“A Member of the Band”
In hindsight, to even consider being a part of a college football band halftime show was an extremely lofty idea. I attended and graduated from Malta Bend High School. Malta Bend did not, nor does it today, have a football field. I had never walked on a football field, until I set foot on the band practice field at the University of Missouri-Columbia, flute in hand. But I had followed a precedent. Richard Barger, also from Malta Bend, was already a member of Marching Mizzou by the time I signed up. Everyone in Marching Mizzou knew Richard. He was the band’s bass drummer. When our director needed the tempo set for rehearsals in field marching, or for a musical number, he would tell Richard what speed he needed. Richard would look at his second hand on his watch, and he would start beating the drum. Occasionally, he got the tempo too fast or too slow and everyone in the band would yell at him. (When he got it wrong, we had to start over.)
Marching Mizzou started a week-long rehearsal for the fall season the week before school started. During that week, we ate all of our meals together, we were out on the field all day, and rehearsed music in the band room every evening during that week. The first thing we learned was how to march down the football field. We took eight steps for every five-yard line marker, and our instep was to hit each marker. We band members got bad sunburns that week. All of the drummers got blistered fingers from drumming all day, and their hands were a mass of taped bandages.
Marching Mizzou was one fine art credit per semester, and for that one hour, we did six hours of field-practice rehearsals, and two hours of music practice in the band room each week. In addition, when there was a Saturday game, we could plan on spending most of the day at the practice field and at the stadium. We did a completely new half-time show for every home game. At that time, if the game was shown on television, the half time band shows were also shown. There were no half-time sports updates. We usually had one week to learn a complete half-time show. If it was raining or snowing during the week, Mr. Pickard, the director, always told us that we had to continue with field rehearsal, because the football fans would not remember how bad the weather had been during the week, when we were putting on our Saturday half-time show. There were times we would get to the dorm late in the afternoon after a rainy rehearsal and head to the dining room, soaking wet, to eat before the dining room shut down for the evening. We were always the last to get to the dining rooms, and we always looked the worst!
When we had home games at Faurot Field, Marching Mizzou sat in special reserved bleachers at the north end of the field directly under the big “M.” We were very close to all the football action, able to hear every thud and crack. At very cold games, we were given a special treat, hot chocolate, after our half-time show.
I particularly remember two out-of-town band trips. One fall we traveled to Boulder, Colo. Our band director had planned an intricate, continually-marching show. Usually, when we were playing a musical number, we would stop and be in “concert” position. But for this particular show, he thought it would be “showier” to continue marching while we were playing. He forgot to take into account the higher altitude. By the time we finished the show, all of us were gasping for breath.
Our second trip was to Lincoln, Neb. It was late in the fall, and it was extremely cold. We put on as many clothes as we could under our band uniforms. We all looked pretty hefty, but still we were freezing. We did the half-time show, and immediately headed to the warm buses to thaw out and ride back home to Columbia.
I did not continue playing in Marching Mizzou my third and final year in college. I had gotten married and I did not have the necessary time required to be in the band. Also, I was the fourth of five children that my parents had put through college. I had a younger sister who would start when I was to be in my fourth year, so I attended college year-round and took heavy class loads to get finished in three years. My parents had always told us that we would be attending and completing college, and that it would be a no-frills experience.
Looking back at my time in Marching Mizzou, I must say, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Through the years, I occasionally have returned at homecoming time to march in the yearly alumni Marching Mizzou. I never forget to hit the yard markers with the arch of my foot, and how to do the “Missouri Waltz” step and the “MIZZOU-TIGERS” flip. What a thrill it is to be on the football field doing our show and then for the current Marching Mizzou to come on the field and participate with us. My goal is to make it for my 50th anniversary year.
This story first appeared in the Marshall Writers’ Guild booklet, “Notes and Notables of Saline County” (2014)