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Strike Down the Band

Trey Reely | April 2016

    A major university football team runs onto the field of play, each player similarly but shabbily uniformed. Play begins, and a comedy of errors ensues as bumbling players laugh after fumbles, throw interceptions on purpose, celebrate after the opposing team scores, and mock opposing fans when they are not making a mockery of the game itself. If this ever happened, somebody would make sure it never happened again. This scenario is less far-fetched in the band world. In fact, you only have to watch the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.
   I first read about the antics of the Stanford band early in my career. Far from being appalled, I thought they were hilarious. As with many things, time and experience can bring a more mature perspective, particularly when it pertains to my profession. I am not a prude; I have always loved humor, particularly satire. I have a two-volume collector’s edition of MAD magazine for goodness sake, but some things cross the line. I believe the antics of the Stanford band fall into that category.
    In most cases, comparing football teams and bands is like comparing apples and oranges. However, when representing a school and community, football teams and bands should both be held to the highest behavioral and performance standards. I cannot imagine the amount of national press and head-rolling that would happen at an athletic department if a major university football team did any thing remotely similar to the Stanford band on the field of play.
    The band’s transgressions over the years, on the field and off, are well-documented, and a simple internet search will bring them up. Most recently, the band was prohibited from attending away games for the 2015-16 academic year due to violation of university policies regarding alcohol, controlled substances, hazing, and sexual harassment. The band requested approval to attend the Rose Bowl based on progress in meeting expectations by the university, and it was granted.
    This proved to be a big mistake. At one of the rare halftimes during bowl season where bands actually get some airtime, the Stanford band alienated Iowa fans with their show as television cameras almost withdrew to outer space during the band’s performance before breaking for a commercial.
    If Stanford’s football team is going to continue to play on the big stage, the university needs to step up and put a real band on the field. I am not sure why it doesn’t. As with many such things, I suspect it has to do with money. A good university marching band would be expensive, particularly if it meant expanding the music department faculty. Also, real instruments are more expensive than appropriated hardware from dorm kitchens and bathrooms. I am not an investigative reporter so this is purely conjecture, and if someone has inside knowledge, I would love to hear it.
    This issue is a matter of professionalism more than personal taste. I have incorporated humor in many of my band’s halftime performances. The difference is that we try to be very strong musically, and do not direct humor at opposing teams or their fans, although I have been tempted at times. Taking the high road isn’t the most carefree, devilishly fun route, but it is the grown-up thing to do. The time has come for the Stanford band to grow up.