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Music to our ears: The Cavalier Marching Band takes the field

Halftime at Scott Stadium means gametime for the 300-plus members of the Cavalier Marching Band

It’s the end of the second quarter at Scott Stadium. The energy of the game momentarily subsides as fans talk among themselves, go for refreshments and check their phones; they don’t notice the assembly congregating on the sidelines in front of section 104, clothed in blue and white, orange capes fluttering in the breeze. An arresting thunder of instruments draws all heads to center field and — after nine minutes of expertly performed music and movements — the field is once again empty and the fans have turned their attention back to the game. The halftime show is over, but for the 320 members of the Cavalier Marching Band, another period of hard work, focus and determination has just begun.

In the interval between games, the band will learn an entirely new show, sometimes with only a week to put together the songs, movements and visuals. In an average week, the entire band will practice for a total of four hours, with home game weeks bringing extra practices Friday evening and Saturday morning. William Pease, director of the Cavalier Marching Band, said the schedule takes a lot of organization to make happen every week.

The University’s band program did not always possess this level of proficiency. Since the early 1900s, a number of largely unsuccessful student sports bands have formed, from the poorly funded University Band, disbanded in 1964, to the infamous Virginia Pep Band, banned from all athletic events in the early 2000s. The relatively young Cavalier Marching Band got its start in 2003 thanks to a large donation by Carl and Hunter Smith.

Since that time, Pease has led the band to home games, away games, competitions and bowl games with the help of other instructors such as Associate Director Andrew Koch.

Fourth-year College student Tony Rucker, the tuba section leader, said the directors “aren’t afraid to call out someone if they make a mistake, [but are] willing to help if help is needed.”

Pease said he is just trying to bring the group together, and “sometimes that means being a dad or showing a little tough love.”

The number one strength of the band, Pease said, is its student leadership. During the pre-season, the students generate a list of hundreds of ideas for the fall’s shows, which are then arranged by both directors and section leaders. Students will lead practice if instructors aren’t present and make sure their sections focus and memorize the material.

But being in the band is not all hard work. For their Halloween practice each section donned costumes, one dressing as the 44 presidents, another as a chess-set.

“We’re like our own little college, with so much diversity and something for everyone to be a part of,” said first-year College student Amy West, the band’s feature twirler.

Pease estimated that as many as half the members live with another member.

The relationship between students and directors is similarly close.

“I actually think they know more gossip than I do,” fourth-year Commerce student Zane Chao said. “We make fun of them, they make fun of us.”

But through all the stress, hard work and goofy team-bonding activities, the band lives for those brief moments in center field.

“None of it matters when I get on the field in Scott Stadium” said Marley Ogden, fourth-year College student and Piccolo Section Leader. ”Every time we step off to perform a half-time show I am reminded why I continue to do this year after year and why I love it so much.”


Published November 18, 2012 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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