PMP 2023 - The Marching Illini

PMP 2023 - The Marching Illini

This will be one of two PMP articles on the same subject: The Marching Illini. The second one can't be written until this fall, though, because it's a request to write about something relating to the season. I guess I didn't really need to say any of that. I could have just started writing. Here's the question from Dan (thanks for your donation, Dan):

I want a Marching Illini article as well. Maybe your thoughts about what they add to the program?
~Dan Worra

OK so maybe I did need to say some of that. Dan said he wanted a Marching Illini article "as well" after seeing the first Marching Illini request on the fundraising page. So my opening paragraph here explains Dan's "as well" in that PMP request. So there you go. What do the Marching Illini add to the program? Here we go…

First off, as I mentioned in the original article discussing this fundraiser, the scholarship I'm raising money for exists because my father believed in the importance of music education. As a result, music was a huge part of my upbringing. Ten years of piano lessons. Band all through high school. Choir all through high school. Two musicals (Anything Goes and Little Shop Of Horrors where I was the voice of the plant). And one year of symphonic band in college.

The biggest musical influence he had on me? I've written about this before, but it's easily Drum & Bugle Corps. If you think I know Illini football trivia, just ask me some drum corps trivia. What's that? Four favorite drum corps moments I've experienced live?

4. Going to see The Cadets at the old St. Louis show (UMSL soccer stadium) in 2000 when they did their Disney Millennial Celebration show. That drum feature is still unmatched.

3. Driving to Lexington, Kentucky in 2003 so I could see SCV's "Scheherazade" show and yell "VANGUARD" at just the right time.

2. Driving to Warrensburg, MO with my oldest son in 2014 just to see the Bluecoats "TILT" show. My God, that closer.

1. Being there in Bloomington, Indiana in 2008 to hear Brandt Crocker announce that Phantom Regiment beat the Blue Devils by 0.05 at finals to with their first outright title. I have chills just thinking about it.

OK, fine, you don't know what I'm talking about. I'll pull a YouTube clip. Looking at the list above…. it has to be the 2014 Bluecoats closer:

[[youtube PUTh-o9bZqE]]

You think I stand and cheer when there's an Illini punt return TD? You should have seen me in Warrensburg in 2014 when the Bluecoats hit that final chord. Closest thing to the famous Star Of Indiana chord in their 1990 show that I've ever witnessed.

(I still have a video on my phone that I took that night of the Bluecoats warming up in the parking lot. I watch it all the time.)

Anyway, that's my marching music pedigree. I am a massive fan of "Marching Music's Major League", Drum Corps International. I hate the Concord Blue Devils the same way I hate the Duke Blue Devils (BD has won 20 titles and nobody likes them because they've won 20 titles). I celebrated Carolina Crown finally getting a title in 2013 and the Bluecoats finally getting a title in 2016. And given that I really think they should have won it last year, I'm so ready for the Boston Crusaders to win a title this summer.

Also, I "ear amp." The four of you who know what that means just suddenly felt massively embarrassed for me. One of you actually said "don't admit that out loud - people can hear you!" When I'm at a DCI show, and I know a big hit is coming, I cup my hands behind my ears to amplify the sound. It's totally embarrassing to do in public, but I don't care. My name is Robert, and I'm an unabashed ear-amper.

So with THAT established, my thoughts on what the Marching Illini add to the program.

For starters, one of the reasons I love college football so much is the band in the stands. Being back in the stands last year, I forgot how much I love clapping along with the school song (and then punching the air) at the end of Oskee Wow Wow. Really emphasizes the "OK, we scored, now let's do it again."

I've talked before about the last 15 years and how I've transitioned to nearly 100% college sports fandom. That environment with the band - both in Memorial Stadium and in the State Farm Center - is such a big part of that. Nothing sets the mood more than that sound coming from the stands.

As an aside, when I say I've become a nearly 100% college sports fan (besides golf), I really mean it. I was just looking up the NL Leaders the other day (I wanted to see where Nolan Gorman stood in the National League RBI/HR stats because my friends keep talking about him like he's the second coming). I scrolled through the pitchers and it happened. I didn't know the first name of any of the five pitchers on top of the NL ERA list. Here's what I saw:

1) B. Elder (ATL)
2) A. Cobb (SF)
3) J. Steele (CHI)
4) M. Keller (PIT)
5) J. Gray (WASH)

Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Actually, I should guess for you. I'm not putting you on. I seriously don't know these five gentlemen. My guesses are:

Brad Elder
Adam Cobb
Justin Steele
Michael Keller
Josh Gray

How'd I do?

I'm way off track. This is supposed to be about the Marching Illini. I guess the best way to frame my thoughts is like this:

I'm a way bigger fan of the in-the-stands stuff and not the halftime stuff. That's not meant to disparage the halftime show, I just have other things I'm doing at halftime. In the pressbox it was usually get something to eat, refill my drink, run to the restroom, and maybe chat with Martin O'Donnell about what we saw in the first half. In the stands last year, I did run to the pressbox at halftime a few times (often to try to grab wifi and tweet something), and other times I ran to the restroom or ran down to the other end of the balcony to chat with friends.

So I don't see the halftime show very often. I love marching music, but as I mentioned there, I'm immediately busy as soon as the team runs off the field and the band runs on. I try to catch the 3-in-1 as often as possible, but sometimes I miss that as well.

Which means that the band in the stands is the biggest part of it for me. And I'll tell you how I know that it's a huge part of my college football experience. If something happens just before halftime and there's no band to react to it (because they're filing down the sidelines to get ready for the halftime show), I notice. Nearly every game, something will happen, I'm expecting a band reaction, I'll have a brief moment of "come on, band - where are ya?", and then I'll realize there's three minutes left in the half and they're walking down the stairs to the field. It's all part of the flow of the game, and it's very important.

And as a former drummer who grew up dreaming about being on the snare line in the Marching Illini (and Phantom Regiment), I also love any and all uses of the cadence. Just get me on the side of the street when the band marches by and they're doing the "go, fight, beat the Spartansssssssssss" thing. Ain't nothing like marching on the street and playing the cadence.

So I guess my answer here is that the Marching Illini, to me, is all about the stuff other than what everyone usually references (the halftime show). It's the pregame concert on the stairs and Oskee Wow Wow after a touchdown and Alma Mater after a win and marching out of the stadium to the cadence. I love a college football Saturday, and having a great band is vital to that experience. We have a great band.

(Now somehow work in the Bluecoats TILT closer next year.)