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Almost every single college in America has a marching band which performs during games and around campus. However, there are some which stand out as exceptional, even among colleges. This is a list of five of the best in my opinion. Whether they were chosen for their style, their sense of fun, or their prestige, any one of these bands won't fail to amaze.
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#1 -- Ohio State University Band
Ohio State University's marching band calls itself “The Best Damn Band in the Land”, and not without reason.
The all brass and percussion band is the largest of its kind in the world, and there is fierce competition among undergraduate for one of the spots on the 192 member band. Their signature song and formation is the Script Ohio, where they perform a complex series of looping maneuvers which eventually result in them spelling out, in cursive, “Ohio”.
The Ohio State Band has been running since the late 1800's, and helped to pioneer many of the techniques used by bands everywhere today, such as script writing, the use of instruments designed specifically for marching, and moving formations. The OSU band has performed in inauguration parades and before NFL games, as well as at every OSU home game. If you can get onto it, this marching band is truly the best college marching band in the nation.
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#2 -- University of Michigan Band
The University of Michigan's marching band, or the Michigan Marching Band, is almost as famous as Ohio State's. Its 350 members come to school weeks before classes start for the grueling “band week”, wherein they practice their music, formations, and drills in preparation for the school year. Their signature is their drum major's back bend, where the hapless major leans backward so far that their head touches the ground while the entire stadium watches.
Football games are day-long affairs for the marching band, who start preparing at 7:30 in the morning the day of the game, and then work a tight schedule of practices and performances throughout the day. While the Michigan band usually confines their performances to University of Michigan games, they are nonetheless amazingly dedicated and involved, and anyone on this band will have a great experience.
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#3 -- Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB)
The LSJUMB is Stanford University's scatter band, and bills itself as “The Largest Rock and Roll Band in the Nation”. The band is more notable for its theatrics than its music. Unlike many other university bands, it is almost entirely student run, founded by rebellious students in the early 60's. It performs at many games and student events, and has become legendary for its volume.
The band, true to its nickname, mostly performs classic rock songs, although it takes great pains to vary what it plays, never repeating the same song on a single day. The band has been banned from several college campuses for their hijinks – for example, they were briefly banned from performing at Notre Dame after their conductor directed the band using a wooden cross as a wand. However, perhaps their most notable controversy was “The Play” – an incident during the 1982 game against Cal where band members flooded the field before the game was over, allowing Cal to score a winning touchdown.
While the Stanford band may not be as musically serious as some of the other bands on this list, they are, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable bands to be a part of and to listen to.
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#4 -- University of California Band
Coming right on the heels of Stanford is the University of California's band, usually referred to simply as the Cal Band. It is student run, and performs at many sporting events and student events.
It was founded in the late 1800's and currently has 240 members. They have a style very similar to that of Ohio State, with heavy use of high stepping. They are also similarly famous, putting in performances on many radio stations throughout the California area. Historical performances include the Ed Sullivan show, the Wheel of Fortune, and even playing during a Nobel Lecture on The Big Bang. The Cal band is consistently impressive, and would be a great choice for any aspiring college band geek.
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#5 University of Massachusetts Amherst Band
Last, but certainly not least in our list, is the University of Massachusetts Amherst's marching band, usually referred to as the Minutemen in a nod to New England's revolutionary history. The band was founded in 1935 and currently has 380 members. It won the Sudler trophy for college marching bands in 1998, a huge honor.
Generally the band plays primarily at games and student-run events, although it has also played performances in locations such as Boston's Fanueil Hall. It is a traditional band, utilizing precise formations and exact drills, with its signature formation being a huge M. It generally accepts only the most talented musicians, and is another excellent choice for a college band.
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There are plenty more great bands to choose from. Which ones do you think are the best?