Marching Bands in the Big Ten

As you walk past the concession stand, you smell grease from the burgers, you hear the shouts of thousands walking past you, but what stands out most is in the sound off into the distance. It’s so faint, but it draws your attention. It makes every step towards your seat more and more exciting. As you get closer, the sound starts to get louder, the rhythms and melodies become clear and you finally get the goose bumps you had hoped for. Only the magic of the marching band can really get you fired up for what is to come. And only in the Big Ten can you find a conference with such rich traditions, unique history and an unparalleled spirit of innovation in the marching band world. Here is a detailed list of the Big Ten marching bands and what makes them so unique to the world of college football, music, and The Big Ten.

Photo courtesy of Marching Illini

University of Illinois
The Marching Illini love to be first, and which school can possibly rival these monumental firsts? They were they first to have a halftime show, the first to form a formal college concert band, and they were the first to come up with a fight song (“Illinois Loyalty”). Really, Illinois did all this? Yes, yes they did. Not only did they come up with all these firsts, but they also continue to remain solid in performing one of the greatest pregame shows that any band in the country executes. The entire performance is dedicated to promoting state and national pride. John Phillip Sousa also dubbed the Marching Illini as the “Worlds Greatest College Band.” Sousa is possibly the greatest cosigner they could ever imagine, after all, he is known as the “American March King.”
Fight Song: “Oskee Wow-Wow”

Indiana University
The Marching Hundred hold a rich history that has always been respected amongst the marching bands in the Big Ten world. What distinguishes them from the rest is their pre-home game march known as “The Walk.” They perform in front of students and fans hours before the game at the Assembly Hall, playing all kinds of songs like the infamous pep-band song, “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel. After the performance they march back to the field house for a break before the game while playing random tunes along the way. The best part is the band always has a great time performing and singing in front of the people they pass by.  As part of their pre-game show, The Marching Hundred occasionally uses my favorite, the “Floating Indiana” formation. During halftime, the band specializes each of their set lists throughout the season. Each home game has a different theme, for example “Music of the 80s” and my favorite, music from one of the best comedies of all time, “Blazing Saddles.” Every game has a unique performance, which is always very entertaining. The Marching Hundred’s most recent accomplishment was performing for at  Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Fight Song: “Indiana, Our Indiana”

University of Iowa
The Hawkeye Marching Band is very entertaining for multiple reasons, including the Golden Girl twirler. The band has three unique fights songs in their arsenal, “On Iowa,” “Iowa Fight Song,” and “Roll Along Iowa.” The first is my favorite. The band has an infamous “beer song” as band members call it, but it is properly known as the “Hawkeye Victory Polka,” and is played after each Hawkeye victory. At one time the president of the university tried to prevent the band from performing the song. Band members and fans were upset at the change, so the rules changed back as long as the band wasn’t taught from any sheet music or their band instructors. It’s up to the older members to pass the song to the younger generations. I still can hear the song every time I visit the school and there is a  Hawkeye football game victory, so they are pretty intent on keeping the song alive.
Fight Song: “On Iowa”

Michigan Marching Band

University of Michigan
Michigan’s fight song, “The Victors,” is one of the greats. Michigan is a marching band with rich traditions and this song is pretty much played through breakfast, lunch and dinner when there is a football game. Aside from this song, the Michigan Marching Band is special because of the many rituals that band performs before the game, at halftime and after the game. The formation of the “M” while playing “The Victors” is always a crowd favorite. Towards the end of the song, the drum major dashes to the 20-yard line, stops and bends backwards without using arms or collapsing onto the ground, then keeps reaching back until only his or her head reaches the ground, with their body now shaped like a table. And on special occasions, like homecoming, the drum routine of the Hawaiian War Chant and The Temptations are played to get the Michigan Spirit going. The Michigan marching band is also the first Big Ten band to perform at a Super Bowl (VII, Los Angeles).
Fight Song: “The Victors”

Michigan State University
Their band director’s name is John Madden, so this band is obviously built for football games; however, when they perform outside of the gridiron they are just as impressive. The Michigan State marching band has a laundry list of events that they were invited to performed in. They have performed at two Worlds Fairs, for 5 presidents of the United States and at the 1984 World Series.  One tradition the band has is to protect their statue of Sparty from vandals during the weekend that the University of Michigan football team is in town for games. The band’s other famous tradition is the “Spinning Block S.” As they play their fight song, the hollow block ‘S’ spins as they go down the field.
Fight Song: “MSU Fight Song”

University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota Marching Band performs a spectacular pregame show, where the highlights include multiple forms of their “Block M” formation, a couple rounds of their fight song, “Minnesota Rouser” and the “Star Spangled Banner” to close the show. An interesting tradition amongst the band is that the saxophone section will always eat Pixy Stixs before the march into the stadium. Another fact about the band is that women where only fully infiltrated into the band in 1972. Women were in the band when men went to fight in World War II, however, they lost their positions when the men returned. Today, the band is a mixture of over 300 talented men and women.
Fight Song: “Minnesota Rouser”

