The band will perform at Cleveland Browns halftime show Sept. 10
Sept. 6, 2006
By Mary Reed
It's 11:45 p.m. on the last Monday in August. More than 70 would-be members of the Ohio University Marching 110 have been practicing since 8:00 a.m. They are now awaiting the posting of the "block." They will soon find out if they've made the cut or not to become part of "the most exciting band in the land."
Marching 110 Director Richard Suk doesn't hang around the music building for the posting of the block. "A lot of tears, a lot of cheers," he says; the former is the reason he doesn't attend.
A little-known fact: The Ohio University Marching 110 hasn't been made up of 110 members for quite some time. This year, there are 207 members. Some perform pre-game shows, some perform a halftime, others are alternates and everyone plays in parades and in the stands.
It's now said that 110 represents the effort put forth by the band. "I definitely agree, after training camp," says Alyssa Mehling, an alto saxophone player from Westlake, Ohio. "I had to put in a lot of work, more than I ever physically worked for something." She just found out that she's made the cut. "It was very exciting, I felt relieved."
Jonathan Plona, a trumpet player from Montgomery, Ohio, agrees. He also just found out that he made the cut. He calls training week hard but fun. "Everybody's really sore. If you watch, you'll see."
Tuesday's practice bears this out. Along the running track that frames Pruitt Field, the practice home for the Marching 110, it's a typical college scene: backpacks, water bottles and notebooks strewn all over the place – plus instrument cases as well. On the field, it looks more like military boot camp than band practice. An assistant band director inspects the lines of marchers. "Horns up!" he yells at the musicians who have let their instruments sag.
Band members snap into position on the field when ordered to do so and they perform basic maneuvers with a precision that belies the fact that first-year students have only been learning these drills for less than a week.
"In training camp, they learn fundamentals needed to execute our style of step," says Suk. "That's 'high step' or 'high chair,'" he says, demonstrating the step. When the leg is raised, thigh parallel to the ground, the body resembles a chair in profile. Hence, the sore muscles.
All this hard work pays off when the Marching 110 takes to the field -- whether that's Ohio University's Peden Stadium or Cleveland Browns Stadium Sept. 10 when the band performs the halftime show for a crowd of some 73,000 plus a national television audience.
"I know that stadium is huge, so that'll be crazy. I don't know how I'll handle it," says Mehling, a self-described Cleveland sports fan. "It'll mean more because it's Cleveland and that's where I'm from. Hopefully, my parents will come."
But band members still have a lot of work to put in before that day. After the school year starts, they will commit many hours a week to not only practice, but performances and study halls as well. Fortunately, the hard work is somewhat offset by earning two credit hours for marching band.
"They approach it like it's a social activity as well as a performance activity," says Suk. Indeed, ask any Marching 110 member about it and they'll tell you it's the camaraderie, the long-term friendships that make it such a special club. For proof, just attend any Ohio University Homecoming parade where you will see a substantial Marching 110 Alumni band presence (and you may see some members later sport their "Never too old to funk" t-shirts).
"With the freshmen I went through the camp with," Mehling says, "I have a couple of good friends that I've made." Plona agrees, saying "It's a great way to have friends before starting school."
But all of this -- from the many hours of practice to the social aspect -- is not without academic merit. "I've had some band members who weren't stellar students because of their background, but it did force them to be better students. They were willing to work hard in their academics so they could stay a band member," says Lora Munsell, assistant dean for first year programs and retention. "The studies have shown that the more students have to do, then the better organized they seem to become. The marching 110 requires such a large time commitment that it almost forces the students to become very good at time management."
Without any prompting, Mehling refers to the same things. "I'll just have to buckle down and do a lot of time management … being able to say I'm in the Marching 110 – people are excited for me."
Marching 110 members have slightly higher grade-point averages than Ohio University students overall, and their retention rate (first-year students returning for a second year at the university) in 2005 was 88.89 percent, compared to the overall student retention rate of 81 percent. Although there is not enough data to say for sure what the impact is of marching band involvement, the numbers still indicate that band members are doing well academically.
"There are a lot of kids who are here because of the band," says Suk, who spends some of his time recruiting band members. "I think every marching band in every university has the mission to be an ambassador to the university." This is especially true for the Marching 110, which is a signature institution at Ohio University. In addition to gigs like last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, they will draw national attention again to the school when they perform at the Browns game, an honor they've had before.
Suk enjoys taking the band on a road trip to Cleveland, noting how well the NFL team treats the performers, as well as how warmly they are received by Cleveland fans. "It's a really good crowd," he says.
Even Bengals fan and Marching 110 member Plona agrees. "That's gonna be cool."
Mary Reed is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.