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ASU Sun Devil Marching Band: More than marching and music

Arizona State University's Sun Devil Marching Band teaches students much more than notes and rhythms.

ASU Sun Devil Marching Band.

“We teach students life skills and how to be responsible,” said James “Hud” Hudson, professor of practice in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and director of ASU Athletic Bands.

At the heart of the ASU Athletic Bands program is the Sun Devil Marching Band. This nationally celebrated group, often referred to as "the Pride of the Southwest," includes the band itself, as well as the colorguard, drumline, spirit squad (dance and cheer) and twirlers. When not on the football field, many of the students can be found in one of the pep bands that support volleyball, soccer, women’s basketball, men’s basketball and hockey.

“The No. 1 reason students want to be in our band is because it’s a family,” Hudson said. “Their section is their little family, and the full band is their great big family. It's the ‘band hang’ — it’s being with their friends. They are going to forget their musical notes five years, 10 years from now. They will forget the marching and the formations. But the friends that they are making here will be some of their friends the rest of their lives. It is a culture.”

The second reason students want to join is all about game day and having fun, Hudson said.

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Jackson Snyder, drum major and sophomore music learning and teaching major, said he is eternally grateful for all the opportunities that would not exist if it were not for his involvement in the Sun Devil Marching Band.

“Anybody that you talk to will highlight friendships, personal relationships, leadership, opportunities, fun trips, games, etc. that they will not forget,” Snyder said. “You will remember the friends you made and the experiences you had.”

The bands perform at seven football games, 10 women’s volleyball matches, three to four soccer matches, 16 to 18 women’s basketball games, 16 to 18 men’s basketball games and 24 home hockey matches (new for 2022), plus any post-season games.

On average, the combined bands play for more than a half million people each season.

Students from all four campuses — Tempe, West, Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix — are eligible to participate in the Sun Devil Marching Band. This year, the 320-student ASU Sun Devil Marching Band represents more than 100 degrees across all four campuses and participating community colleges.

Community college students are eligible to participate through a collaboration established several years ago to provide them the opportunity to obtain marching band experience.

Students are not required to be music majors to participate. A large percentage of students are music learning and teaching, psychology, computer science, mechanical engineering, biological sciences or biomedical sciences majors.

The majority of the band is made up of first- and second-year students, Hudson said, with very few students participating all four years because of the extra academic rigors as they approach graduation.

“We talk about academics all the time — about planning and preparation, about being on time and the importance of following directions in order to be successful,” Hudson said.

He said the band has even set up mini tutoring sessions with student volunteers. For example, the engineers raise their hands so other students can see who is good in math. The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism students raise their hands for students who might have writing questions.

“I let them know that, as a community, maybe we can help each other,” Hudson said.

Well in advance of when classes start in the fall, the Sun Devil Marching Band is already on campus preparing for the upcoming season, including the annual Sun Devil Welcome event.

Students spend three weekends starting in late July getting ready for the first game day to learn not only the traditional ASU music but also all the music they play from the stands and for the half-time performances, the formations and marching, flag routines and dance routines.

Once classes start, they rehearse six hours a week plus performing on game days. About half the students in marching band also participate in the smaller pep bands, which requires even more time and dedication.

Hudson writes all the formations for the half-time performances and arranges most of the music for the band, which is unique, as most college bands have their own orchestrator.

“I love to orchestrate just about everything we perform on the field,” Hudson said. “I arrange for the band because it gives us a unique and special sound, and I know what our students need to sound their best.”

Always seeking ways to be innovative, the band recently went paperless for both music and drill, using the applications Ultimate Drill Book and FlipFolder. Not only is this environmentally significant, it also allows in-the-moment changes that are instantly shareable with students.

Coordinating all the behind-the-scenes work and game day performances requires the assistance of what Hudson calls an invaluable leadership team that includes section leaders and drum majors. Having participated in the program previously, they are provided opportunities to teach, conduct, write drill and arrange music.

Drum major Avantika Mitbander, a pre-health double-major in psychology and neuroscience with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in cross-sector leadership, said she participates in marching band because of its ability to bring so many students together and foster joy.

“As a third-year marcher and drum major, I want to help contribute to the welcoming and warm community that the Sun Devil Marching Band is known for,” Mitbander said. “I hope to play a part in furthering our motto of ‘Expect Great Things’ so that the program can continue to thrive and inspire many more generations of students.”

“We want our students to succeed,” Hudson said. “We want to provide them with a great experience here so that they can look back on their college days proudly and come back for alumni band and support our alma mater.”

lamacdon@asu.edu