Band brings the spirit and sound of OSU

 Oregon State University’s marching band, also known as the Spirit and Sound of OSU, performing during halftime at the OSU football game on November 11, 2023 at Reser Stadium. The band performed some featured songs from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Oregon State University’s marching band, also known as the Spirit and Sound of OSU, performing during halftime at the OSU football game on November 11, 2023 at Reser Stadium. The band performed some featured songs from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Kate Zinke

Cheers, tears and drunken jeers fill the air. You can hear the band playing the Regional State University fight song.

Imagine if they didn’t.

Athletic Bands Director Olin Hannum shudders at the notion. He discussed how the Oregon State University marching band unites the game experience for fans, students and community members, as well as what they bring to the game and what they bring to one another.

The Spirit and Sound of OSU, as the marching band is officially named, traces its roots to an 1890 course catalog, though some suspect that they existed even earlier. They began marching at football games in 1893.

Having only five directors in the past 55 years, the program has been marked by stability and continuity in leadership. Hannum knows the history of the band as an expert, brandishing a century-old copy of the school’s fight song written by Harold Wilkins.

Speaking to the strong traditions found at Oregon State, Hannum discussed the band’s musical repertoire and how much of the band’s time is spent preparing for games.

“Our pregame show has remained roughly unchanged for 60-ish years.There’s generally three (or four) categories of music we play,” Hannum said. “There’s campus traditionals; the fight song, the alma mater…and then there are pop culture songs from the ‘70s … There’s show music. Most of our rehearsal time is spent writing and rehearsing and learning the half-time shows, because they’re different every week … Then there’s shorties, that’s the stuff we play in between plays. That stuff is five to 10 seconds long, 15 seconds sometimes.”

Being in the Spirit and Sound of OSU is something that members can cherish for the entirety of their lives. With the forging of lifelong friendships, roaring crowds who cheer for their half-time show, an education in music and the ability to affect the game itself, Hannum opined that the marching bands of the United States confer a unique and enriching opportunity to students that cannot be found anywhere else.

“It’s an incredible experience … Marching band is an American art form that is as old or older than jazz, and doesn’t really exist outside of this country,” Hannum said. “Like, you go to Cambridge, and it doesn’t really have a marching band. The University of Sydney doesn’t have a marching band …

Marching bands grew up alongside collegiate athletics … in the U.S. in the 20th century … Marching bands as they exist in college only exist here in the United States … This experience is regional, and very strange, when you think about it … it is something that is not available to people the second you graduate college … for them, it’s this opportunity to play in this weird art form, it’s a communal experience for them, it’s a giant band family, it’s having all these friends and knowing a bunch of people on campus and being able to ask them questions about classes … It’s about going through a collective experience and accomplishing something.”

Hannum said that teamwork is of the utmost importance for a marching band; one person in the wrong spot will be noticed by the crowd and no one wants to be the person in the wrong place, especially after spending months and months practicing perfection.

But with this work, comes spirituality. Music, across the world, is a spiritual experience and endeavor. Hannum, reflecting upon music in own life, commented on the creativity necessitated by a career in music and how it is part of his own spiritual identity.

“Everyone has the things that interest them, that get them up in the morning, that motivate them to be the person that they are, and music is that for me a lot of the time … Sometimes the music that I make here at work, sometimes the athletic bands’ music, sometimes music department music, sometimes outside groups that I work with, sometimes my own stuff.”

Such motivations can stem from differing intrinsic values, and the sense of accomplishment combined with the common experience and gameday atmosphere that the Spirit of OSU helps to create, seem to Hannum, to be favorably compared to houses of worship.

“One of my old teachers once talked about marching band (and) talked about college football as church,” Hannum said. “Not that college football following is a religion for a lot of people, although it is for a lot of people. That it’s a very congregational experience, you go on a specific day of the week to watch the thing, the announcer asks you to stand, you stand, you sing along with the choir… the band does a thing, you do the thing back, and that’s what you’re supposed to do because we all understand that we are one group of people and we do things a certain way; it’s very church-like.”

A college football game would not be the same without the marching band, according to Hannum. The blaring bells of the tubas, trumpets and other oddly shaped metal contraptions are part of the fabric of the college game.

The band and the music help create a common and shared experience that unites the student body, community and fans. When the fight song begins to play, the crowd knows to clap and cheer along, uniting the stadium in a kind of collective ecstasy.

The denizens of Reser Stadium will likely never have to worry about what a college football game at OSU would be like without the marching band, without the Spirit and Sound of OSU. This uniting of the community and atmosphere of excitement is the spirit that the band aims to bring to every football game.

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    MaciousJan 17, 2024 at 12:59 am

    What a great show! Thanks for posting this!