Whether it’s at Reser Stadium or Autzen Stadium, fans pack in for the annual game nearly everyone in Oregon is familiar with: Civil War. Current college students, young and old alumni and other fans swarm the stadiums in order to watch the eventful and most anticipated game of the year. However, there’s a group of very specific fans that probably have some of the most school spirit of them all—the members of the Oregon State University Marching Band and the Oregon Marching Band. Though members from the ensembles have some of the greatest enthusiasm at any football game, Civil War is distinctly different. They all experience a similar, yet different game from the rest of the fans—from the moment they wake up to the moment they leave the stadium in victory or defeat. Here, we will narrow in on the experiences of two band members during the 122ndannual Civil War: Marin, a senior center snare drummer from the OSUMB and Grant, a junior trumpet player from the OMB.
My alarm clock goes off at 6:00. My eyes are squinting at my phone, trying to read the group texts between the other members of the drumline. Apparently Fred Meyer doesn’t sell face paint, our drum captain declares. Nervous that the drumline’s tradition of wearing “war paint” for the Civil War game, might be in jeopardy, I start to improvise.
Before putting on my uniform, I take some liquid eyeliner I never use, dab it onto my index finger and create three streaks across my right eye and cheek. Much to the horror of my fellow female roommates, I tell them I don’t wear eyeliner that much anyway—besides, it’s waterproof, so at least it’ll stay on my face the whole day.
I wake up to my phone alarm, staring at the ceiling of my section leader’s home in Beaverton. She was kind enough to let me come to her family’s house for Thanksgiving this year—since my home is about nine hours away in California. As I begin to get up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I can feel the soreness in my back since I had to sleep on a mat on the floor overnight.
I start to get dressed into my uniform in my friend’s bathroom and knowing that Corvallis is roughly an hour and a half away, we have to leave fairly soon to meet up with the rest of the band. I remember two years ago when Civil War was last hosted at Reser: I woke up late and just barely made it to Autzen before the rest of the band left for Corvallis. This year, I’m going to make sure I’m on time.
I decide I’m going to be ahead of the curve this year. We’ve had a fairly dry season, but it’s going to be really rainy today. So, I put on two mismatching socks, two one-gallon plastic bags, and finally two long black socks. I refuse to have wet feet today.
I reach up for my Beaver ball cap, the last part of my uniform. It’s faded from the past four years of rain, wind and sunshine. Today is my last football game and it’s the last time I wear this hat in my full uniform. I get a text from my boyfriend, also a member of the drumline, saying he’s outside, ready to commute to Reser together.
I stand in the center of the drumline arc, four snares each to my left and right, and I try to adjust my thick parka sleeves. My instructor thankfully gives me some rubber bands to make sure the sleeves are able to close in around my thin wrists.
A giant sign, “The Best College Town in the PAC 12” stares me in the face as I lead the drumline through a series of warm ups. Each warm up is designed to prepare us for every rudiment, rhythm and visual we will play throughout the day. I can feel my wrists, fingers and forearms stretching with every hit of my drum. When we get a quick break, I stretch out my fingers, popping a few of them. After the warm up, we focus on specific parts in our music, and we do some run-throughs of some cadences and grooves we will play throughout the day.
My section leader and I thankfully arrive in Corvallis before the rest of the band. As we wait, I open my case to reveal a polished, golden trumpet. I push in my new mouthpiece—which I have been thankful for lately because it’s helped me preserve my playing ability before I get too tired. I blow a few notes through my horn to get it and my lips warm in the chilly November air.
Once the band does arrive, the trumpet section gets together in the parking lot outside Reser to warm up in unison. A Beaver fan suddenly storms up to us, accusing us of being in his tailgating spot. He physically moves a member of my section by the waist instead of asking him to move. Rather than getting into a more heated argument about it, we move away from his spot. Getting into a further serious altercation isn’t worth it when it comes to angry opposing fans, especially on Civil War.
