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  • Recent University Marching Band Recordings
  • Kimberly Jenkins Marshall

University marching bands represent an important piece of American vernacular music but are notably absent from the folk music literature. These bands have received increased attention from the popular media, but they are discussed primarily by sportswriters who have neither the musical training nor the experience to fully discern their artistic contributions. This article will introduce the current marching band scene through a review of recent recordings that exemplify the major types of modern university marching bands and the musical genres they perform.

The university marching band is a student ensemble that primarily provides musical and visual entertainment for university football games. Ensemble members are students drawn from all schools within a university, and the marching band is generally the largest musical ensemble for nonmusic majors on campus.1 Marching bands are usually led by a full-time director and are sometimes conducted during performances by student drum majors.2 The main performance of the marching band takes place on the football field at halftime, although bands also perform in parades, before football games (the pregame show), after games (the postgame show), and during games from the stands. The purposes of the ensemble are to energize the football audience, support the school team, and train future wind band educators. Music for all performances is memorized and is enhanced by a strong visual component.

Recordings of university marching bands have been very difficult to produce and distribute. Neither the main performance context (loud outdoor football games) nor the ensemble's hectic schedule are conducive to producing recordings. Furthermore, university marching bands are rather expensive to maintain, and the limited appeal of the recordings did not make them profitable with analog technology. In the 1970s, the Golden Crest label attempted to broaden the appeal of the recordings by creating compilation LPs featuring all the fight songs of a football conference, recorded by one of the schools from that conference. Golden Crest marketed these recordings toward a football audience. Examples of these types of recordings include Cornell University's Fight Songs of the Northeast (1977), the University of Tennessee's Fight Songs of the South (n.d.), and the University of Kansas's Fight Songs from the Heart of America (1977). Golden Crest also produced a few LPs that demonstrated the ability of marching bands to perform music other than fight songs. Of these, the LPs The Revelli Years with the University of Michigan Marching Band (1981) and This—Is a Marching Band! (1979), from the University of Kansas Marching Band, have been the most influential. Rereleases of all of these albums on CD would be useful.

The digital revolution of the mid-1980s decreased the university marching band's reliance on outside record labels. In 1986 the University of Illinois produced the first marching band CD, entitled The Marching Illini. Since then, the number of recordings produced by the bands themselves or by small local labels has increased exponentially. These CDs are primarily created as a yearbook for band members and alumni, but they are often available to the general public through the band's office or Web site or at each school's bookstore. While these recordings lack the important visual component and energy of a live marching band performance, the new availability of recorded music is great news for listeners interested in exploring the genre without sitting through a football game.

The following sections review the musical genres performed by each of the five major [End Page 230] types of university marching bands currently present in the United States. Band types, as they are grouped in this article, are marked by many factors, including their marching style, the genres they perform, their leadership hierarchy, their aesthetic goals, and their influences. Three of the band types (military, traditional, and corps-style) correspond roughly to the historical periods through which the modern marching band developed. The remaining two types of bands (scramble bands and show bands) are defined less by historical period than by regional influence.

This review makes no attempt to name the best bands in the United States. University marching bands are unique in the marching band world in that they do...


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