinet.

    1. I am discouraged to hear of your experience in marching band, regardless of the level (high school, college). However, in my experience participating in and leading such ensembles – and talking about these ideas with others throughout the marching world – far more have positive experiences that confirm what I discuss.

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