The Marching Band Refused to Yield

Fall was in the air this morning. But there was no sign of it at the game. It was hot! Should have brought the sun screen. I took the family to the Georgia Tech football game today — my son’s first college game. Tech absolutely crushed Kansas 66-24. We had a great time. My son got to experience the college game-day atmosphere. And we can write a ‘W’ in the book next to his first game. We got our exercise in as well because we had to park quite some distance from Bobby Dodd Stadium. But the trek across campus was beautiful.

During halftime, The Marching Yellow Jackets gave a great performance. However, what fascinated my son was how large the band was. Yes indeed. There is something compelling when that many musicians are making music as one. So many drummers. So many horns. The guy on the ladder directing it all. It got me thinking about how it differs from the conventional rock paradigm: four or five guys, maybe a female, drums, lead guitar, bass, maybe keys or a second guitar, and vocals.

I was reminded about a couple of times when rock musicians dared to mix it up a bit by incorporating a collegiate marching band into their music. Perhaps there are more examples, but I could think of only two. What’s more common is a collaboration with a symphony orchestra. Some of these are more successful than others. Colective Soul’s Home (2006) with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and Sting’s Symphonicities (2010) with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra are two of the more recent successful ones, in my opinion. But collaboration with a marching band is an altogether different endeavor, and much less common it appears. The two examples that came to mind are Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead, the former for their 1979 song “Tusk,” from the album of the same name, the latter for their 2009 Grammy performance of the tune “15 Step,” from the album In Rainbows. I know Fleetwood Mac and Radiohead are three decades removed and worlds apart stylistically, but they both shared this idea to incorporate a marching band into a rock song. It turns out that in both instances, the band they chose was The University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, aka The Spirit of Troy. I did a bit of Wiki research and discovered that the same band director Dr. Arthur Bartner was involved in both efforts. Kudos to the doc! He proved on at least two occasions that a marching band can rock!

I enjoy when musicians tear down the boundaries between genres or when they intentionally disrupt the formula. It’s great to hear the familiar, but in unexpected places or in atypical ways. I love when artists pay homage to musical traditions that came before them, but still manage to create something new and fresh. It’s a big part of what draws me to an artist.

I’ll leave you with (what else?) YouTube clips. The first is the official music video for “Tusk,” the audio for which is a mix of both the studio version and an on-the-field live version. The second clip is Radiohead’s Grammy performance with an entirely different Trojan band. Enjoy!

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