Game Day with the Purdue All American Marching Band!

The Big Bass Drum

When asked what they do on a typical Saturday morning, what do most college students say? “SLEEPING!!” This is usually the college student stereotype – party Friday night until late and sleep in Saturday morning until it is time to have more fun with friends and family tailgating before the football game. This is not the case for the typical AAMB student. Friday nights are spent downloading the playlist for the next day’s game, organizing the music in his flip-folder, shining his shoes until they sparkle, cleaning his spats and his hat, and assembling his suspenders. This way, he does not have to wake up earlier than he has to – only at the crack of dawn.

Beep-Beep! Beep-Beep! The boy slaps off the alarm clock and rolls over. “It is waaaay too early to be up on a Saturday!” he thinks. Buzz Buzz….Buzz Buzz. It’s his phone. A text from his rank leader reads, “GOOOOOOOOD MORNING!!! IT’S GAME DAY!!!!!” Groaning, the boy nearly falls off his top bunk as he climbs out of bed. Through his window he can just barely see the sun peeking out over the horizon. Trying not to wake up his sleeping roommate, he jumps in the shower, shaves his stubbly beard, brushes his teeth, and begins the process of putting on the military-inspired uniform. First the dry-fit shirt, then the pants with suspenders, finally the jacket – buttons, zipper, then more buttons. Finally he slips on his spats over his shoes and grabs a new pair of gloves before checking the time. Good, a couple minutes early. He grabs a pop-tart from the box to eat on the way down to the field. As he steps outside, Instrument in one hand, pop-tart in the other, he puts on his hat, making sure he has no hairs out of place around the back. The brisk, autumn air greets him like a cool splash in the face. “Ahhh, it feels like football season!” The thought comforts him, knowing the day ahead of him will be filled with excitement. As he approaches the asphalt practice field (designed specifically for the band in 2006), more and more students dressed exactly like him (and just as eager to start the day) greet him. “It’s like greeting your family at the breakfast table,” he thinks to himself. Except he can only pick out each individual person when they are less than 20 yards away.

Sectionals begin before the scheduled practice time roughly 4 hours before kick-off, some sections arriving and starting before others. The tubas and drumline have already assembled in the band room almost half a mile away a couple of hours earlier – there is always last minute polishing that needs done, and a party at 5 AM is always a good way to get the instruments ready! A good stretch is important on game day to prepare the many muscles that will be used throughout the day. Many sections have certain stretches and warm-ups that have been passed down through the many generations of AAMB. Through the crisp, quiet air, the steady beating of drums can be heard in the distance. Ever so slowly it comes closer and closer until the familiar marching cadences can be distinguished. The tubas, drumline, and drum majors have arrived at the practice field, signaling the official start of Boilermaker game day, enthusiastically waking up the entire campus along the way. The band’s military traditions are still present when the band lines up in their ranks for uniform and music inspection. Student leaders check for hair that is over the collar, unshaven beards, pants that are too short or too long, cloudy shoes, dirty spats, gloves, and hats, music that is not properly organized, and the list goes on and on. Some unfortunate members are awarded penalty points, which will prevent them from marching in next week’s show, as well as hurting their grade in the class. With just a whistle, Jay Gephart, current director of the AAMB, calls over the band to start rehearsing. Brass players try to warm up their horns by playing long, sustained notes. After a brief music rehearsal, the band spends a couple of hours rehearsing and running the day’s performances. The cool autumn air feels refreshing after a tiring, hectic morning. Band members have time for a quick break to socialize before the drum majors call the band to line up for the march to the outside Slayter Center of Performing Arts, the location of the pre-game pep rally, known as the “Thrill on the Hill” concert.

