Coming up with shows for the Ohio State Marching Band is not an easy task as it requires balancing tradition and innovation. The OSUMB originally started our performing for military as well as athletic events and its military roots are evident today in its uniforms, discipline, and focus on precision. Over the years respect for these roots has led the band to develop a distinctive marching and playing style that must be upheld. At the same time things change, marching band styles evolve and music styles come and go. In order to stay relevant and engage the fans of today the band needs to blend these new styles with its traditional style and this is something that TBDBITL has done exceedingly well over the years. The first two weeks of the season has demonstrated this already; week one saw the band playing the music of the Beach Boys while performing an old school style picture show while week two saw the band get funky with a more modern style drill that incorporated an energetic percussion solo in the closer. For those who didn’t get a chance to see the show last week, a video of it is linked at the end of this article.
While talking about the difference between a single and double ‘Script Ohio’ last week I mentioned that a single Script involves only the 192 regulars while a double Script involves the regulars plus 32 of the 33 alternates. So just what is the difference between regulars and alternates, and why do they exist? The OSUMB features 225 musicians which are split up into 16 rows based on instrument. Each row as has 12 regulars and 2 alternates; the exception being the percussion row made up of quads, bass drums, and cymbals which requires 3 alternates. The regulars are the band members who march each week while the alternates usually do not march except when a double Script is performed or a specific drill requires extra marchers or people to handle props. That doesn’t mean that alternates aren’t full members of the band, they are and they perform at Skull Session and in the stands during the game; alternates also perform for pregame on road trips.
So why does the band have alternates? Alternates serve two purposes, the first being to act as an emergency backup. While it is rare, occasionally something happens that prevents a regular from performing during a show. The OSUMB marching style is very physical and injuries happen, severe illnesses can occur (and it normally needs to be pretty severe for a band member to not get out there and perform), accidents can happen, etc… Those of you who perhaps were in marching band in high school can probably recall a time when something like this happened and your band probably just marched with a hole in the formation or adapted the formation to fill in the hole. While this works with some drill designs, the OSUMB uses a lot of straight lines, block formations, and other formations that require specific numbers to work and thus marching a hole is not an option. Alternates prevent this from happening by being able to step in on short notice and replace any regular that cannot perform in a show. This very rarely happens but when it does it is often on short notice, placing a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the alternates.
The other role of the alternates is to act as extra incentive to keep all the band members on their toes and performing at their best. While all members of TBDBITL always strive to be their best and put on a perfect show, an element of competition always gives people extra motivation. Every Monday after a show each alternate will choose one regular band member and challenge them for their spot. Monday rehearsal for the alternates and the people they challenge will then feature a mini-tryout where they are judged on their marching and playing. If the alternate does a better job than the regular, they get that regular’s spot and the regular becomes an alternate until they can win a challenge. Since the regulars do not know if they will be challenged until rehearsal starts on Monday, they all need to make sure they are fully prepared in order to not be caught with their pants down and beaten. Thus the alternates help to ensure that the band is always performing at its peak.
This week sees the band celebrating some important events. Things get going with a celebration of the city of Columbus’s Bicentennial that will feature the band forming a ‘200’ and a ‘Columbus’ on the field, so get your camera’s ready. Pregame will of course feature all the traditional elements: the ramp entrance, the opposing team fight song, the tunnel sequence, and a single ‘Script Ohio’ with the ‘i’ being dotted by senior Kyle Grossman.
The celebration continues at halftime as the band celebrates American space exploration. With the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars and the recent death of Neil Armstrong, this show seems amazingly appropriate and as an Astronomer I am even more disappointed that I do not get to be there to see it in person. The show will feature the songs An American Heritage which was written for the US Marine Band by Ryan Nowlin, Mars and Jupiter from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Star Trek: The Next Generation (though this actually originally showed up in Star Trek: The Motion Picture), and music from Apollo 13/An American Heritage Reprise. The music was arranged by Jim Swearingen who is a long time arranger for the OSUMB and a professor at Capital University; anyone who ever was in middle school or high school band probably recognizes Swearingen’s name as he is one of the most prolific composers/arrangers of music for that level in the country. The drill, written by interim assistant director Chris Hoch, will feature lots of picture formations which will have to remain a surprise to readers, though once again you should have your camera ready. The halftime show will feature a special guest as the band honors Senator John Glenn for his service to our country and the space program, making this truly a show not to be missed.