It’s Saturday night at the Cage. The Panthers are battling it out, hoping to bring a win to the thousands of fans at Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium. The quarterback hikes the ball and connects a pass into the end zone.
Over the cheers and cannon blast, the FIU Marching Band, 100 strong, belts out our fight song, “Go-F-Go-I-Go-U-Go-F-I-U.” I find myself smiling in their direction because, this past summer, I was with the band.
By Marianela de Armas ‘02
For one week, I was embedded with the FIU Marching Band. Their pre-season camp began in August, the week before the fall semester began. For five days, and a total of 55 hours, both returning members and potential new members tried out for a slot to be a part of the 2012-13 FIU Marching Band.
The camp was just the first of many investments of time and energy required of potential band members. Making the band commits students to attend football games and community parades, among other events throughout the year, while juggling schoolwork with part-time jobs. But, after a week with my new friends, I understood that this endeavor was more than a club or an association, but more like a family, made up of a diverse group of majors, backgrounds and ages that if not for their shared loved for music, would never have met.
The days began at sunrise and went well into the late evening. The temperature neared three digits on the hottest days and, at times, sporadic summer showers had us scattering toward the nearest parking garage or rehearsal hall. The color guard spent five days synching their choreography, while the band learned more than 20 songs in that time. They rarely ever got it on the first try. But, by the last day, our FIU Marching Band was stronger, louder and ready to continue the tradition.
Day 1: Putting the march in marching band
Neither the sun nor I were fully up that first Monday morning, but we found ourselves on the soccer field near U.S. Century Bank Arena. It was only 7 a.m. and nearly 100 students, ranging from first-time-in-college freshmen to seniors from a wide sampling of majors, were already there, in formation, waiting to hear instruction from Barry Bernhardt, associate director of bands.
“Set-mark-time-hut. Quarter turn to the left, and step, two-three-step,” shouted Bernhardt while clapping in time.
And, suddenly, the formation responded. They not only understood this secret language, but within a few hours of practice, turned and marched in unison in perfect choreography.
All the while, I tried to follow along from the sideline, as I was convinced I would cause a chain reaction and eventually ruin the formation. Good thing I kept my distance, too. Right when I thought I had it down, I stepped on my own shoelaces and tripped. Mind you, I was marching without an instrument. Imagine what would have happened if I’d tried strapping on a 50-pound quad tenor drum and playing it while keeping step.
After a break for lunch, the band trekked to the Wertheim Performing Arts Center and divided into their instrument sections, where they played together for the first time. The cacophony of drum beats, tuba pulses and flute scales echoed through the halls well into dinnertime.
In the midst of this, I met Elizabeth Moreno, a freshman assigned to first bass drum. A former member of Westland Hialeah High School’s marching band, she had participated in Band Days, a yearly event where bands across the county are invited to play and participate at a workshop at FIU. When I asked her about her first day at camp, she said, “We just finished practicing music, sight reading, playing with the rest of the band, seeing how our parts sounded with them, and colliding. I liked it.”
Just as we finished dinner, Bernhardt announced that we would be playing an impromptu concert just outside of the School of Music. While I struggled with the notion of getting up from my seat, the band was already on the lawn warming up.
With Bernhardt’s wave, the drum line counted off four hits and off they went. Onlookers paused to listen; cars drove by at a crawl, some even honked. It was incredibly infectious and, even if they were still a little raw, I felt more than proud to be standing there with them. Especially when a black sedan suddenly pulled up and out stepped the band’s biggest fan, FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg.Listen: President Rosenberg stops by on the first day of band camp
One day down – only four more to go.