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The Day the Music Died

January 8, 2004 Columns No Comments

The Day the Music Died

by Michael Ermitage

Today is the day music died. Pep band music that is. And it’s disgusting. I’ve noticed it for quite some time now – the trend of phasing out pep band music at college basketball games in favor of pro-style music and ads. It started with the teams that share an arena with an NBA team. Teams like St. John’s and Marquette. Instead of launching into a spirited version of the school fight song after a big rally, everyone’s head robotically turns to the giant scoreboard to watch an ad from the local bank. I have season tickets to Marquette basketball, and I have to say that the pro-style approach is a big turn off. The Warriors (yes, I know it’s the Golden Eagles, but I refuse to say it) have built a healthy student section since coach Tom Crean’s arrival, but their unbridled enthusiasm, which should seep to the rest of the crowd, is often stunted by a cheesy Jumbotron artificial call for cheering or by a 10,000-decible spin from the latest Jock Jams CD. If I weren’t a little more involved, I would bet anyone that Marquette’s fight song is actually ZombieNation by Kernkraft 400. It’s a shame really, because the Warriors’ actual fight song is as unique as an on-time cable guy. While most fight songs have a heavy, slow and majestic feeling, Marquette’s is frenetic and spirited, complete with choreographed arm motions that take freshmen six weeks to learn.

Now, the trend is starting to infiltrate the never-reaches of college basketball. Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Illinois’ Assembly Hall, and even James Madison’s Convocation Center. Worse yet, it’s hit my alma mater… Purdue University’s Mackey Arena. Mackey used to be solely fueled by a raucous crowd and an energetic band. Now, promotions and taped music have infiltrated the arena. I realize that times change. For example, the students at Purdue now do this “Boiler Up” thing that never existed when I was there. Apparently it was the brainchild of the football coach’s wife. I know Purdue isn’t known for its creativity (its more a tribute to cement and straight lines), but I’d rather the students come up with the new cheers. Regardless, the philosophy has changed; we are now being told when and how to cheer instead of figuring it out ourselves. And what is fueling this change in philosophy? Money, of course. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject, arenas are getting as much as $15,000 for time on the scoreboard during the game. The pep band, of course, makes $0 every time it plays, but who can put a price on good old-fashioned fun? There was a time that a fan could leap out of his seat the second the opposing team called a timeout, knowing that the band would fire up some inspirational music. Now, the promotions department might roll out a set of huge bowling pins while a fan in a giant inflatable ball tries to knock them down.

Perhaps I’m old school and just longing for times gone by. I just prefer that the excitement generated in the arena come from the students. It should come from the players. It should come from the student section. And it should come from the band. It shouldn’t come from the well-thought-out and well-paid-for plans of a 30-something marketing director.

Hold close the brass versions of “Louie, Louie” and “Carry on My Wayward Son,” because soon they’ll be replaced by 3-D dot races and T-shirt promotions. Unless the old cliché’ “And the Band Played on” holds true. Somehow I doubt it.


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