The CSU Marching Band: longest-standing Ram tradition

As appearing in SOURCE

If you’re a Ram fan, you’ve probably participated in at least one of these CSU traditions at a football game:

  • Chanting “I’m proud. To be. A CSU Ram.”
  • Jingling your keys right before the game’s kickoff and again before a kickoff after the Rams’ scoring play
  • Attended rivalry games like the Border War and Rocky Mountain Showdown

And you may also know about these other longstanding CSU traditions:

  • CAM the Ram, CSU’s mascot since 1954
  • Students have been painting the “A” since 1924
  • ROTC has fired the cannon during football games since 1920
  • CSU has celebrated Homecoming since 1914.

But one of the longest standing traditions — if not the longest — is the CSU Marching Band. Formed in 1901 with just 13 students, the marching band’s mission has remained intact: to represent the University, support our athletic teams, and entertain fans.

“The CSU Marching Band is a big part of the game-day traditions at Hughes Stadium. They do a great job of creating an exciting atmosphere in the stadium, and there’s great pride for our team and for our fans in the way they perform and represent Colorado State University,” football coach Mike Bobo said. “From the time we arrive, when they march with us into the stadium on Ram Walk, to the postgame tradition when we join with them for the fight song and the alma mater, they are a big part of our game-day experience and we are extremely thankful for all of the talent and energy they provide to us and our fans.”

The CSU Marching Band — now 250 students strong — continues to bring entertainment and CSU pride to the community at large.

The marching band sousaphones section plays during a football game
The marching band sousaphones section plays during a football game

What they do

Each fall, the marching band and a subset called the Presidential Pep Band perform 35 times around the state and nation. This includes a variety of CSU events, six home football games, travel to a few away football games (like Wyoming, Air Force, and a bowl game), high school exhibitions, the Parade of Lights, Denver Broncos halftime shows, and more.

The band and Golden Poms celebrate the women's win
The band and Golden Poms on the court following the women’s victory

In the spring, the CSU Pep Band, made up of many of the same students, plays at the men’s and women’s home basketball games and NCAA tournaments.

Who they are

The marching band has two directors, several staff members and graduate teaching assistants, and 250 student performers. Those performers include 12 different sections: flutes, clarinets, alto saxophones, tenor saxophones, trumpets, mellophones (a brass instrument like a French horn), trombones, baritones, sousaphones (a type of tuba), drumline, color guard, and the Golden Poms.

How they do it

Though fans may think that marching band practice begins in August, the band directors, staff, and student performers are working year-round to get everything ready for the fall season.

  • January to April: State- and nationwide player recruitment.
  • May: The student leadership team, including drum majors and section leaders, are selected via application. The band directors are working with CSU Athletics to determine special show themes for certain games, including Ag Day (Orange Out) and Military Appreciation Day. As the director of the marching band, Dr. Richard Frey begins writing custom musical arrangements for the band.
  • June: Auditions are conducted. Students come from every college and most departments on campus to be in the band. In fact, only 20 percent of the band members are music majors. All of the students register for MU 204 – the class component of being in the marching band.
  • July: Leadership training for the student leadership team begins.
  • August: Preseason camp starts. Once classes begin, students practice and play 10-20 hours a week, in addition to maintaining a typical complement of classes and jobs.

Each year, it’s a collaborative effort for the marching band to create different halftime shows. While the band director gets the plans started and arranges all the music, students often suggest the music that turns into a halftime show. They create choreography for parades, and a dance committee works to create a unified look for all of these elements in the stands. For example, when the football team links arms and sways together, the band follows suit, bookending the stadium in CSU support.

Once football game day arrives, the band is at the stadium five hours before kickoff for rehearsal. With rehearsal, Ram Walk and post-game playing, a typical football game day lasts 9 to 10 hours for the band.

Why they do it

The hours and hours of practice and performance, marching with instruments that add 10-50 pounds of weight, the travel to and from games and other events — all of these things can add stress to a student’s busy life. But the marching band members are dedicated to representing the University in this unique way.

“While it takes a lot of effort to do what we do, the people that we meet, friendships that are formed, performances that we give, and the smiles that we put on people’s faces make it all so worth it,” said Karla Rogers, a sophomore trumpet player and drum major.

Katherine Wagner, a junior who plays mellophone and is section leader, said, “I do marching band because it makes me happy and proud to be a part of the CSU community. We are able to support our school in all that we do, while serving as entertainment for those in the school and community to watch. This in itself makes marching band 100 percent worth all of the hours.”

And, the marching band is a great place for students to find a community and build friendships.

“My favorite part of band is seeing how so many diverse people that come from every college on campus can come together so easily to create something that is bigger than all of us. It’s incredible to see that while everyone is leading such different lives and going through different things, we can work together as a team to entertain audiences, support Athletics, and represent the University,” said Rogers.

They also establish friendships that last a lifetime.

All eight colleges at CSU are represented in the band, which includes 250 members.
All eight colleges at CSU are represented in the band, which includes 250 members.

“Some of my closest college friendships arose from CSU Marching Band,” said Kevin Kowalski (’13, Computer Science). “After spending multiple years of service and many hours of practice together, you learn a lot about your fellow members of the band community. You see their high and low points and how they react to physical and mental challenges. There’s something to be said for the bond created through shared challenges. You grow to deeply trust and cherish these friendships. Many of these friends are still an integral part of my post-college life.”

Because of the band’s reputation and dedication to excellence, and due to the generous support of donors in the form of scholarships, retention of band members has also increased significantly. Though school work is demanding, many students maintain their involvement in marching band as a way to have a creative outlet, continue their strong friendships, and carry forth their University pride.

“This scholarship is important because it has helped me to pay for the education that I am here for, and it shows that all of the hard work and dedication that we have put into the marching band program does not go unrecognized,” Wagner said.

The Tradition Marches On

Though the chapter at Hughes Stadium has ended, the band will carry on its tradition, entertaining fans and disseminating CSU pride to the thousands of people who will hear them at each performance in the new stadium.

They continue to work on routines and music that will entertain the crowd. They’ve recently reintroduced the Aggie Boom Song (the fight song when CSU was Colorado A&M) and the formation of the Aggie “A” into the pre-game show, while also including more current hits, traditional formations, dance components and other ways to add visual appeal to their shows.

Photos from the Final Game at Hughes Stadium, Nov. 19, 2016

  • Colorado State University plays their last football game at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium against New Mexico. CSU won 49-31. November 19, 2016