In August the wave of sound rumbling through Purdue’s campus aren’t thunder but the sound of drums, tubas, horns and trumpets as marching band practice shatters summer’s calm.
Nearly 400 musicians, dancers and twirlers, pumped by expectations and nerves, descend on the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band’s annual six-day camp on Monday, Aug. 12, to create the thunder that officially ushers in fall on campus.
No. 1 on list of things freshmen dread about band camp is the playing and marching auditions. They might be surprised to learn, however, that upperclassmen can dread them - just ask Carmen Nigh who’s risen through the ranks to serve as section leader for the horns in 2002.
“I was scared of auditions as a freshman,” says Nigh. “There were more horns my freshman year than there were total people in my high school band – and that’s even counting the guard. The sheer number of people was very overwhelming.”
As an upperclassman, admits the Shelbyville junior. “I was scared of underclassmen showing me up. Last year we had a great group of freshman and I was shaking in my shoes.”
Carmel’s Kristen Wilde was one of those freshmen and ended up being voted as “Marching Freshman of the year for 2001” by her peers. As a sophomore, the trombone player can now classify herself as a band camp survivor and has some advice for newcomers.
“Be prepared with sunscreen, and aloe if you happen to get burnt anyways, and make sure you take advantage of the water breaks. No one needs to be a hero and end up passing out on the field,” says Wilde.
Piccolo section leader Kate Weise, a senior and veteran of three band camps says: “Don’t get stressed out. Getting really worked up about things doesn’t help anyone.”
Two things surprised Wilde as a freshman attending her first band camp – the intensity of the practices and rewarding friendships initiated during those six days.
“One surprise was the way we dived right into the deep end on the playing and marching. Who would have known that as soon as they placed the music in front of you that you were going to be swinging your horn up and down while reading it? It was amazing to see all of us pick up on things right away and the immediate results it produced,” she recalls.
“The second thing that surprised me was the camaraderie. It felt in a silly way that each person ‘belonged’ in a special group when you were with your section. You weren’t just a freshman, or an upperclassman, you were a bone (trombone) or a picc (piccolo). We are all gathered at camp because we love band, and because we share that common interest you find many friends.”
Even though practices are long, and often draining because of the August heat, there’s always time for parties during band camp. The tubas always barbecue at their TubaQ, while the mellophones prefer pizza parties. Section leaders know it’s there responsibility to make the freshmen feel part of the group.
“One thing I think the trombone sections does that instantly turns the band into a smaller more friendly environment is the assigning of ‘bigs’ and ‘littles.’ Each new member is assigned an upperclassman who will serve as their personal mentor in and out of band. My trombone ‘big’ ended up becoming my roommate and one of my best friends,” says Wilde.
It’s at band camp that the new kids also learn about the crazy traditions within the band. For instance, the women in the trombone section, who call themselves “she-bones,” enjoy dressing to crazy themes for selected practices throughout the fall. The women piccolos, on the other hand, “have a traditional black bra day after our formal photo is taken. We all run through the fountain in our white t-shirts and black bras,” says Weise, a Noblesville native.
Every year, band members look forward to visits from football coach Joe Tiller and Purdue president Martin Jischke – and Roy Johnson’s slide show detailing the band’s long history is another tradition.
“Listen to what Roy says in his speech about band couples. It may come true for you,” says Nigh who met her boyfriend through band.
Upperclassmen returning to band camp know one thing that it’ll take the freshman an entire marching season to learn - and it has nothing to do with music, routines or drills. It’s how deeply you fall in love with band.
“I don’t know how I could cope with the stress of college exams and classes if I didn’t have such a great outlet as Purdue bands,” says Wilde. Sure you can be proud of the great project you’ve just pulled together in an engineering class, but when you pull together to produce a great work of art, the reward is tenfold.”
Recalling her freshman year, Nigh adds: “I had my doubts two years ago when I tried out for the “All-American” Marching Band, but if I had to do it again, I would join in a heartbeat. I’ve been in band for almost ten years, and being a member of the “All-American” Marching Band has been the highlight of those 10 years. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”