Band works hard to raise school spirit
A quarter of a mile from McAndrew Stadium, where the football team is practicing to tackle their opponent Saturday, the Marching Salukis are fine-tuning a routine for their own performance.
Even before they reach the parking lot, students can hear the sound. The sporadic toot of a horn. Perhaps a tuba, perhaps another brass instrument, an indistinct noise to members of the track team and other passers-by “on the outside.” Yet, in the inner circle of the lot, the brief rumble of the euphonium is very distinct to those warming up, adjusting mouthpieces and tuning their instruments.
They make their way to the circle and prepare to shift into position, some piecing their instruments together while others are just arriving at the lot, their cases dragging behind them.
Assistant Director of Bands Thomas Bough took his position on the podium and spent a moment looking over the members of the Marching Salukis before speaking.
“This is going to be the shortest warm-up in the world,” Bough said, propped on a white ladder, his voice sounding through the speakers. “And then, fire dance.”
Tuesday’s warm 70-degree weather was not quite so pleasant for those bearing the weight of the tubas on their backs. The heat was equally unbearable for the drum line, many of which carried the weight of bass drums strapped around their necks. To combat this, many stood with their shirts off on a day when most students had chosen to wear long sleeve sheets or jeans.
The color guard twirled the flags to pass the time, while Bough attempts to get everyone settled into their correct spot.
“See that gap between the brass and the saxophones?” Bough asks Saluki Shakers Coach Tawmi Conley, who has instructed the group since 1998. “That’s your spot.”
Conley beckons the girls standing and sitting beside her in the corner of the lot. “Okay, hustle girls. They’re waiting on us.”
With the recent addition of four new members, the Saluki Shakers now have 18 women, most of which have studio and dance team backgrounds. They practice both with the band and alone for two or three hours five days a week.
Within a minute after being summoned by Bough, the Shakers have filled the space toward the left side of the band; the color guard has ceased movement of the flags, and the members have taken their spots. The picture of Marching Salukis, color guard and Saluki Shakers has been developed, and all the members are ready to begin practice. This is with the exception of one member, Joshua Haas, who is sitting on the sidelines.
As the members of the Marching Salukis, color guard and Saluki Shakers prepare to practice their routine, Haas sits in the doorway of a shed, rubbing his knee.
“I need to be playing right now,” says Haas, a freshman in musical theory composition from Wonder Lake. “I need to be practicing this song.”
Despite his will to practice, he is temporarily incapacitated by an injury he acquired after falling from his bike on the way to practice.
“I fell off my bike trying to carry my horn,” he said.
According to Bough, great deals of the band’s members share Haas’ enthusiasm and desire to perfect his performance. Just this year, the band received 70 new students, doubling the membership from the previous year.
“I’m real proud of them,” Bough said. “At the end of the day when most students are hanging out and playing video games – they still do all that, just a little bit later.”
It is slightly after 4:30 p.m., and after a short scale warm-up, Bough is ready to analyze the actual routine.
“Now that was not our finest performance, agreed,” he tells the members after completing the first song of the practice. “We can make this better or we can make this worse, but it can’t just stay the same. Nothing in nature just stays the same.”
To effectively supervise the steps of the more than 150 people on the field, Bough often climbs the tower that overlooks the lot. From the wooden structure, he critiques the performance of his members, who are predominantly non-music majors.
Members come from an array of majors, ranging from music to mortuary science and are from a variety of areas, as local as Murphysboro and Marion and as far as Japan.
According to him, aside from the drum line and flag team, which require more specific skills, admission is open to anyone enrolled at SIUC. He does, of course, recommend potential members have knowledge of the instrument they play from prior experience.
Bough said though the majority of members was involved in high school bands, the rollover ratio from high school to college is far from a heavy current.
“Maybe it’s the time commitment, or people think there will be these hard auditions and they won’t get in,” Bough said. “But as long as they’re willing to learn, we’ll take anyone who wants to comes out.
“You don’t have to have been first chair [in the high school band], although it would be great if you were.”
While he encourages students to come out, he emphasizes joining the band to be more than a small commitment. Hours vary from one week to the next, with more hours devoted to practice during game weeks. The eight hours of practice, along with time spent rehearsing, are in preparation for the new routine the band performs at each game. Unlike in most high schools bands, members of the Marching Salukis are given the opportunity to assist in choreographing their routines.
Bough said though he encourages members to devote time to improving their skills, he also encourages them to make academics their primary focus. He said this has not been difficult, with most members already devoted to school. The band has several academic scholars and boasts the highest GPA of any campus organization.
In addition to the routine for Saturday’s game, they are also planning for the Homecoming game’s halftime show, when they will perform a routine to “Walk Like an Egyptian.” The popular 80s song was chosen to coordinate with the 2003 Homecoming theme “Cruisin’ the Nile Saluki Style.”
“We contribute to the support of the team and build up a lot of energy in the stands to help the fans,” said Drum Major Jeanne Millikin, a senior in music education from Pinckneyville, who has been with the band for five years.
Haas agreed the band performances are viewed as an important part of each game as well as crowd entertainment.
“It [the band] gives people something to look at other than the cheerleaders and the game, entertaining as they are,” said Haas, who also plays the drums, guitar and several brass instruments. ” It brings the game to life.”
SIUC coaches seem to respect the contribution the band brings to the game, with former basketball coach Bruce Weber having endowed a scholarship and football coach Jerry Kill helping to buy necessary equipment.
Viewing the group as a significant and appreciated part of each game, members such as piccolo player Amy Ramsey said they do not deal with the original stereotypes bestowed upon band members, such as the term “band geek.”
“We had quite a large connection in high school, so there was that stereotype of the band cult,” said Ramsey, a member of music sorority Sigma Alpha Iota and a sophomore in architectural design from Carbondale. “Sometimes people make fun of you, but it’s just said as a joke.”
Ramsey said there has been a slight increase in teasing in reference to the classic line from American Pie. She said she regularly hears the line from a teacher, among others, who joke with her about “this one time at band camp.” Despite the joking, Ramsey said she enjoys the camaraderie the band experience provides, though it is not as easily acquired in college.
With the 70 new additions to the band, Bough admits it is not as easy to form strong bonds with other members as it was in high school. Still, with the players spending as much as eight hours together on game days, he hopes all of the members will have the same positive experience with band that he has.
“I’d like to think of myself as a professional band geek,” Bough said. “If a band geek is someone who shows up and is excited about SIU, then I guess I am a band geek. And I wear the band geek moniker with pride.”
Reporter Jessica Yorama can be reached at [email protected]