After the OSUMB and the OMB rehearse our jointed Pregame show together, our band directors bring us together around the podium at the 50-yard line. They explain to us that we’re all going to send a video to the University of Washington Husky Marching Band, paying our respects and support.
Unfortunately, the night before—Thanksgiving evening—the Husky band was on their way to the Apple Cup in Spokane and one of their busses flipped over on the highway, sending about fifty members and staff to the hospital. Rumors had said that they were only minor injuries, but still it was jarring to hear. Our band directors spoke on behalf of both bands and we all cheered, “Go Huskies!”
The band sets up outside Truax and fans leave a several-feet-wide space between us. The football team is going to arrive soon and walk between the roaring fans and the cheering band in roughly ten minutes, so the band plays songs like “Holiday” and “Land of 1000 Dances” to stall the audience.
In between songs, the drumline usually plays a short groove on repeat. Our band director’s favorite groove starts to play, “Oregano”. We start to get a cut from our drum major, but there’s some confusion between him and our director and we’re told to keep going. The drumline keeps playing and playing the same four measures on repeat for a few minutes—which feels like a few hours and my hands start to cramp. Finally, we get a cut as the team’s bus arrives and we blast “Hail to OSU” and “Rock and Roll” (known as the “Hey Song”). I learn later that there wasn’t enough time to play a full song before the team arrived, so they put the drumline on the play for that awkward amount of time.
Our lunch consists of Subway sandwiches and a choice of chips. We enter Gill Coliseum, the Oregon State basketball arena, to sit amongst the OSUMB. To our surprise, we see that they’re being fed a second Thanksgiving meal: turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce and buttered rolls. It makes me wish we could have another Thanksgiving meal instead of a measly sandwich.
I approach someone I recognize in the Oregon State band and kneel down to her seat, asking “Hey, where the trumpets at?”
“Uhh,” she looks around the arena, “Over there maybe? You’ll be able to detect them from their radiating trumpet egos.”
“Ha ha, very funny—” my Oregon band friend replies. “You wanna trade your thanksgiving dinner for a sandwich?”
“Nope,” I shake my head, “I think I’m good. But I’ll give you some mashed potatoes.”
“Ooh, heck yeah.” I give him a big spoonful of potatoes, which he promptly stuffs into his mouth. “Thanks,” he mumbles and leaves to find some fellow trumpet players from our band. I have a feeling he’s going to ask around for some turkey and cranberry sauce to go with his potatoes
After lunch, our band wanders over to a large field and gets set up into wide music arcs—woodwinds in the front, horns in the middle and drums in the back. I was glad to see a small handful of Duck fans waiting for us to play against the Oregon State band. We performed “Victorious”, “Feel Good Inc.”, “Kiss the Sky”, “Gotta Get Through This”, “Love Stoned”, and “Mo Bamba”. During the performance, I noticed a Duck fan with a Giants hat—A Duck/Giants fan is something that’s hard to come by around here in Oregon.
The Oregon State band plays some songs that remind me of my childhood back in California, and I start to stick out when I groove along to them.
After a filling thanksgiving meal, our band ambles to Prothero field, and prepares to set up for “Battle of the Bands”. Our drum instructor gives a brief pep talk to the drumline about focusing on playing well while also jamming out, having a good time. Our drum majors call up “Beer Barrel Polka”, “We’re All in This Together” (from High School Musical), “Radar Love”, “Tightrope” and finally “London Beckoned” followed immediately by the fight song. I recognize some of the songs the Oregon band plays, really enjoying their trumpet soloist for one song, but telling my biased self “Eh, our band was better”.
We’re dismissed by the drum majors and begin to mosey over to Reser. As we walk through the vast sea of black and orange, the band’s blob of yellow and green becomes an easy target for the opposing fans.