Husker Marching Band

University of Nebraska
At the University of Nebraska, the “Marching Red” is very well known. The band, with almost 300 members, has become a staple around campus and especially at football games. The Cornhusker Marching Band has also had some unique performances. They were present at all the major college football bowls, in addition to being featured on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” on ABC. On game day, the “Marching Red” have the tradition of performing a free concert an hour and half before kick-off, before their march to the stadium.
Fight Song: “Hail Varsity”

Northwestern University
For over a century, the Northwestern University “Wildcat” Marching Band has made its way into thousands of Northwestern fans’ hearts. The band is armed with “SpiriTeam” positions. One of the positions is the Grynder, whose function is to uplift school pride amongst the fans, the band and the players throughout the game. This position symbolizes the quirkiness of the band that makes them so lovable. Northwestern’s quirky attitude justifies their behavior in traditions like, “In the Toilet,” where the Grynder’s duty is to use a purple toilet bowl named Fred as a way of controlling the crowds growling (cheering) throughout the game. The SpiriTeam consists of the Spirit Leader, Grynder, and the Geek, to name a few. These titles are given to honored band members that have the right qualifications to fill these imperative roles. It provides the Northwestern Marching Band with the right mix of different personalities that make them a perfect opener for any football game. A more serious ritual that the band engages in is the singing of their school hymn, the “Alma Mater.” It is played during many of their halftime shows. Another tradition occurs after the game; the Northwestern football team joins the band in the singing of their fight song. Even the Wildcat’s coach, Pat Fitzgerald, has said that it is their football teams’ best tradition.
Fight Song: “GO U Northwestern”

Ohio State Marching Band. Photo courtesy of Ed Crockett.

Ohio State University
“The Best Damn Band in the Land” is famous for its “Script Ohio” marching band routine. Watching the all-brass band march through each other is a sight to be seen. But with all their talent, it isn’t hard to believe that they could pull these types of routines off with ease. And it is in this formation, where everyone recognizes the most important musician on the field at the moment, the one who is dotting the letter “i.” The dot on the “i” was once reserved for Jack Nicklaus, an Ohio State Alumnus.
Fight Song: “Across the Field” and “Buckeye Battle Cry”

Penn State University
The Blue Band is a classic marching band whose history is written with sound traditions; one of them is their extensive pregame routine that starts with their show at the Bryce Jordan Center, where they perform to loyal fans. During the actual pregame in Beaver Stadium, the band always kicks off their show with “Lion Fanfare and Downfield.” Towards the end of the song the most riveting moment occurs when the drum major sprints towards the 50-yard line and then does a flip. The Blue Band’s name came about early in its history, in 1923, when the band decided to mark the more important band members by giving them blue uniforms, as opposed to their original brown military style uniforms. The Blue Band members traveled to away games and when they were spotted amidst a sea of brown uniforms the term “Blue Band” was used to distinguish them. The Parade Order is another tradition that the Blue Band engages in. It is a drum cadence that is usually performed after the bands post-game performance at the 50-yard line. Aside from the many traditions that the Penn State Marching Band embraces, the band also holds quite an impressive list of bowl games that they’ve traveled to.
Fight Song: “Fight On, State”

Purdue University
Purdue University’s marching band is special for many reasons, one of them being that they have the world’s largest drum. Aside from this 10-foot monstrosity, the Purdue marching band is built around a strong mixed collection of instruments and, of course, the nations best twirler known as the “Golden Girl.” They are also credited with being the first school to form the block letters, “P.” The All-American Marching Band is armed with a dedicated mix of musicians that lets people know that this band is American as it gets. Let’s not forget that before Neil Armstrong was kicking moon rocks and jumping in his space boots, he was part of the “All-American Marching Band.”
Fight Song: “Hail Purdue!”

Badger Band

University of Wisconsin
Wisconsin is home to one of the greatest traditions throughout college football, “The Fifth Quarter” routine, thanks to the brilliant Michael Leckrone (Director of the UW marching band). The Fifth Quarter encourages fans to stay an extra fifteen minutes for the Wisconsin marching band to go through all their best hits. They can be broken down into three simple categories.  First are the classics: “On, Wisconsin” and “Varsity.” Second, there are the silly ones: “The Chicken Dance” and “Hey Baby.” Then are the ones inspired by booze: “Beer Barrel Polka,” Tequila,” and “You’ve Said it All.” After all, this is Wisconsin, home of great beer, cheese, and music (Who doesn’t like Garbage and the Violent Femmes?)
Fight Song: “On, Wisconsin!”


About: Kovas Lapinas

Kovas is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a history degree. He enjoys learning about historical figures from Winston to Magellan, but is just as enthusiastic about his Badgers. To him, watching any exciting sports game surrounded by friends and great food constitutes the perfect day. Kovas also enjoys hip-hop, traveling, and Googling random things on the internet.