Blood, Sweat, and Frosties: My tryout for the Ohio State marching band

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You don't get to be The Best Damn Band In The Land just by showing up. Special marching band correspondent Patrick Martyn pulls back the curtain and talks about what it was like to try out for the best marching band in the country.

Memorial Day has come and gone, marking the unofficial beginning of summer. (The gross heat and humidity currently plaguing the Midwest are also pretty good indicators.) When it comes to college sports, summer isn't exactly the most exciting of times. Lots of recruiting news, speculation, and the occasional scandal are all we have to keep us going until the Buckeyes take on Navy on August 30th. That doesn't mean that there isn't anything going on, though. Coaches are strategizing, players are practicing, and The Best Damn Band In The Land is set to begin its 2014 preparations.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, you should be ashamed of yourselves. The Best Damn Band In The Land (TBDBITL) is the nickname Woody Hayes gave to The Ohio State University Marching Band. This is the band that brought us such amazing halftime shows as the video game show, the Michael Jackson tribute show, and the Hollywood Blockbusters show, among others. This is the band that gives us such excellent traditions as the Skull Session, the ramp entrance, and the incomparable Script Ohio.

Are you still with me? Or did I lose you to those videos? I wouldn't blame you. They make a T-Rex eat a Michigan fan. It's good stuff. All that doesn't come easily, though. The marching band works hard. Really hard. And getting the band assembled each year is a long, difficult process.

Back in June of 2007, I had just finished my freshman year at OSU-Newark (Go Titans!) and was in the process of transferring over to Columbus. Now, before we proceed, you need to know that I was a pretty big band geek back in the day. I was in three different band programs at Granville High School (including a STEEL DRUM BAND), and I had been a member of the OSU Athletic Band my freshman year. That's the band that you see at basketball games, hockey games, and basically every sport that isn't football. I played the baritone, an instrument that you're probably not familiar with. It looks a bit like a small tuba. A bunch of my friends were going to try out for the marching band, and I decided to join them. I had to try. How do you turn down the chance to try out for the best marching band on earth?

How do you turn down a chance to try out for the best marching band on earth?

Officially, marching band tryouts consist of two to four days in August – four days if you've never been in the band before, two if you're a returning member. Everyone tries out every year. You don't simply make it once and get to coast for the rest of your career; you need to earn your spot every summer. However, those few days not a lot of time to get back into marching band shape or, if you're new, learn everything you need to know. That's where Summer Sessions come into play. Summer Sessions are optional (but highly encouraged) rehearsals held twice a week throughout the summer. They give everyone, veteran or newbie, the chance to work on the skills and songs needed at tryouts. Think of it as the "optional" minicamp for bandies. If you're interested, Summer Sessions begin on June 10th this year. For more information about trying out, click here. I highly encourage it.

Twice a week for three months, my friends and I would drive from Granville to Columbus to attend Summer Sessions. If I had to describe these sessions in two words, those words would be "helpful" and "brutal." If I had to pick just one, it'd be "brutal." We were willing to do it, though, because it was for a very good reason.

Summer Sessions usually began with running. We would meet in the Steinbrenner Band Center, located by Gate 10 of the Horseshoe (on the northern side), then run with our instruments down to the practice field south of the stadium. Running was one of the ways you showed just how excited you were to be there. The others were yelling and paying attention. Once we reached the field and ran our two laps around it, we’d begin working on marching fundamentals. We started with the basics. You may think spending two hours on forward marching seems like a bit much, but when you see the band march down the field in perfectly straight lines, it’s because they know how to forward march. It’s not as easy as you might think. Everyone must take the exact same step at the exact same time, otherwise the row bends, and you don’t become the best in the land by having bendy rows.

As the summer progressed, we learned more advanced moves, like horn flashes, turns, and backwards marching. We’d do practice drills, everyone working together to help each other, both newbies and veterans. That’s one of the most important lessons of marching band, perhaps the most important. You’re a team. You're just one part of the band. If one person is out of line, the whole formation is off. Just like a wide receiver running the wrong route can ruin a play, a trumpet player turning left instead of right can mess up an entire formation.