Some Beaver fans are more harmless by chanting “Go beavs!” which I don’t mind. The phrase “Go beavs” is almost a meme throughout all PAC-12 bands, specifically for their poor football track record. I’ve even said, “Go beavs!” myself as a joke to my fellow Oregon band friends. However, other fans like to be a little more harsh and I get an occasional “F*ck you!” every now and then. I shake it off, not letting their words get to me—it’s better than getting into a physical argument anyway.
We perform our pregame show: playing the national anthem with the Oregon band, scattering into a giant “OSU” while we play “Rock and Roll”, finishing up with “Hail to OSU”. We scatter again to the north endzone where the band lines up for the team to come out. There are some senior recognitions and then the fans start to get very loud as they anticipate the arrival of the home team.
I concentrate on the tempo of the fight song, not afraid to sing it aloud since no one around me can hear me anyway. I’m clicking my sticks together at roughly 170 beats per minute as a tempo reference, but “We Will Rock You” is blaring over the dozens of speakers in the stadium—at a completely different tempo. I quint my eyes for a moment to refocus, singing our fight song to regain the sense of the correct tempo. At the sight of the first step of the “O” flag-holding cheerleader—who is my cue to start playing—I begin my taps, trying not to become distracted by the music blaring above me or the thundering fans around me.
I play those four taps—trying not to lose tempo as the cannon goes off in between them—and the band begins the fight song. As soon as we finish, it’s almost a race to see how fast we can run to the stands on the other side of the field. All 250 of us book itto the stands as we hear booing from our fans—I assume the Oregon football team is taking the field.
The game could not be going any better—the Ducks are in the lead and the weather is perfect. We receive no harassment in the stands but actually get a couple compliments from some Beaver fans. For certain moments of the game, we played specific song excerpts. “School’s out for summer” is played for first downs, “Menace” when we’re on defense during a fourth down and a theme called “Destruction” overall for defense.
During some of the outs, we play parts from “Louie Louie” “High Hopes” “Mo Bamba” “Jumpin’ Jumpin’”, and “Bang Bang”. And of course, every time we play the fight song, the OSUMB makes fun of us by mocking our horn swings. It doesn’t matter as much to me though—besides, I’m chuckling at their team’s score (which is zero).
At some point during the second quarter—amidst the perfect weather but the not-so-great Beaver score—our director invites those who intend to graduate within the year to step onto the field for “senior band recognition”. I step down with members who are younger and older than me; I couldn’t be happier to graduate with all of them. Our drumline instructor comes to the graduating drumline members and shakes each of our hands as we wave to the cameras pointing directly at all of us. I can’t believe it’s really been four years…
The band begins to depart the stands, making our way to the football field. As we wait for the last few seconds to pass by, we get a few “Go band!” compliments, from both sides, which is always nice. Having both fans cheer for us as musicians rather than “Duck fans” is always appreciative.
However, of course, not everyone is as well mannered. As we waited on the field, a drunken Beaver fan starts to chant “F*ck the Ducks! F*ck the Ducks!” In attempt to stay positive—while throwing a bit of shade at the fan—I start to dance to the beat of his chanting. Seeing me not be bothered at all with his comments seem to make him even more mad and he begins to yell at me, challenging me to a fight with him. I politely decline.
For our halftime show, we play a spectacular arrangement of“Lay Your Love On Me” and “Dancing Queen” by ABBA. As the band strikes the last fanfare, I look at my drum major and we both exchange a sad smile, both of us knowing that our last marching band show will be over in less than thirty seconds.
As the song finally ends, I take in a breath and let the crowd cheer for us a little longer than usual. I give four taps to start the drumline, which prompts the band to play the fight song as we march off the field. I continue to grin widely at our drum major, as I pass her on the sideline. We finish the fight song and I wipe away a few tears.
I make eye contact with our band director, as he’s waving us through the football equipment on the sideline. When I pass him, he looks at me and amongst the noise and cheering from the stands, he says, “We’ll miss you,” making me choke up all over again.
