Inside the nation's top Marching Band
High School
Inside the nation's top Marching Band
Margaret Kadifa
Monday December 29th, 2014

Big Ten marching bands, known for their iconic halftime show entertainment, have gone retro this bowl season, forming animated figures ranging from a pouncing tiger to rolling dice to a pinball machine. It’s a trend that was popular in the late '40s through the '60s, and one that has been highly successful this winter. Beginning with brainstorming concepts, then getting custom musical arrangements and creating and teaching the drill to band members, the entire process of crafting the six- to 12-minute halftime shows spans six months. That said, here are seven halftime shows whose throwback formations have already fired up or will soon fire up fans at this year’s bowl games.

The Ohio State University: Viva Las Vegas

The Ohio State University’s marching band has mastered the animated pictures halftime show, so much so that other Big Ten band directors point to them as an example. Last year, it formed Harry Potter catching a snitch and Michael Jackson moonwalking. This year, its Viva Las Vegas show featured a spinning slot machine, a bunny popping out of a top hat and rolling dice. The dice are the first 3-dimensional appearing shapes that Ohio State has made, said Associate Director of Marching and Athletic Bands Chris Hoch who wrote the drill to the halftime show.

The band is also pioneering in technology use; all 225 members have an iPad to help them efficiently learn the drill and better visualize what shape they are forming, Hoch said.

Possibly the coolest part of the show is about three minutes and 30 seconds in, when the band forms a tiger that pounces across the field.

Northwestern University: The Superhero Show

When Northwestern University doctoral student in conducting, Joe Higgins, asked Director of Athletic Bands, Dan Farris, what he thought of the band forming the corresponding shapes as the announcer said, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superman!” for this superhero-themed halftime show, Farris’ response was, “It’s great!” Farris came up with the finishing touch: smoke shooting out of the back of the airplane.

Also in this halftime show, a creeping spider and a superhero mask with shifting eyes.

University of Iowa: The Who Turns 50

Director of the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band Kevin Kastens wants his halftime shows to feature bands and tunes that appeal to every football fan.

“I’m very much aware that we have several generations in attendance at football games,” Kastens said.

So a tribute to The Who on its 50th anniversary was the perfect fit for the marching band’s first halftime show of the season. During the song “Pinball Wizard,” the band formed an animated pinball machine, with Iowa’s mascot, Herky the Hawk, as the pinball, ricocheting off animated bumpers.

University of Michigan: The Evolution of the Michigan Marching Band

The highlight of this performance has to be Michigan’s jab at Ohio State’s marching band that formed a dinosaur last fall that ate a Michigan student. This year, as it played “Carmina Burana,” Michigan’s marching band formed a dinosaur that got crushed by a meteor.

“It was almost like getting chills every time we played it,” said Michigan marching band freshman and tenor saxophonist Mark Dewald of playing “Carmina Burana.” Dewald made up part of that fatal meteor.

The show ends with a rendition of “The Circle of Life,” so what isn’t there to love?

Michigan State University: Outlaw Heroes Show

This September halftime performance is worth the watch for any millennial simply because two and a half minutes in the band plays music from the Pirates of the Caribbean and forms a pirate ship that floats across the field.

Director of Michigan State’s marching band, John Madden, composed this halftime show. Today’s Big Ten bands have an incredible range of halftime show formations, from kaleidoscope patterns to both symmetrical and asymmetrical linear, curvilinear and block formations, to this retro use of animation and picture formations, Madden said.

Purdue: the Wizard of Oz

The animated pictures are in the first half of Purdue’s tribute to the The Wizard of Oz on the 75th anniversary year of the movie’s release, with appearances of characters from the Tinman to the Wicked Witch of the West to a flying monkey picking up Toto.

“We’ve become more and more committed to doing pictures and animates because we know that’s what the fans enjoy,” Director of the Purdue Marching Band Jay Gephart said.

Moving a figure across the field can be tricky, Purdue marching band junior and piccolo player Maggie Wigren said, because it is hard to stay in the same place relative to other band members. “It’s really all about that peripheral vision,” Wigren said.

University of Maryland: 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner

WVU vs Maryland Halftime Performance from Mark Hildebrand on Vimeo.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the Battle for Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Big Ten’s University of Maryland Marching Band partnered with the West Virginia University Marching Band in a series of patriotic songs interspersed with narration describing the battle’s history.

Maryland is one of two newbies this year to the Big Ten. It’s headed to the Foster Farms Bowl against Stanford on Dec. 30 where audiences can anticipate a ‘90s television nostalgia show, said Director of Bands at the University of Maryland, Dr. L. Richmond Sparks.

Skip ahead to 5 minutes and 15 seconds in to see the show’s animated picture: a clipper ship attacking Fort McHenry.

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