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Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

And so we practiced. We marched in the hot evening sun, through the humidity you could practically swim in. We sweat until it burned our eyes, and we relished the moments where our marching took us into a bit of shade. We played music until our lips felt like they were going to bleed. When we would practice the ramp drill (which is exhausting), the directors would tell us to do it "one more time." We’d run back down the field to our starting spots and do it again, only to be told that it could be better and to do it "one more time." After doing ramp three or four times, we’d do "Hang On Sloopy" "one more time" three or four times. Then we’d go home, sore and tired, to rest for a bit and then do it all again a few days later. Some people would probably call it madness. We called it marching band practice, and we loved it. Getting into TBDBITL wasn't supposed to be easy.

When it came time for tryouts, I felt ready to go. I'd worked hard. I knew the music like it was a part of me; I could play it in my sleep (or, perhaps more practically, while trying to remember where to march next). I knew the tryout drill. I'd gone to every Summer Session. My Granville friends and I had practiced at the high school while helping our old marching band teacher with band camp. I’d even been jogging all summer, an activity that I still despise, but was willing to do for this, the noblest of causes. I was as ready as I was going to be.

Some people would call it madness. We'd call it band practice

There are two rounds of cuts during the tryout process, both on the final day. When Round One comes, they gather everyone in the band room and announce the names of those cut. I made it through. (Actually, the year I tried out, all the baritones did except one: the guy who did not attend a single Summer Session. They're important, people.) Those who are still in it then go back outside for one final scoring. For Round Two of cuts, everyone goes home, showers, gets dressed up in their nicest clothes, and gathers in the band room again. This time, you want to hear your name. They read off the names of that year's band.

There I sat in my suit and tie, listening as they called out members of other rows. I knew when they’d get to the baritones, so each name brought a drop more of anxiety to my mind. They came to the first baritone row. I didn't hear my name. Discouraging, but not the end of the world. They came to the second (and final) baritone row. Again, I didn't hear my name. They continued calling the rest of the names for the other rows, but I didn't really listen. I hadn't made it. When they finished, I congratulated my friends that had been chosen, loosened my tie, and left, leaving the band center to the newly formed 2007 Ohio State Marching Band.

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Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

As I sat enjoying the "so sorry you got cut" Frostie that my friend, Laura, had bought for me, she made a comment. "You don't seem so upset," she remarked in a bit of a surprised tone. She’d unsuccessfully tried out the year before, so she knew what it was like. She was right, though. I wasn’t that upset. Why not? I’d spent all summer working hard and preparing for something that didn’t happen. I wasn’t a member of TBDBITL. Shouldn’t I be weeping uncontrollably? Or at least trying to weep, since I had sweat out the last of my bodily fluids a few Summer Sessions ago?

After giving it some thought, I realized that the answer, however cheesy it may sound, was that I wasn’t upset because I’d tried my best. Was I sad that I wasn’t going to be marching onto the field on Saturdays? Yes. Was it going to cripple me with crushing sadness? No. I had worked and prepared all summer, but, in the end, I knew I had given it my all. I knew where I'd done well, I knew where I'd messed up during tryouts, and I knew that it had been as good as I could do. I was pleased with the effort I had put forward. That’s another one of the important lessons marching band can teach you. Do your very best, and you’ll be satisfied, regardless of the outcome. Also, keep your mouthpiece pressed to your lips when you do horn flashes, or you’ll knock your teeth out.

I never did try out again. I never got the chance. Things never worked out quite right with my schedule again for me to be able to do so. I stayed active in the band program at Ohio State, just not as a member of that particular ensemble. Looking back, while I'm sad that I didn't get a chance to be a part of it, I don't feel like that summer was a waste of time. I'm happy that I tried. Yes, I know. It's super cliché, but it's true. It helped teach me that working really hard can be a lot of fun when you’re working together with your friends, doing something that you all love. (There are just life lessons all over the place here.)

I still love the marching band. Always have, always will. There's no doubt about it in my mind; they truly are The Best Damn Band In The Land, and they are an integral part of what makes game day in the 'Shoe so amazing. Try to picture a game without the dotting of the 'i" or "Hang On Sloopy" being played. You can't do it, can you? I can't.

So, while we sit around waiting for football season to come back, remember that there is a lot of preparation going into making sure that what we see on the field is the best it can be, both during the game and during pregame and halftime. And if you happen to pass by Lincoln Tower and see the band out there preparing one evening this summer, take a few moments to watch and appreciate how hard those bandies work to help make our land-grant school the holy land of college sports.

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