Football in Tallahassee isn’t just a popular sport, it’s woven into the city’s culture. The season begins Saturday, Aug. 30, but it’s not just football players scrambling to prepare. Florida State University’s marching band, The Marching Chiefs, are working hard to get ready for the game day as well.
It’s Thursday afternoon – not yesterday, the week before, and it’s the Marching Chiefs first official practice. Most of the Chiefs are on hand, milling around or sitting in circles with their band sections. Each group has a nickname and the saxophones calls themselves Section X. Elizabeth Siegel is a Section X rookie and she says the audition process was grueling.
“The audition process was so insane, but so wonderful – they work you so hard and for over 12 hour days, but it’s all worth it in the end because they teach you everything you need to know,” Siegel says.
Bones Rookie Scott Boebinger says the hardest part was a thing called “Go Cadence,” and in case you’re wondering, Bones is what the trombones call themselves.
The Clarinets call themselves Pieces. Rookie Amy Parker says Chief stepping – a high-legged march – was really hard, but Go Cadence was “a whole different monster.”
Bones second year, C.J. Rivera describes it like this
“We don’t really run, it’s actually a really controlled, focused march. Like we have to be in step and go a certain distance at a certain time. And so it’s really cool to have that focus, but also be kind of distracted and cheered on by what is it – 80 thousand people?”
Thursday’s practice is given over entirely to marching, so there’s no music. But near the end, the football team’s head coach, Jimbo Fisher stopped by for a quick pep talk.
“I thank you for what you do, and hopefully we’ll get to do this again,” Fisher said. “We’ll go – we’ll go to Dallas twice maybe. We’ll get to go to Dallas twice.”
The first game of Florida State’s season is in Dallas, and a number of marching chiefs will be making the trip along with the team. Come January, the same stadium will be hosting college football’s championship game, so Fisher and the chiefs would all really like to make that second visit.
“Your band and your fans is exactly where everything starts.” Fisher said after speaking to the band. “They set the tempo, they set the tone, they set the demeanor of the game by what they do, their enthusiasm, how they play, and how they execute their game plan. And that’s just as critical, because when those fans are behind us, it make us play that much better, and no team does it by itself.”
Tuesday afternoon the band is working on putting everything together. They take the long, hot walk from the regular practice field to Doak Campbell stadium to practice in formation. The band’s head drum major, Daniel Rosman, is standing near the top of a ladder conducting as the Chiefs march across the field. He says performing in the stadium right before the game is hard to describe.
“It’s an interesting thing, because when you practice this over the summer, you’re by yourself, you’re throwing a metal stick in the air – by yourself, there’s no one there watching you,” Rosman says. “There’s no applause, there’s no noise, there’s nothing. But then the first time you do it in Doak Campbell stadium, the crowd is cheering, people are going nuts, and you get chills everywhere. You feel a lot of pride for the university – you feel a lot of pride for Marching Chiefs.”
It’s Thursday night – last night, and the band is loading up gear for the trip to Dallas. Just over 200 Marching Chiefs are huddling around the bus doors talking excitedly, toting pillows and rolling luggage. They’re squeezing into four buses and driving all night. When the game kicks off Saturday evening, they’ll be there to play their part: as loud as they possibly can.
Next Friday, we’ll hear from FAMU’s Marching 100 as they prepare for their first away game in Miami.