A High Five to...

Get the low down on Griz/FCS Football
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...the band!!! Play it loud and proud, Grizzlies! Good job.

130-strong UM marching band makes presence known in stadium

By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian

Last Saturday, shortly after the University of Montana football team was upset by the Montana State Bobcats, a Bozeman fan walked up to UM Grizzly Marching Band drum major Kristin George.

“He said, ‘We really creamed you guys during the game, but you guys won halftime hands-down,' ” recalls George. “He didn't have to say that, so it really meant a lot.”

Coming from a Cat fan, such unsolicited words of praise were perhaps a bittersweet consolation prize. But it's the kind of comment that's been arriving more and more frequently this season.
There's a new powerhouse in the Big Sky Conference, and it's changing the way fans experience Grizzly football.

It's made up of 130 students, many of whom had never stepped onto a football field in a uniform until they arrived in Missoula for college. It's led by a guy who only arrived in Missoula a little over a year ago.

Yet the University of Montana Grizzly Marching Band has recently started to look and sound like the kind of band you'd expect at a school where football is close to a religion, and where school spirit is a point of pride for students and local residents alike.

The north end zone of Washington-Grizzly Stadium has long been known as the noisiest, most energetic place in any Big Sky Conference stadium. But these days, there's a competing sound, coming from the other end of the stadium.

“You can now actually hear the band from the north end zone,” says Dr. Steve Kemple, a local anesthesiologist and Griz Marching Band supporter who sits in the north end zone during games. “I think people are finally starting to notice that we're developing a phenomenal band. We have something to be really proud of.”

That's a big change from less than a decade ago. For years, the Griz Marching Band labored as a seeming afterthought, a group of 75 or so student musicians tucked into an end corner of the stadium, where only fans in the nearby student section could really hear them.

For most other people in attendance, the band only became a noticeable part of the game experience when a student sousaphonist named Nate Schweber showed up in the late 1990s and began entertaining the crowd with his goofy (and occasionally risque) antics. It's a telling point that, even then, the band was more recognizable visually than for its sound.

Steve Kemple remembers attending the Division I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn., back in 2000, when the Griz played Georgia Southern.

“I remember looking across the stadium and seeing the Georgia Southern band, with like 180 musicians, and they were making this great big sound,” recalls Kemple. “I said to the person I was sitting with, ‘Where is our band?' And lo and behold, he pointed, and there they were.

“I had no idea they were even there.”

That was actually an important moment in the evolution of the Griz Marching Band. Despite the fact that he'd never before been involved in any musical pursuit, Kemple vowed then and there to do what he could to help transform the band into an ensemble that befitted the Grizzly football team.

Upon returning to Missoula, he set up meetings with several school administrators, including Dean of Fine Arts Shirley Howell. What he heard was a classic tale of scant resources spread too thin. Bob Ledbetter, who then directed the band, had to split his time with other duties as head of UM's percussion department. Students in the band were expected to commit around six hours a week to rehearsals - not to mention their Saturdays to games - with no incentive other than the joy of participation.

So Kemple decided to open his checkbook and provide money for student scholarships and to help grow the staffing of the program.

Change was dramatic - and quick.

“Working as a physician here in town, I see time and time again that it takes so long to get anything done in big institutions,” says Kemple. “I assumed things would be the same in the university system, but I was very, very wrong.

“When they set their mind to this thing, with the president and the dean and the athletic director involved, it started happening quick.”

Soon a scholarship program was set up, whereby all first-year members of the Griz Marching Band received $500 a year for participating. That amount increases to $750 for second-year players, and $1,000 for players who stick around for three or more seasons.

After several shifts in leadership, a new full-time director of athletic bands, Kevin Griggs, was hired last season to lead the Griz Marching Band and the school's pep band. Griggs came to the position having spent much of his musical life involved in marching bands.

He brought with him a clear vision for the band's direction, and for its role in the bigger cultural event that is a Grizzly football game.

“I knew that what they expected was to see the group grow and improve and become what college marching bands around the country are: a real force in the games,” says Griggs. “I understand that people are there to watch football, so what we do is in a sense just a fringe benefit to them being there. Our function is primarily to support the team, and everything we do is oriented toward that.”

When Griggs arrived, he found, to his relief, that things were already headed in the right direction, at least among the existing members of the band.

“A lot of the foundation skills had already been taught, and the students had the knowledge to make it work,” says Griggs. “They were beginning to build the proper mind-set, developing an appreciation for what marching band was all about - it wasn't just a requirement or an excuse to get into the games for free. The students were already seeing it as an important part of the atmosphere at the stadium.”

There was still a good bit of growth to achieve, but thanks to the scholarship program, annual attrition from the band was already dropping off fast, allowing it to develop a core of experienced members.

This year, the band hung on to about 60 percent of the players from last year. As a result, the group swelled to its largest number ever, with 130 members. Griggs hopes in the near future to increase that number to 150.

“One hundred fifty players is enough to give a really powerful sound, but it's still manageable,” says Griggs. “I think we can get there.”

Not bad for a band made up of players who, by and large, never gave a second thought to marching band before arriving at college, and many of whom aren't even majoring in music.

