Vigor in the Valley

‘Chicago Bulls from the waist down, Chicago Symphony from the waist up:’ the Blugold Marching Band

In this photo from staff files, the Blugold Marching Band plays a few songs for the crowd at the new Garfield Avenues opening celebration. BMB will hold a concert at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

Photo by Emilee Wentland

In this photo from staff files, the Blugold Marching Band plays a few songs for the crowd at the new Garfield Avenue’s opening celebration. BMB will hold a concert at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

Enter the Blugold Marching Band.

To the boom of the cadence, the band marched in winding lines down the newly-constructed Garfield Avenue. Several hundred plumes shivered in the mid-October wind. Brass instruments captured rays that strayed from the sun.

The band came to a standstill. At command, they raised their sticks and angled their instruments toward the sky. For a fraction of a second, all was still. Then a wall of musical power surged.

Watching something that appears so effortless as BMB’s performance for the opening of Garfield Avenue, it’s easy to forget the grunt-work that occurs behind the scenes. Musicians must sustain perfect posture and move to different positions in step and time — all the while playing music they’ve memorized.

Known for its sheer size, the BMB makes several appearances in the Chippewa Valley community and across the globe. Their weekly practices rattle the buildings on Water Street, and they perform during home football games and in competitions.

It’s easy for me to think of marching band as a sport. Though the last time I marched I was a senior in high school, I can still remember the way my shoulders burned while I held my marching French horn. Creating a visually appealing performance definitely takes athleticism.

I asked Brock Orton, a third-year finance student at UW-Eau Claire, about the physical demands of the band. Orton plays the baritone and has been a member of the band for three years.

Can you describe the physical aspect of BMB? 

“The most challenging thing is sounding just as good as if you were sitting in a concert band but doing it on the move. We are all multitasking: thinking about step size, our next dot, what we are playing and keeping in time. One of the things an old band director told me was: ‘Chicago Bulls from the waist down, Chicago Symphony from the waist up.’”

How do your practices prepare you for the physicality of marching? 

“During our practices and especially during band camp week, we focus on fundamental marching basics. We focus on posture, which helps how we look as well as makes it easier to play with a good sound. We focus on breathing properly and using our entire lung capacity and we do lots of repetition so our spots on the field are second nature, so we can focus on other things. Before performances and practices, we make sure we warm up properly. This is important so we do not get fatigued as quickly, which is especially important on performance days.”

BMB is a huge time commitment — what makes it worth it? 

“For me it was important to be involved in something bigger than myself. BMB is worth the time commitment for the memories we are all making on the field. Many of us make lifelong friends and even meet significant others. I have had friends even marry people they have met in the band! I am convinced BMB is the quickest way, as a freshman, to meet a friend group at college. The BMB starts practice one to two weeks before the school year depending on the section. Before the first day of classes, everyone already has 400 people on campus they can say hello to and ask any questions they may have about college.”

Anything to add? 

“BMB also takes many international trips. This past winter I went to Singapore, Malaysia, Kuala Lampur, Thailand and Indonesia with the band. During my senior winter the BMB will be going to Australia and New Zealand as well!”

Neupert can be reached at [email protected]