Slayter Center of Performing Arts was donated by and named after Russell Games Slayter, a Purdue alumnus who invented fiber glass. On their way to Slayter Center, the band marches through the tailgaters, a sign to them to gather up their belongings and assemble for some pre-game fun. Before taking the stage, to the audience’s amusement, the band performs the unique Band Cheer, shouting the seemingly meaningless words and rhythmically bouncing their instruments up and down, up and down. At the “Thrill on the Hill” concert, the band performs all of the traditional fight songs, including Hail Purdue!, Fighting Varsity, For the Honor of Old Purdue, and The Purdue Hymn, the alma mater, as well as music from the half time show, and of course, The Horse, a Boilermaker tradition led by the cheerleaders and written by AAMB’s very own Bill Moffet. As the “Thrill on the Hill” concert comes to a close, bandsmen wait in anxious anticipation, hoping their rank will receive the “Rank of the Week” award. In 2010, to the audience’s and the recipients’ surprises, the award was presented to a rank of tubas! It had been a very long time since the tubas have won the award.  After a brief visit with family and friends and stuffing as many snacks in their hats and uniform pockets as possible, the band makes its way up to the north end of the stadium, up the steep hill that members say gets harder and harder the older they get, playing Hail Purdue! along the way. The North End concert is basically an abbreviated “Thrill on the Hill” designed to psych up any fans that couldn’t quite make the trek to Slayter. As the band marches into the 60,000 capacity Ross-Aid Stadium, they perform their traditional kicks to the familiar cadence, shouting, “Kill the Hoosiers!” or whoever else’s mascot they are playing in the upcoming game. The student section cheers wildly as the band marches by, screaming the names of the band members that they know, hoping that their friend will hear them over the boisterous crowd.

With just enough time to grab a water bottle from the cooler, the AAMB makes its way to its pre-game starting position. Many sections have certain rituals that they do before every pre-game, like saying a chant or kissing the field. Purdue pre-game is a ten minute show with constant movement, which features all of the classic Boilermaker fight songs to fire up the crowd. The actual content of the pregame varies slightly from year to year, but it always starts out with a loud, brassy Purdue Fanfare to capture the crowd’s attention. The band plays songs like Fighting Varsity and For the Honor of Old Purdue, while they make formations of the Boilermaker Special, or words like “Boiler Up!” or “Purdue.” Purdue still plays the opposing team’s fight song backfield in the pregame, just as it did in 1920, when it was the first band to do so. When the team is ready to take the field, the band proudly plays Hail Purdue! and forms the famous “Block P,” as the flag corps flies the black and gold “P” flag back and forth. Finally, the band forms a shield and unfolds an enormous United States flag (and Indiana state flag) during its famous “I Am An American” sequence, which Al G. Wright created when he was director in the 60s and 70s. Official AAMB Announcer Roy Johnson recites the traditional words of the sequence while the band plays a moving rendition of America the Beautiful. When they reach the chorus, 60,000 fans are cheering with patriotism and pride. The crowd stays standing as AAMB continues to play a militaristic version of The Star Spangled Banner, and they stare up at the sky as two fighter jets fly by (on select game days), nearly covering up the sound of the band. Another match-up of Boilermaker football is ready to begin!

As the team runs off the field jumping and bursting with excitement and happiness after a well-earned victory, the AAMB has just enough time to give a few of their fellow section members high fives before securing their flip folders to their lanyards and running on field for the post game concert. Although some fans slowly make their way to the stadium exits, towing blankets, popcorn, and Purdue paraphernalia, many of them find themselves distracted by the sound of 373 instruments that have taken over the field. With their hats, which are strangely more comfortable turned backwards, and slightly dirtier gloves than earlier in the day, the band proudly plays, “The greatest university fight songs,” as Roy Johnson calls them. The drum majors call tune after tune from various halftime shows to keep the celebration hopping. After one last round of fight songs, the band lines up in parade order, and the cadences begin, once more (until Monday at practice, that is!) The AAMB marches through the memorial archway to the Engineering Fountain for the fountain concert. A similar repertoire is selected for the fountain concert as the “Thrill on the Hill” concert, and of course bursting with Purdue pride. At the end of the performance, drum majors line up for the famous “Drum Major Break-Down”, where the band runs out of sight to a drum cadence that becomes faster and faster, only to appear again in front of the drum majors to watch the Drum Majors do their traditional break-down. And so completes a day in a life of an AAMB student. The boy, drenched in sweat, exhausted, and sore, knows that there is nothing more that he would like to do on game day, than what he has just done.

About: Kara Peterson

Kara Peterson is a Junior at Purdue University studying Hospitality and Tourism Management. She someday hopes to become either a hotel manager or restaurant manager. She plays trumpet in both the “All-American” Marching Band and Boiler Brass (Purdue’s men’s basketball band), and she is actively involved in the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Purdue chapter.