In that sense, Willi Mason, a sophomore from Florence, is in the minority. As a music education major, she knew she would be required to participate in marching band for two years in order to earn her degree.

She's just about to complete her second year as a member of the Grizzly Marching Band. But as far as she is concerned, it's not even a question whether she'll come back next year.

“Everybody who is in the band has a friend in band, and for a lot of us, most of our friends are in band,” she says. “It really is like one big happy family, and I couldn't imagine giving that up.”

Indeed, most students who participate in the band say the best part of the experience isn't the money or the free seats at football games.

It's the camaraderie and sense of shared accomplishment.

“Almost every one of my friends last year were in band,” says Rebecca Haag, a sophomore from Helena who plays the sousaphone. “It's great, because it seems like every class you walk into, you recognize someone from band and you're instantly more comfortable.”

That sense of camaraderie shouldn't surprise anyone who has watched the Griz Marching Band at games over the years. Students in the band are among the most vocal supporters of the team, and their celebrations after big plays rival those of the oft-besotted fans in the student section. But unlike many of those fans, the high comes from a sense of participation in the games.

“Marching band really does give me a natural high,” says Haag. “It's the greatest feeling to go out there before the games. People are cheering, you play the fight song - It gives me goose bumps.”

As a third-year member of the marching band, drum major Kristin George is now one of the leaders of the group. She says the experience of performing in and now leading the band is one she will treasure forever.

“Through band, I've met the people I would consider my best friends, and there are so many experiences I will never forget,” says George.

Such as?

“Oh, man - the first time I was on the field in that stadium; the first time I got up and conducted in front of these thousands of people; the first time my name was announced over the P.A. - all those things, it's a really rewarding experience to do it all,” says George.

Having grown up in Missoula, George has been a Griz fan all her life. But that's not necessarily true for many of the incoming band members. Soon enough, though, they all catch the bug.

“As the conductor, I stand in front of the band the entire game, and so I can really see that everybody in the band is always watching the game,” says George. “When something awesome happens, everybody's up cheering.

“I don't think a lot of those kids would ever have expected themselves to be doing that when they stepped into it. But when you're there, everybody gets involved and it's pretty cool to see that.”

With the band finally large enough to have a real effect on the cadence of football games, changes are coming in how the in-game entertainment is structured. Less prerecorded music is now played over the P.A. system; in its place, the band has started performing a broader range of spirit songs.

This year in particular, Griggs has worked closely with operators in the press box to assure the recorded music doesn't bury the band when it is playing.

“That's been a problem in the past, but I think it's getting better, with better communication,” says Griggs. “I don't think it's ever been a matter of someone doing that intentionally; it's simply a problem of communication, which I think we're on our way to fixing.”

The growth of the band and the increased excitement among its ranks hasn't been lost on fans at games. One sign, says senior piccolo player Erin Braunberger, is the reaction the band now receives from the student section.

“During the games, they start chanting our instrument names - ‘Sax-O-Phone, Sax-O-Phone,' or ‘Pic-Co-Lo, Pic-Co-Lo,' ” says Braunberger. “When we walk by to set up on the field, they're giving us high fives and shouting out to us. It's really great to feel like they're cheering for us, too, and appreciating what we're doing.”

Ultimately, it's that sense of being part of something big, of supporting school pride and earning appreciation in return, that drives most of the students in the Griz Marching Band.

“All 130 members are here to support the sport and the players - and knowing the players and fans are appreciating what we do, that's what's important to us,” says George. “We want to support the football team, and hopefully people are starting to understand that. We're all about school spirit.”

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at [email protected]

Sing along

Now that you can hear the Grizzly Marching Band from anywhere in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, maybe it's time to review the lyrics to the school fight song. Here they are:

“Up With Montana”

Up with Montana, boys, down with the foe,

Good ol' Grizzlies out for a victory;

We'll shoot our backs 'round the foeman's line;

Hot time is coming now, oh, brother mine.

Up with Montana, boys, down with the foe,

Good old Grizzlies triumph today;

And the squeal of the pig will float on the air;

From the tummy of the Grizzly Bear.
User avatar
Mich Griz
Posts: 373
Joined: Fri Jan 03, 2003 4:30 am
Location: Northern Michigan

They have come a long way. The band is so much a part of big time football. It is so cool when the band marches thru the tailgaiting. When they came into the Pavillion in Chatanooga I got so fired up. Where do we send our money to support these guys. Go Dancing Bears!
If you see Kay tell her I said HI.....
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eGriz Club
Posts: 2282
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 8:33 pm
Location: Walla Walla, WA

Mich Griz wrote:They have come a long way. The band is so much a part of big time football. It is so cool when the band marches thru the tailgaiting. When they came into the Pavillion in Chatanooga I got so fired up. Where do we send our money to support these guys. Go Dancing Bears!
If you are truly interested in sending money, it would be best to send it attention Dr. Kevin Griggs at:

The University of Montana
Grizzly Marching Band
Department of Music
Missoula, MT 59812

If you don't want to send money, they always love to hear your compliments as well.
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