Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band

Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band
Spartan Marching Band
School Michigan State University
Location East Lansing, MI
Conference Big Ten
Founded 1870
Director John T. Madden
Assistant director Cormac V.P. Cannon
Members 300+
Fight song MSU Fight Song
Uniform White jacket with green trim - or- green jacket with white sleeves and trim, green pants with white stripes, white officer's hat with green & white plume
Website http://www.spartanband.net

The Spartan Marching Band (or SMB) is Michigan State University's Marching Band. Founded in 1870 as a 10-member student group, the 300-member SMB has since grown into one of the premier college bands in the nation. The SMB is nationally renowned and prides itself on its musical excellence, physical toughness, and military-grade precision, and they have maintained a reputation as one of the nation's best marching bands since their first appearance on college football's greatest stage in Pasadena in 1954. The band has played for five U.S. Presidents, performed at four Rose Bowls, two World's Fairs, and one World Series.

The Spartan Band has toured the United States extensively, appearing in concert and on football fields in San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Orlando, St. Louis, Denver, New Orleans, Pasadena, Salt Lake City, El Paso, San Antonio, Tokyo, Tucson, San Diego, and Washington, D.C.[1]



The Spartan Marching Band instrumentation of "all brass and sax" is notable among college bands in the United States. The Ohio State University and San Jose State University (ONLY ALL BRASS) marching bands are the only Division I bands with similar instrumentation. There are no flutes or clarinets in the SMB. Instead, E-flat cornets play the high "woodwind-like" parts. The extra brass and elimination of flutes and clarinets allows the full ensemble sound to fill large Big Ten stadiums. In addition to the percussion and color guard, each year the pregame block contains 238–241 additional personnel:

Audio: Michigan State University Fight Song
Audio: Kickstep and State Fanfare
Audio: Brick House
Audio: City of Angels


Gaining membership in the SMB is highly competitive. Typically, many more incoming students audition than are eventually accepted. However, once accepted, students do not have to reaudition every year (with the exception of the percussion section). Auditions are arranged through the MSU College of Music [2] and occur in June, with results made known at the beginning of July. Music majors may join the band on their primary college of music instrument (brass or saxophone) without this initial audition. For non-music majors or music majors wishing to play a different instrument in marching band, the audition consists of:

  • A prepared piece of music typically 1–2 minutes with contrasting styles
  • Scales prepared up to four sharps and flats
  • Sight-reading

Once accepted into the Spartan Marching Band, members must complete an additional audition on the first day of pre-season rehearsal with the full band in attendance to determine chair and block placement. For example, if there are 60 trumpet players in the section and only 56 members charted in the pregame block, the 56 best trumpets from the audition become members of the pregame block. The 4 extra members will not be included in the block and are known as "alternates." Alternates still have full band privileges and responsibilities and must still memorize the music and drill in case they are needed. Every week, all alternates audition in front of a graduate assistant for both pregame and halftime placement. The winning alternate takes the place of the last place member in the block (known as the "rotating chair"); the person who previously held this rotating chair position then joins the alternate pool for that week.


Membership in the Spartan Marching Band requires a tremendous time commitment. Some weeks require over 20 hours of rehearsal and performances. Homecoming week is especially demanding as band members may have multiple parades, performances, and small "gigs" around campus. There are four types of rehearsals:

  1. During fall semester the band has general rehearsal every Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:00pm on Demonstration Field, located between Sparty and Demonstration Hall on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. Practice is open to the public and grandstand seating is available. Typically, the drumline will practice an additional hour on Monday, Wednesday and Friday before full band rehearsal.
  2. In addition to general rehearsal, members of the brass and saxophone sections are required to attend an indoor music rehearsal every Monday night from 7-9pm in Demonstration Hall. This rehearsal is not open to the public. Other sections (drumline, Color Guard and Big Ten Flags) use this time for their own rehearsals in separate locations.
  3. The band has Saturday morning rehearsal before every home game on Ralph Young Field, located directly west of Spartan Stadium. Although times vary, practice usually begins 4–5 hours before kickoff and lasts for around an hour. This rehearsal is open to the public and seating is readily available.[2]
  4. Finally, members are expected to attend sectional rehearsal ("sectionals") at least once per week, usually twice. Times and days vary by section and typically occur on Wednesday/Friday before general rehearsal. This practice is not open to the public.