It begins to rain. And then it begins to pour. Like, really pour. We continue to play in the rain as most of the fans in the stadium start to leave. We play each song with our horns tilted slightly upward into the air but after playing, I have to shake out the excess rainwater from my instrument. During the last Civil War in Reser Stadium, the Ducks were upset by the heavy rain and ended up losing after a nine-year winning streak. So, this could be a comeback for the Beavers.
But then, we score another touchdown…and then another…and then another… and another until it becomes apparent who is going to win the game by the end of the third quarter.
My hands are soaked to the bone and my face and hair are drenched—but at least my feet are completely dry. I thank my past self for putting on the plastic bags over my feet.
During the fourth quarter, our cheerleaders approach the Oregon cheer and set up a competition to see which male cheerleader can single-handedly hold up their female partner the longest. Even though the Beavers are close to our own endzone, the whole band applauds for our cheerleaders instead of our team and one by one, the Oregon cheer drops their partner (catching them too, of course). When the last Oregon cheerleader drops his partner, the band all shouts and celebrates this one Beaver victory—we knew from the start of the 4thquarter that there wasn’t going to be another miracle. We weren’t able to pull another “Colorado” game.
I become grateful again for my new mouthpiece as the game wraps up. Usually, my lips might be numb and swollen, like how your mouth feels after you visit the dentist. But today, I can play my fight song with confidence and pride as we celebrate another Duck victory.
We also play “Winner”, a song we play—of course—after we win a game. The Oregon State band continues to play, but we have to start packing up to get back to Eugene. As the Beaver band plays a Fall Out Boy song,“I Don’t Care”, we slowly leave the stands, getting cheers and affirmation from our own fans. I jump a little at the sound of fireworks in the distance, probably due to some really tipsy and happy Duck fans.
After playing several songs at too-fast tempos, we finally play the alma mater. For the drums, we have almost no part, so we wrap our arms around each other’s shoulders and sing. There’s a moment when the whole band stops to sing the chorus and all you can hear is the melodic sound of 250 passionate band members with the light pitter-patter of the rain, tapping on the drums and benches. It is calm and peaceful and for a moment where we can forget about the score and focus about playing and singing together as one, unified ensemble.
I get into my section leader’s car, but not before peeling off the wettest parts of my uniform. The rest of the band is quite happy that we got to win against the Beavs at their home, but we all just want to get back to ourhome in Eugene. We’ve been playing for almost eight hours consecutively and I could really use an evening to relax.
We wait inside the car, thankful that we finally get to sit down for once. We sit there for a while and after predicting that the traffic might have died down by then, we drive back to Eugene, followed by the busses filled with the 250 members of Oregon’s marching band.
I walk to the edge of campus with my boyfriend, holding our saturated hands together; the only sounds we make are the occasional sniffles. We’re not necessarily bummed about the game, but rather that for the both of us, this was our last game as members of the Oregon State University Marching Band.
Our ride pulls up along the curb where supposedly a shuttle is going to arrive for some Beaver fans. They see us getting into a car as one shouts, “Hey, where’s our ride?” I smile and playfully shrug my shoulders.
Another yells, “You guys want a beer?”
“Nah, we’re good. Go beavs!” I reply.
They chant back, “Go beavs!”
~ ~ ~
As a musician of about ten years now, getting to play in a collegiate marching band has certainly been a highlight during my college years. Sure, there are famous celebrities that get to perform in front of enormous crowds, but for an average college musician, playing for an entire stadium of tens of thousands of people is a dream. There’s a great deal of hard work, commitment, energy and literally blood, sweat and tears that emanate from every individual band member. We have a job—which is seen more as an honor—to play for so many people in a single day, getting them hyped and excited for a game.
However, for any marching band member—no matter what college they attend—the politics of the sports don’t always matter. Of course, we’d all like to see our team win, but because band members are a specific kind of fan, watching the teams win isn’t the most important thing. This is why the saying, “the band always wins” is so commonly heard in the collegiate marching community—as cheesy as it may sound to us. No matter who wins, who loses, which team had this many fouls or that many touchdowns, you can always count on this: The band always wins.