The Men and Women Behind the Music
Feb. 24, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
Tip-off is close to 40 minutes away but already there is a buzz inside Allen Fieldhouse. A few drum beats and a saxophone squeak later and the unofficial start to Jayhawk game-day has begun thanks to members of the KU basketball band.
“We kind of think of ourselves as a sixth man,” said senior trumpet player Brad Gilbert. “We’re initiating cheers and adding to the ruckus that Allen Fieldhouse is, so it’s kind of a big job.”
Although these few dozen KU students aren’t exactly shooting the ball or making a game-saving steal, they are doing something almost as important; turning the Fieldhouse into a true home court advantage.
“Every time I walk into this place I get chills,” said Gilbert. “Then you start the Rock Chalk chant and there’s definitely something special about it.”
But it wouldn’t be as special if it weren’t for Gilbert and his fellow band members, whose game-day ritual begins well before fans are settling into their seats.
“Call time is about an hour before the game starts,” he explained. “We do a whole pre-game routine about 50 minutes before we play.”
As for other pre-game rituals, senior marching band drum major Kelsie Lange looks to her other band mates for non musical methods to get her pumped up and ready to play.
“I’m a big fan of handshakes,” she said. “I have a couple people that I have specific routines with before football games. Last year one of the drum majors and I had a special hand shake. This year a trumpet player and I share ‘the’ shake.”
Handshakes aside, once they do start performing for the 16,300 fans packed inside Allen fieldhouse, the first few songs are some of Gilbert’s favorites.
“We play this arrangement called ‘Sounds of Summer’, which are a number of different songs. That’s always one that gets me feeling like; ‘okay its game time, it’s time to play’, plus I think the fans really like it,” he said.
While fans will hear the customary ‘Crimson and the Blue’ as well as ‘I’m a Jayhawk’ this season, the sellout fieldhouse crowds will also be treated to a new musical flavor courtesy of the basketball band.
“We’re trying to integrate some newer, more modern music,” Gilbert said. “A lot of the music we play we’ve done for years and years and we’ve kept that going, but we’ve also added some new tunes as well.”
One of those more recent jingles you might hear the band belting out of their section in the southeast corner of the Fieldhouse is the hip hop hit ‘All I Do Is Win’, by DJ Khaled.
“One of our GTA’s (Graduate Teaching Assistants) is a really brilliant arranger,” Lange said. “He takes popular songs and arranges them so the basketball band can play music that’s relevant to our students.”
Fellow GTA Cheryl Lee knows all to well about the hard work that goes into crafting one of these game-day beats.
“It takes a considerable amount of time to arrange a pop song for band instruments,” Lee said. “I’m currently working on B.o.B’s ‘Magic’ and hope to finish it soon. Generally, the bands gets about four to five new songs a year, give or take.”
Band members think playing the same tunes that students listen to on their iPods while camping out or waiting in line to get into the Fieldhouse, helps them get more fired up during the game.
“The band is there to get the crowd pumped up and into the game,” Gilbert said. “So anything that helps us do our job better, I’m all for it.”
“I’ve noticed the students around me get a lot more involved,” Lange said. “I know all the songs that we play already, so I’m always enjoying it, but I think it’s fun to see the other students interact with the band when we play songs they know.”
Lange knows that without that interaction there would be a large void during basketball and football games.
“You can definitely feel our presence because we keep the students energized,” she said. “If for some reason the team isn’t doing so well, we can help amp them and the crowd up. When there is momentum going, the band keeps it going and gets everybody involved and keeps spirits high.”
For some band members, helping to add to the Fieldhouse atmosphere is really a childhood dream come true. Gilbert grew up in nearby Lenexa and spent many of his winter afternoons and evenings in the Phog.
“It was surreal my first two years playing,” he said. “I’ve kind of gotten used to it and maybe taken it a little bit for granted, but as a kid I would be at games and think ‘I want to be in that band’. Now being in it and seeing fans react to what we’re playing, sometimes I stop and think ‘wow, this is really, really cool’.”
Like her musical counterpart, Lange also realizes her band experience will soon be coming to an end. When that time comes, she says she won’t exactly know how to act when she’s cheering among the Crimson and Blue faithful and not playing in the band.
“It will be really strange,” she said. “I’ve never been an actual student at a football game from high school through college. I’ve always been in the band; so when it does happen, it will be a really unique experience.”
Either way, the two band mates know their experiences have been just that: unique.
“Before every game we always say together ‘What kind of day is it?'” said Lange. “Then the response is… ‘It’s a great day to be a Jayhawk!'”
Both Lange and Gilbert know there will be many more great days ahead for the Jayhawks as long as their musical mates keep belting out those tunes inside Allen Fieldhouse and at Memorial Stadium.