Members of the Spartan Marching Band are not paid or given any scholarship money by the university for being a member of the band. Marching Band is a 1 credit "pass/fail" class (MUS 114) that students must pay to enroll in. However, music majors participating in both the marching band and another School of Music ensemble are not required to formally enroll in the SMB. Attendance at every rehearsal is mandatory.



Since 1989, the director of the Spartan Marching Band has been John T. Madden, a graduate of Michigan State University and an SMB alumnus. Madden is also the director of the Spartan Brass, the athletic band for men's and women's basketball and hockey. As Associate Director of Bands, he also directs the MSU Symphony Band (the middle of MSU's three auditioned concert bands), and teaches private conducting lessons for several Wind Conducting graduate students. Furthermore, he teaches a "Marching Band Methods" class each Spring for music education undergrads who might teach high school marching bands in the future. Dr. Cormac Cannon serves as the Assistant Director of the Spartan Marching Band

Instructors and graduate assistants

Working directly under Mr. Madden are graduate assistants and instructors. Instructors are typically paid positions and their duties include looking after the colorguard and percussion sections. In addition, the Spartan Marching Band has a visual and field coordinator - Glen Brough, alumnus and former drum major of the SMB. Graduate assistants are graduate students from the MSU School of Music who help arrange music for halftime shows, conduct challenges, and assist with auditions.

Drum major(s)

Drum Major Ian McNabb performing the traditional backbend during pregame

Typically, the Spartan Marching Band has only one drum major for the entire ensemble. However, in years when the drum major is a graduating senior there are two, allowing the new drum major to have one season of apprenticeship. Auditioning for drum major requires attending instructional sessions by the current drum major, culminating in a one-day event with the director making the final selection. The drum major is the highest ranking student official in the organization. Gameday responsibilities include leading the pregame show and performing a backbend, a hallmark of the Spartan Marching band.

Band president and vice president

Each year, the band elects a new president and vice president. The band president and vice president represent the band and are the connection between the directors and the band members. It is the job of the band president to organize and distribute all gigs that the Spartan Marching Band must fulfill during the school year, and make sure that everything at the gigs runs smoothly. The band vice president assists the band president in his duties, and also sends out much of the business correspondence that goes out to band members. The president and vice president are elected at the end of the normal marching band season by popular vote, with all candidates running for both president and vice president.

Section leaders

The section leader is the head of an individual section within the band. Larger sections, such as the trumpets, may have two leaders. Section leaders for the upcoming year are elected at the end of each football season. Soon after becoming director, John Madden in 1991 instituted a leadership training program for the band's student leaders. Section leaders, squad leaders, and drum majors meet in April to learn leadership strategies and the expectations of their respective roles.

Squad Leaders

Each squad leader is responsible for three other marchers on the field. This four-person block allows for great flexibility and complexity during the pregame show. Squad leaders for the upcoming year are also elected by the members of their section at the end of each season. Each alternate is also assigned to a specific squad; however, all alternates substitute for the rotating chair position, unless an injury prevents another member of the section from performing in the show.

Gameday traditions

Concert on Adams Field

Before all home games the band performs a free concert on Walter Adams Field (formerly Landon Field) next to the music building. The concert usually begins 1.5–2 hours before kickoff.

The Series

"The Series" is the name of the percussion cadence ("street beat") used by the SMB for parade marching. It is composed of seven different cadences strung together (in series) in march tempo. Each cadence has a unique set of maneuvers specific to each section—the tubas, for example, will have horn flashes during one cadence, while the trumpets will perform different horn flashes during another. The Series is extremely intricate and requires hours of practice (in addition to regular pre-season rehearsals) by new members to memorize their section's moves. It uses a full high step throughout (with the exception of the drumline and the color guard), and combined with the intricacy of the upper body movements and vocals, is one of the most physically demanding and uniquely recognizable trademarks of the SMB. This is the cadence used as the band marches to Spartan Stadium each game day. Thousands of fans line the Kalamazoo Street bridge to cheer on the band as they march to the stadium. Video: The Series during the "March to the Stadium" before a football game

