by Ellen Gillingham
The Maryland Terrapins football games do not start at kick-off, they begin when the sound of the Mighty Sound of Maryland’s drum cadence marches the high-spirited band into the stadium. The marching band is a distinctive American tradition. At many American universities, the marching band is just as important as the football team, with unique fight songs and marches for each school. The band contributes the soundtrack to the day’s celebrations, while “reminders of nationhood serve to turn [it] into homeland space” (Billig 43). The band encompasses flags, colors, traditions, songs, and formations that create the spectacle that perfectly represents the University of Maryland as a prideful nation.
My way of performing the nation of the University of Maryland is to reenact parts of our marching band’s pregame show. I performed “Victory Song,” “Fight Song,” and “Crown Imperial” as they represent the University of Maryland. In College Park, the grand tradition started in 1909, around the same time as other marching bands around the country. L. G. Smith organized a band to play for formal ROTC functions. After its first year the small, 19-piece band branched out to other school and community events. Over the years, the marching band has changed, but much remains the same. It maintains a rich history of traditions that are important to the culture of the institution. Today, the 250-member marching band performs pregame and halftime shows at all Maryland Terrapins football home games, and travels to at least one away game each season. The marching band is as old as the football program — they go hand and hand with each other.
My performance comes from the Mighty Sound of Maryland’s silk line choreography for pregame shows. I have chosen this part because I was a member of this section of the marching band in the 2010 season. I always enjoyed performing the pregame show because of the pure excitement. My heart would race as I lined up to high step double-time march onto the field. Additionally, I see the pregame performance as the most important tradition of the University of Maryland. Even though I “will never know most of [my] fellow members,” I always excited because I knew I was performing our nation for them (Anderson 6).
Pregame audibly represents the university with a compilation of songs. The band first plays the “Pregame Fanfare.” Then they play “Maryland Victory Song”, “Freedom Fanfare and Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Fight Song,” “Maryland, My Maryland,” “Alma Mater,” and “Crown Imperial.” These songs represent the University. For example, “Maryland, My Maryland” is the official Maryland state song. The song refers to the history and geography of Maryland. “Freedom Fanfare and Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are both are extremely popular and well-known American patriotic songs. Their echo reminds viewers of the state’s connection to the nation. “Alma Mater,” “Maryland Victory Song,” and “Fight Song” are a traditional songs that communicate themes of eternal praise of Maryland.
The band visually represents the school with their Maryland-flag colored uniforms of red, white, black, and gold. The majority of the band members wear a white jacket with a gold sash, band and university logos, and black citation bands with black trousers. On their heads, they wear a black shako with black and gold plume and top off the ensemble with a red and gold double-sided cape. These uniforms are designed to represent a certain aspect of performance, characterize band members, and tell a story of school pride.
Figure 1 The University of Maryland marching band flutes and flags in uniform, circa 1985-1995.
Additionally, the pregame performance consists of band members shaping iconic “Maryland” texts. After the band marches in a block across the field, they form the letter “M” for the home section of the stadium. This shifts into “USA” inside of a diamond, which in turn changes to “Maryland.” These images show the pride that the university has in the country and its connection to America as a state and educational institution. Then the band forms “Go Terps” written for the opposing team’s supporters can read it. This text shows the school’s pride for their team. The band then performs “Block and Mess,” which is one of the signatures of the Mighty Sound of Maryland. The majority of the band forms a block and then running through it at over 250 beats per minute form a connected “UM.” Finally, inside of a shield formation, the dance team displays the world’s largest Maryland flag and march with it down the field, concluding the pregame show. All of these formations display pride for the University of Maryland. The logos convey a message that is associated with the school to viewers. By incorporating so many symbols, the band represents and serves the university, while instilling pride and spirit in the audience. The performance not only entertains, but also guides both spectators and players to a place of excitement.
Overall, I have chosen to perform excerpts from the pregame show since it encompasses audible and visual representations along with other traditions to encourage school spirit. The band not only leads the crowd on game days, but also represents a long tradition of honoring the state of Maryland and nation of the University.
My performance includes aspects of the everyday/mundane and color. The pregame show may not seem to be a performance of the everyday and mundane nature, as it is performed for football games. The setting of the spectators-filled football stadium with the special uniform makes the event a specular performance. Taking away the uniform, performance flag, drum majors, video cameras, audience, and setting the performative act in a classroom with rehearsal clothes, a practice flag, and sound recording replacing the band, I can incorporate the mundane into the act. I have chosen to do this in this way because the color guard practices many hours Monday through Friday and most of their practices are mundane routines for the members. Spectators at the game may not recognize the preparation and rehearsals required to create the end production. I will replicate the aspects that make the act an everyday practice instead of the game day performance. To incorporate color to the act I have chosen to use the rehearsal outfit because it is the school colors: red, black, and white. Additionally, it is an important characteristic that everyone in the band wears the same color, so the director can see the formations uniformly.
For me, performing the excerpts from the Mighty Sound of Maryland’s pregame show began with examining my interests. I knew I wanted to do something that incorporated choreography because when I am finished performing routines, I feel joy for conquering the memorization, sharpness, and other specifics in the composition. I was a member of the color guard for one season, but discontinued it because I did not like how seriously some authority figures in the band would take mistakes. However, I miss performing with the band, so I decided to revisit this activity. I remember performing the pregame routine many times my first year at the University of Maryland. Unfortunately, it is hard to remember the specific movements two years later. Another problem is the fact that our class meets during marching band practice, so I had to find a guard member that had a class conflict and misses the beginning of Wednesday practices, so I could borrow her flag. Looking at the act now, I am not sure if I can perform the routine as accurately as a current color guard member can. I heard that some aspects have been changed in the past two years, which is okay, but my act will represent an older version.
I have turned a part of my national identity into a performance in some senses. The pregame show already is a performance, but by incorporating the mundane elements, the act is quite different from the performed show. Instead of the performance I have done in front of many people several times, it is a performance I have only done with very few people watching. Turning this practice into a performance has taught me that space and environment are highly influential in defining the act.
The University of Maryland, as part of my national identity maintains a rich history of traditions, especially within the marching band. The Mighty Sound of Maryland still has the same school spirit the band is known for. For me, performing and analyzing this act revealed that the iconic scripts and texts, which serve as the school’s logo, are more than a fancy drill that is fun to watch, but is a tradition that unites the university.
Every school tries to create an exciting pregame show, because it puts an adrenaline rush into the audience that sparks their enthusiasm for their team. The band forming the letter “M” and other images is an iconic sight for the college nation. Perhaps this is why there is no tradition more common than the band forming the school’s initials and playing their songs. It reveals a desire for group participation, calling all audience members to recognize and embrace their school. In essence, the marching bands are more important to the school than the football team because they represent the university with iconic symbols for all to hear and see.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. London: Verso, 1991. Web.
Billig, Michael. Banal Nationalism. London: SAGE Publications, 1995. Web.
Marching Band Flutes and Flags, University of Maryland, Circa 1985-1995. North America, 1901. Internet resource.