Tell All Thursday: A Special UW vs Cal Edition

Welcome to the sixth edition of “Tell All Thursdays”, where we seek to go beyond the song and find out more about the artist. Through conversation with the artist, perhaps we’ll obtain more insight about the songs we enjoy so much. Today I’ll ask my good friend Alan Bach on what’s it like to be in the Cal marching band. Is it everything like I think it is due to my experience watching Nick Cannon’s Drumline? Or perhaps it’s a bit more in depth than that? Let’s reveal the interview already and get a close glimpse of the responsibilities and traditions of being apart of the marching band.

So who have you met so far in band that you think is really cool?

Well since band practices are so long each day and my section has “mandatory” (it’s not really mandatory but it’s strongly encouraged) bonding I’ve made friends with most of my section. Also the TA that trained me during band camp is kind of a (good) big brother figure to me (he saved my hat and picc when I dropped them on the field during pre-game show yesterday). Then since I’m rooming in the band dorm there’s my roommates, some other recruits in the dorm that I manage run into quite often, the house manager and president of our dorm, and some upperclassmen who play Pokemon (although I haven’t actually battled anyone yet).

During these band practices, what is different about it than high school and what exactly do you do? Pregame show? Tell me all about that experience bud. I see you’ve got quite the frinedship circle around you eh?

Well unlike high school we have to memorize our music and our drill instead having a lyre to hold up our music with markings on the music to tell us what to do in the drill. We also march a lot more than high school bands In high school you might march drills to 2 songs (number obviously varies based on competency and if you want 1 or 2 very polished drills or a bunch of sloppy drills that the audience will probably still think are great anyways) over the whole season.
Then each game there are a few new formations (the formations from the previous show are usually rotated out for the new formations) that they march to cadence to (in cadences you don’t have a required path you have to march to get to a spot, you just get there anyway you want and march in place while you wait for everyone so it’s pretty much impossible to mess up as long as you’re not marching off the beat).

For Berkeley we have a pregame that remains constant for the whole season that consists of drills to 5 songs and 1 formation to Banner. On top of that, every game, we learn a whole new show which consists of drills to about another 5 songs (obviously the previous game’s show is rotated out). This pretty much means we have to learn about what a high school learns in a season (they have way more formations but we have more drills each game which are a lot harder) every 1-2 weeks. Then to ensure that you don’t just wing it they have music memorization tests before every game, if you fail the test you get “points” (they’re actually demerits). You can also accumulate “points” for messing up your marching drill during games. If you have a high number of points compared to everyone else you’ll be alted (meaning although you still have to practice unless someone gets sick you don’t get to march in the actual game) and/or be denied opportunities for the extra fun events.

Yeah I guess the more obscure and cult-ish (besides the time commitment you have to go through a lot of hazing and several initiation rites to be in Cal Band) an activity is the more close-knit the group is. Sorry this was pretty long.

So what’s been the toughest thing for you to adjust to the college marching band experience?

Time management. Although in the long run it’ll probably improve my time management skills cause I’m forced to not slack off too much, whereas without band I might have the free time to develop bad procrastination habits now and pay for it later.

So does this points system make you nervous at all? I mean that seems hella competitive for what seems to be a pure volunteer thing ya know?

Even if you accumulate a lot of points chances are you won’t be alted for everything because once you’ve been alted your points drop in compensation of you being alted. And alts only applies for marching on the field, you still get to go to the game and do everything else. Also, SHB (straw hat band, our equivalent of pep band) mostly doesn’t factor in points at all, so you can still go to random events where people requested the band to play, volleyball, and basketball games.

My friends told me about this thing called a purity test? What does that mean, and how does one receive such a score?

Took my first purity tests, (93 on both of them, generally anything in the 90s means you lost points for stupid stuff, like for example you can lose a point for hugging a PPG). That makes me tied for highest (out of 44) in the band dorm, for only 5th highest (out of 16) in the picc section. Although some people have theirs artificially low because they attend [im]purity bondings, where they willingly lose a purity point per bonding. That’s not too nasty if you’re high up cause you can lose easy points, but if you’re one of the outliers down in the 10’s or 20’s…that seems pretty messed up that you would willingly commit things on par with bestiality, accepting a proposition from a prostitute, etc.

