Uniforms, spats, gloves and plumed hats with bills that cast deep shadows over the faces of young musicians, strip away individual differences when a Big 10 band takes the football field. Every marcher looks like a brother, or a sister, to the person next to them, and that calculated androgyny contributes to the success of the marching unit. But when the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band marches into Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., on Nov. 11, that element of sameness will be pushed to the limit. Then, spectators will definitely need the color of a uniform - and the shape of an instrument - to distinguish between Ben Herrick and identical twin brother Joe. When the brothers from Holland, Mich., made the decision to attend different universities - Ben chose Purdue to study engineering, and Joe opted for Michigan State and a major in music - they knew this day might come. They dreamed about it. "This day has been hyped on both ends - in his section and in mine," says Ben, a Purdue sophomore who serves as a trombone rank leader. "It's just going to be really exciting, really fun," says Joe, a saxophone player in the Michigan State Spartan Marching Band who's been subjected to a lot of teasing email barbs from Ben about the Boilermaker football team's success and the Spartans lack of it. In the same jazzed voice that talks about the teasing and the excitement of the upcoming meeting before 72,027 fans, Joe says: "In a way I want to show Ben off, and say that's my brother. There's a lot of support between us." Brotherly love isn't just a concept with these two. It's the real thing. "We joke a lot. We poke fun at each other's band just to be funny. We don't mean it," says Joe. "I like playing music with him better than playing with anyone else. We read each other's thoughts." After the twins were born on Sept. 27, 1980, even their parents, Kathy and Tom Herrick of Holland, Mich., had a hard time telling them apart. For a long time, the birthmark on Ben's forehead (Joe has one higher on the top of his head) served as the main clue. Like many twins, they liked the same things and dressed the same. Ironically, it was music - the passion that fuels both their lives - which began to shape their distinct personalities. "When we got to sixth grade we had a choice between band and study hall. Band seemed like a fun thing and all our friends were doing it," Ben recalls. Right away, Joe wanted to play saxophone. "Up to then we'd always done everything the same," Ben says. But at that moment he knew he wanted to be different from his brother and decided to play the trombone. Plugging away at the slide instrument, he found he had talent for it. "Around 8th grade, my mom remembers me saying 'Wow, I think I'm good at this." And if I'm good at something it piques my interest more and more, and I push myself to do even more," Ben says. In band class, the boys couldn't switch places and fool the teacher because they played different instruments - but like all twins they did try it. An incident in third grade produced mixed results. "He got me a B on a spelling test. I got him an A," recalls Joe. West Ottawa High School band instructor Dean Christopher, admits he couldn't tell the twins apart the first year, but they never tried any tricks on him. "I wouldn't dare switch instruments. I'd be dead in the water," laughs Ben. Christopher says of the twins: "They had very high standards for themselves and lived up to those standards. They were very well respected and liked because they were good musicians, and because they were good kids." Throughout high school the twins pushed each other to new levels of achievement as they got involved in one musical activity after another. "We don't do anything half way. We put everything we have into it," says Ben who won a senior achievement award at West Ottawa, edging Joe out by one ensemble. Ben was in marching band, concert band, jazz band, orchestra, choir, pit orchestra, was chosen for regional and state honors bands in Michigan, and even landed a singing role in the school musical. In college they continue to match each other, ensemble for ensemble, even though Ben is an engineering/mathematics major. Joe has his sites set on being a music educator. Both enjoy marching band, jazz band and concert band, which both say offers them the best chance to express their emotions musically. Joe also plays in MSU's Spartan Brass and Ben plays in Purdue's American Music Review. Both went to Florida bowl games as freshman. Ben got the added bonus of traveling to Europe in the summer of 2000 with the Purdue Jazz Band. Even though their activity list seems to put them in a dead heat, Ben feels Joe's musical studies have pushed him out in front. "Joe blows me away. For a while we were neck and neck, but I think he's pulling away," Ben says. On the other hand, Ben fits neatly into a common Purdue Bands profile. Upwards of 55 percent of the "All-American" Marching Band's 300 plus members major in math, science or engineering while excelling in music. Dr. David A. Leppla, director of the AAMB, says Ben exerts the kind of leadership needed to keep a big organization going. "Ben has a lot of substance. He knows what needs to be done, and he does it. We're real glad Ben came here. He's made a tremendous contribution." Leppla says the Michigan State Spartan Band has always been one of his favorites in the Big 10. "Outside of our own 'All-American' Band it's one of a few bands that's very tradition oriented. It's an outstanding marching band, and I've got a lot of respect for John Madden." Adding all the elements together, the halftime fireworks at the Michigan State-Purdue game might just equal those provided by the football players. Parents, Kathy and Tom Herrick, can't wait. "My heart's probably going to be bursting the whole time. We're so proud of them," says Kathy. On Nov. 11, Joe will be rooting for the Spartans. But when the final Big 10 games have been played and the season is over, "If Ben has a chance to go to Pasadena (the Rose Bowl), and Michigan State has no chance to go, of course I'm going to cheer for him," Joe says. "He's my brother!"
-Story by Kathy Matter for Purdue Bands