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Opinion: K-State Marching Band and What You Don't Realize

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Time for an insider view of the K-State Marching Band

The set in question, from a different angle.
The set in question, from a different angle.
JT VanGilder

It's cliche, but unless you've done it you just don't understand marching band. And maybe you've done it, but not at this level. Either way, there has been a lot of conjecture, and lot of opinions flying around the internet lately about what happened on the field during the half-time show of the Pride of Wildcatland. And none of it for the right reasons.

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Kansas State University Marching Band for my entire six years at K-State (changing majors sucks). I'm from a music family, my dad, sister, and brother in-law are all high school band directors in the state of Kansas. I have many friends who are band directors all over the country. I'm also active in the K-State Alumni Band association. I am very passionate about this, and well-informed.

Let's avoid the obvious for now, and hit on what most of you didn't see or hear. The K-State Marching Band put together an incredibly complex and difficult show, complete with full pictures of "real" things that moved and had life. And they did so while playing complex and rich music, that sounded pretty great (to informed ears). It's hard enough just to do one or the other, but increasingly difficult to do both at the same time. It's hard to equate how hard that is to do, to give you any sort of good parallels or examples.

Let me tell you what else happened during the halftime show on Sept. 5th. The KSUMB performed the "Star Wars" theme complete with scrolling text, a Millennium Falcon, X-Wing fighter, and the Death Star that all moved in concert (it's hard enough to make those in set pictures, but to move them requires a lot of concentration and effort). The KSUMB also performed the theme to the reboot "Star Trek" movies, and made a full-field Enterprise. There were company fronts (the band in straight lines across the field) that went endzone to endzone (this band is huge), and were nearly straight (straight lines are more difficult than curvy ones). Yet none of those are making headlines. There is no mention of the awesome Falcon, or a moving Death Star, or even what the set in question was actually doing.

Whether you saw something else is up to your sensibilities (just like you see your own shapes in the clouds).

Okay, let's talk about that. The band performed the "Star Trek" theme, during which the Enterprise went to battle with a Jayhawk and, like all space heros in battle, blew-up the "evil space creature". It wasn't male genitals, it wasn't beastiality. It was the starship Enterprise. And it wasn't perfect, it was a complex and difficult set to make. The fuselage was a little more round than it should have been, the saucer section less defined than charted. But it was still the Enterprise made out of human bodies on a football field. Whether you saw something else is up to your sensibilities (just like you see your own shapes in the clouds), but that's not what was actually on the field, nor the intent of the chart.

The approximately 400 K-State students that make up the Pride of Wildcatland worked exceptionally hard to make this show a reality. They started work on it just three weeks ago, during the less-than-a-week band camp that runs the week before school starts. It's three-a-days in the heat of August practicing marching and drill (and not just for halftime shows, but pregame and street marching) or in the rehearsal hall on music. It's tough, and many kids drop out out of band during camp, because it's harder than anything else they've ever done in their lives. After that week, the band met together as a group only six more times. The band rehearses Tuesdays and Thursdays on non-game weeks, for just two hours from 3:30pm-5:20pm. On game weeks a similar Friday rehearsal is added, and then the band meets 5 hours before the game to rehearse on the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. These young men and women work extremely hard for about 25 combined minutes of time on the field (pregame and halftime). This furor caused by a misconception completely disregards and degrades the effort put in to it, taking attention away from what was otherwise an incredibly difficult and well-performed show. These students should be applauded for their hard work and skill, and the directors commended for taking a risk on such a complex show and getting it taught to those students in such a short amount of time.

I'm not going to change the minds of the uninformed, or those who are so worked up over this that they are calling for firings and/or banning of performance. I'm writing to you, casual informed football fan and K-State alum/fan who is looking for more information before making a decision. And an outlet for all the band alumni and band parents who read this and are looking for the other side of this story.