No a higher score means you’re more pure. Everyone initially starts at 100. Then 100 questions are asked (e.g. have you ever had alcohol), and for everyone that you have done you lose one purity point. However, it is pretty much impossible to have a perfect 100 or a completely imperfect 0, because there are some questions which everyone has done (i.e. hugging) whereas to get a 0 you would have to commit acts that no one has ever done (i.e. bestiality).To decrease their scores (because apparently being impure is good), some people participate in [im]purity bondings, where the goal is to lose at least one point for every bonding.

Would you ever do an impurity bonding to lower your score?

No I would never attend an impurity bonding. An example of an impurity bonding depends on how pure the person is, cause if you’re pure you can lose less dirty points (e.g. french kissing someone) whereas if you’re down to the 50s or 60s (like most people) you have to commit sexual (e.g. have sex in a band building) or alcoholic (e.g. use alcohol to lower someone’s resistance to you) acts. And if you’re really low, you’re down to doing things like bestiality, using 4 drugs in the same night, etc.

Shifting towards more music based questions, I have to ask: What’s the biggest difficulty in transitioning to your new instrument? What kind of music does the band play? Do you take popular hits and turn them into big band style or what?

Piccs have a much smaller tone hole, so for the first couple weeks I could barely play it, and now that I’m used to it I can’t play flute. Also the first few weeks my ears would be ringing after every practice but my hearing’s damaged enough that that doesn’t happen anymore. We have a large amount of Cal songs; most songs I believe are late 20th century early 21st popular hits. Our shows are usually a bit more modern.

What would be some things you would talk about your band experience if you were talking to someone who had no idea what it was like to be apart of the marching expereience? That is, what are the first three things that you would talk about?

I think I would talk about the spirit (after all we’ve made it this far without caring what other people think of us). At Cal Band the spirit is kind of forced down our throats (it wasn’t like that at Inglemoor); however instead of thinking of that like a negative thing it’s instead like an endless cycle of giving because next year we can do it to the new recruits. And for the most part the “forced down your throats” is done with a jesting nature anyways so I don’t take it too seriously. Actually at Cal the band claims to be the “living embodiment” of Berkeley’s spirit, and to an extent it is true, despite all the media stereotype that band kids are uncool we really get the crowd rallied up.

The community. With all of our rituals and initiations stuff I’d say we’re almost like a cult :P. But I think what even more makes it such a strong community/cult is how much we’ve all been through together and because of that you become friends with your bandmates in ways that can’t be replicated anywhere else; there’s the mess ups at practice, getting used to your bandmates stripping off multiple articles of clothing to get out of their uniforms, the ‘Hawaiian Punch’ (you probably shouldn’t include that on your blog), Sober Comm. getting to know each other very well during parties as they try to avoid the wasted people, etc. I guess the more exclusive of a group the closer knit it gets.

I guess dedication, it takes a lot of work to be the best band in the PAC 12 you know (though the general consensus here seems to be that UW is a solid second :P). I’m kind of repeating myself here, but on top of the time commitment and having your entire Saturday used up to prepare/play for the game it takes a lot of dedication to make it this far in band.

Well I take it that the band kids really contribute to the atomsphere at the games right? What happens if Cal is playing away, how does that work?

Yeah, I mean the Friday before the game we perform a noon rally to get everyone ready, then the same night we do a “Backwards March” (we don’t actually march backwards) from our practice field down to Sather (where the hub of Berkeley is), then before the game we march on the streets parade-like around the stadium to make sure everyone knows a game is going on; then there’s pregame and halftime shows and we do random stuff and play songs in breaks in the game. Wish I could be at that game; and the combination of some people not being able to go and my high percentage meant despite my 1st year status I only had to get rid of 1-3 people to go too.

Alan, thanks for such an in-depth interview about the college marching band experience. A pity you’ll have to watch the Huskies beat Cal on tv.

A big special from Alan himself:

Oh and:
And you can’t even tell I dropped my hat and picc after the first song on pregame. Stupid fresno state and needing to take a full 2 minutes to get on the field.Assuming you mean where I was when I dropped my hat/picc (since we move around a lot so I can’t tell you where I am all the time) when we’re in the “C” design in the pregame after the first song I’m somewhere in the bottom left corner of the C. Woot Asian black hair blends in with the color of the hats!

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