Letter: Marching to Our Own Drummer

To the Editor:

I am a Columbia University undergraduate and a member of its marching band. I am writing in response to Valley News staff writer Tris Wyke’s Nov. 25 blog post, “The Worst Part of Ivy League Football Games,” which described Ivy League scramble bands as groups of people running around aimlessly while a student spokesperson yells idiotic, inside jokes over the intercom.

“Traditional” marching bands impose themselves on the audience. They play their songs, they march in line, and we, the viewers, sit and watch. They play the part that they are “supposed” to play. Being in a scramble band is a bit like being a street artist. Some will ignore what you do; others will be annoyed or frustrated by it. Some, on the other hand, recognize the fact that you’re injecting a spark of the exceptional into the mundane. A scramble band offers liberty to its audience. Ignore us, insult us, love us — do what you will with what we give you. When I run out on the field with my light-saber and plastic Ninja sword in hand, it isn’t merely to keep the beat; it’s to challenge your expectations of what a band “should” be. Scoff at the idiocy you might think you see, but whether you like it or not, you’re reacting to us.

Here’s a perfect example: For the Cornell half-time show, the Columbia University Marching Band performed John Cage’s masterpiece 4’33 , which consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. About a minute into the performance Cornell’s audience started to boo and throw insults at the band. “Bands are supposed to play music!” one man yelled. To that I reply, “Are they? Look at us now.” By performing in absolute silence, the band invited the audience into the show.

Are we naïve, drunken college kids mocking the system? Are we dancing poets playing the pied piper’s flute to anyone who will listen? Am I serious when I lay the philosophical foundations of a scramble band in a letter like this? Whatever we do, we work at it. You can at least appreciate that.

Caleb Alan Oldham



The Worst Part of Ivy League Football Games

Monday, November 25, 2013

Earlier this fall, a Dartmouth College baseball player acting as an usher at one of his school’s home football games sent out the following Twitter message: “Our band makes me uncomfortable”. He’s not the only one. I also wince when the Dartmouth College Marching Band shows up at Memorial Field, and it has nothing to do with the music. In …