The Kickstep

The Kickstep is a very fast field entrance which has become a trademark of the SMB. It was established in 1954, the first year MSU attended the Rose Bowl. Performed at 220 beats per minute, the kickstep is a run-on routine choreographed in eight-count segments with horn, knee, and hand accents on counts two and four. The kickstep is a highly strenuous physical routine which requires intensive practice and conditioning. Video: "Kick Step" field entry before the University of Michigan game on Nov 3, 2001

Spinning the "S"

This is a drill move performed by the Spartan Marching Band during the pregame show while playing the Michigan State University fight song. While playing the breakstrain of the fight song, marching band shifts to a hollow Block "S" formation, with the final shape popping up and charging down the field at the exact moment that the chorus of the song begins. The four-man "squad" drill that is unique to the Spartan Marching Band causes the "S" to appear as though it is being "spun" as the marching band shifts to position. Video: The Spinning of the "S" during the pregame show of the University of Michigan game on Nov 3, 2001

The 7-up

As the Spartan Marching Band plays the fight song during parade marching and the pregame routine, all of the instrumentalists and auxiliary performers execute an eight-count horn swing with an accented upward movement on the 8th count. New members learn this maneuver as a "7-up", counted as such: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - UP! Video: A close up of the Spartan Marching Band performing the "7-up" while playing the fight song during the Homecoming 2007 parade

Visitor's fight song

A Big Ten tradition, during every pregame show the SMB performs the opposing team's fight song upfield towards the visitor's section. In Spartan Stadium and wherever the band travels, from Hawaii to arch-rival Michigan, the SMB considers it a point of pride and respect to play the opposition's fight song with the utmost musicality.[3]

Third quarter cheer

Between the third and fourth quarters of home football games, the percussion section performs their "third quarter cheer" in the southeast endzone. The show varies by year and is a favorite among the student section. Video: Third Quarter Cheer during the MSU vs. Hawaii football game in 2005

Postgame Show

After every home game, the Spartan Marching Band takes the field one last time to perform selections from the day's halftime show. In addition, the band often performs a favorite postgame tune, such as Carlos Santana's "Everybody's Everything". Postgame shows traditionally end with MSU's alma mater and fight song to round out another Spartan football experience.

Drum off

After a home football game, percussion members of the visiting band are invited to a drum off on Adams Field. This is not really meant as a competition, but rather a showcase of both drumlines' talents.
Video: "Reich" during a drum off
Video: "Martian Mambo" during a drum off

Big Ten Flags

The Big Ten Flag Corps is a pre-game and parade tradition in the Spartan Marching Band. Members carry large banner type flags on lance poles, which salute the twelve universities in the Big Ten Conference. The section consists of dedicated, hard-working and athletic individuals who carry out unique traditions that exhibit the style and form of the Spartan Marching Band.

The Big Ten Flag Corps comprises two squads. The section leader, who carries the Michigan State flag leads the squad consisting of the Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State flags. The squad leader carries the Michigan flag and leads the squad consisting of the Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin flags. Members audition once during pre-season and a second time during the middle of the season for flag placement. The section leader and squad leader evaluate members for flag placement. Members are evaluated on performance of the Series, fundamentals and Prancing.

Flags are not ranked; however each flag has a specific role dependent upon their position in the block. For example, typically the Ohio State flag and Wisconsin flag are held by good prancers because that position requires the individual to travel the furthest during pre-game, while Penn State is in the center of the squad and therefore requires an individual with good 8 to 5 marching.

