The green and gold uniforms are all too familiar. Their fanfare is the cue to start cheering and ushers in our beloved Bison football team. They are the “pride of North Dakota,” the Gold Star Marching Band. But what does it take to go from ordinary students to the well-oiled machine that we see at halftime?
Being on the Gold Star Marching Band takes a lot of commitment. For the band, it starts a full week before fall semester with the annual band camp. Approximately 250 students across more than 60 different majors come from all over the region to start working as a team. Once classes start, it’s not just about game day. Band members rehearse three nights a week and then again on the morning of a game. It’s time and effort put into being at their best when it counts, and it’s not always easy.
Drum majors Tara Troxel, Nick Bodin and Justin Gardner are so committed to the marching band they would bend over backward for it — quite literally. “We want to leave the band better than we found it,” Troxel said at last Friday’s practice. As drum majors, they are responsible for directing the band during performances, keeping everyone on tempo and, yes, bending over backward during the pre-game show. The three rotate who is responsible for the stunt each week and note that it’s easier than it looks. “It’s still a long 2 minutes and 13 seconds though,” remarked Bodin, who had his turn during the North Alabama game.
While all three have had a growing responsibility in the band, each progressed from members to section leaders before becoming drum majors. They all joined the band for different reasons. Troxel and Bodin’s majors in the music program require participation in marching band. Others, like fellow drum major Gardner and bass drum section leader Shane Ensz, joined for the fun of it. Since Ensz had played in his high school’s marching band, he decided to continue into college when he came to North Dakota State. It offered him an opportunity to meet people outside of his major, and he found the band as a big family made up of different tight-knit communities in each section. “If you don’t think you made enough friends your first year, just join band,” he laughed. “You’ll get at least 20 (friends).” A member of the tuba section added it gave him “a chance to be a part of something bigger than just me.” Brianna Adkins, a first-year saxophone, mentioned that she’s met some really awesome people by joining the marching band.
Offsetting the amount of work is the fun they have as a band. As a game day tradition, each section meets up at a different breakfast spot before the early rehearsal at the Fargodome. “It helps to make sure everyone’s up,” Sigurd Johnson, the director of the Gold Star Marching Band noted. Ensz shared the drumline’s tradition is to meet at the Shack on Broadway at 6 a.m., while Lexi Nelson, who plays trumpet, noted that her section, being the largest group, rotates which restaurant they go to. The breakfast serves not only as a wake-up call for the students, but also as a time for band members to connect with each other. The trombones make time for their own tradition: kickball in the end zone of the Fargodome before rehearsal.
After rehearsals, they break for an early lunch before getting into uniform and gathering at Reineke Fine Arts Center to tune their instruments and warm up prior to the march north to the Fargodome. It’s like a miniature parade each week with NDSU police escorting them down Albrecht Boulevard. Fans on their way to the game stop and video the band as they pass, and as they begin to play in the tailgating lot, they exchange their police escort for Fargodome security. In the close quarters of the tailgating lot, it’s possible for someone to interfere with the band or the instruments. Security is there to keep an eye on them and intervene if necessary.
As soon as the band makes it into the tunnels beneath the stands of the Fargodome, the hats and the jackets come off. As Adkins pointed out, it’s “really hot” in the band uniforms. Students lean up against the concrete walls and lay on the floor to cool down, sometimes leaving what they call “concrete angels” when they get up. This is their last break before they perform, and they try to make the most of it by getting water and talking to friends in the student sections. All too soon, they line up, march out and the rest is history.
For the Gold Star Marching Band, the band isn’t just about the music or the performance. It’s about the people and supporting the team they love by doing what they love. We just get to share in a small portion of the ride and join them in cheering on the Bison.