Football in Tallahassee isn’t just a popular sport, it’s woven into the city’s culture. Along with the teams there’s the bands. For Florida A&M University’s Marching One Hundred the first performance comes this weekend in Miami. In the second part of an on-going series, Nick Evans reports on the band as they prepare for gameday.
At FAMU, the relationship between the football team and the marching band is a little bit different. Even though the team has a lot of talented players, the school has for years been better known for The Marching 100.
Ronald Gray is a band spokesman and the euphonium section leader. It’s his fourth year in the band. He was here before the ensemble was suspended in 2011 following the hazing death of a drum major, and he’s been part of the rebuilding process since. He says the band is a rallying symbol for FAMU.
“To the student body it means a lot,” Gray says. “We’re the excitement, we’re the joy, we will… if you stay here after practice you’ll see students line up here at the practice field just to observe our shows before we go do them on the road or in Bragg stadium. It’s more of a spirit thing – we’re the spirit drivers of the university.”
Trumpet section leader Leroy Lubin agrees.
“We make everybody go crazy when we play the popular songs in the stands and make everybody dance and things like that, so basically we’re the hype man for the campus.”
Before the suspension, the Marching 100 numbered nearly 350. But when it was reinstated last year, the band came back only about one-third that size. This year there are 170 members, but nearly half are rookies, and Lubin says teaching them how to march can be difficult.
“There’s a lot they need to learn,”Lubin says. “Some of them kind of know some of the concepts because their high schools do what FAMU does, but then you have kids who have never marched a day in their lives. Then you have kids who went to core-style bands, and they’ve never had to lift up their knees. So we have to take it to the basics, like day-one fundamentals: teaching them how we march, how to point your toe in the air, how to drive it in the ground – toe, ball, heel.”
The band is playing in a shed off to the side of the practice field before they start drilling – the room looks like it shouldn’t be able to fit half of the band. The sound is intense in such a closed space – you can feel the strains pressing against your chest. There’s a bit of rust every now and again, but already the rookies sound pretty well acclimated.
Out to the practice field, the sun is beating down, and section leaders are distributing sheets of paper with their new formations. They’ve got a lot of work on – there’s nearly 20 pages to learn before the game in Miami.
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It’s cacophony on the field Thursday evening as the different band sections warm up for their night practice. The brass, the woodwinds and the drums are warming up in little circles all across the field. They’ve practiced once already today and the sun is starting to go down. They’ll be on their way to Miami before it comes up again. Once the band is all together and in formation it sounds like the work they’ve been putting in has paid off.
Just like Gray said, there’s a handful of people at the edge of the field holding up camera phones and listening as the ensemble puts the finishing touches on their program. There will certainly be more where that came from when the Marching 100 returns to Tallahassee next week.