Other traditions

Pre-season rehearsal

Pre-season drill begins 10 days before the beginning of classes. During this week, new members can spend over 120 hours practicing. Percussionists arrive ten days before the start of classes, followed by section leaders, squad leaders, and the drum major(s) on Saturday. New members arrive next, and "non-leader" veteran members ("vets") arrive last. Typically, music and field rehearsal begins at 8:30 A.M. and lasts, with breaks, until 8:50 P.M. After this whole-band rehearsal, freshmen are required to attend "freshmen orientation" inside Demonstration Hall from 9 P.M. to 11 P.M. Pre-season rehearsal ends with a light schedule on the before classes start: uniform inspection and full-band and section pictures, followed (after an opportunity to change out of uniform) by a few hours of drill practice, and finally a practice "march to the stadium". In-uniform pictures are scheduled no earlier, because incoming freshmen earn the right to wear the uniform the evening prior, by demonstrating everything they learned during the week in a rite of passage known as "Freshman Dress Rehearsal" (formerly known by many names including the "Hayride", "Midnight March", and "Student-Run Review Rehearsal").

Memorized music

The Spartan Marching Band learns a new halftime show for every home game of the season. All members are expected to have their music memorized by Thursday of the week of the game. Any member, despite rank in the block, may be pulled out of a show for that week for not having music or the marching drill memorized. Full-sized flip-folders are never used. All freshmen and veterans assigned to a new part must play all the MSU bleacher cheers and pregame music for their section leaders from memory by the end of Freshmen Dress Rehearsal, or forfeit their place in the block, becoming an alternate.

Singing of "Shadows"

Every band member must learn the MSU alma mater "Shadows", which was arranged by MSC Music Professor H. Owen Reed, with words by coach Barney Traynor. Sung in four-part harmony, "Shadows" was introduced in 1948 and is both sung and played by the band. After marching to Spartan Stadium, the band gathers near the tunnel leading onto the football field and sings before lining up for the pregame Kickstep entrance. It is always played during the Pregame performance. "Shadows" is also sung at the end of game days, after marching back and usually performing for the sizable crowd of band fans. On the seniors' last game, after singing the first verse, the seniors sing the infrequently-sung second verse. "Shadows" also figures prominently during the annual Alumni Band day, during which band alumni gather from literally around the world to perform at halftime during a home game, usually in the early part of the season.

Sparty Watch

Sparty Watch is a band-sponsored event beginning Monday night before the University of Michigan game and ending the evening after the game. Sparty Watch is a 24-hours/day guard of the Spartan statue to prevent vandalism. The football coach has been known to show up with food for the hungry band members camped out in the cold.


Huddle is a formal dance occurring in February after the season is complete. This is a celebration complete with video presentations and an opportunity to be with graduating friends for, perhaps, the last time.

High School Band Day

High School Band Day was a long-running tradition in Spartan Stadium where high school bands from across the state were invited to perform during a home game halftime. The first Band Day was held on November 6, 1954. In its heyday, the event gathered more than 3,000 musicians. After nearly forty years, the tradition ended in 2001. Photo: Band Day, 1987

Band jacket

Though there is no formal requirement to do so, every freshman band member purchases a band jacket at the beginning of their first pre-season. The privilege of wearing the band jacket must be earned, and thus only members, alumni of the band, or honorary recipients are permitted to wear them. Freshmen are not permitted to wear their band jackets until after they have marched their first football game. Jackets may only be dry cleaned after a victory over the University of Michigan football team.


Patches are given to the band to mark important events that the band has performed at and to designate to which section they belong. These include bowl game patches, special event patches (like for the "Cold War" hockey game played at Spartan Stadium, The "Basket Bowl" basketball game played at Ford Field, and Michigan State University's Sesquicentennial Parade), and large Rose Bowl patches. All bowl game patches must be placed one inch apart on the left sleeve. Only two patches are permitted on the sleeve at any given time. All sections but the Trombones are represented by a unique section patch. Only one section patch is permitted on the sleeve; however, a member who switches sections may sew the former section patch inside the jacket. Rose Bowl patches replace the Spartan Marching Band logo on the front of the band jacket, with the MSU Shield patch being stitched inside the front-left portion of the jacket, over the wearer's heart. All non-bowl patches can be sewn one inch apart into the inner lining of the jacket, along with any bowl patches that exceed the sleeve limit.


Away games

The full Spartan Marching Band will travel to one or two away games per year. Travel to Notre Dame (odd numbered years) and the University of Michigan (even numbered years) occur regularly. If the full band is not able to attend more than 2 games then a pep band may be sent. Pep bands do not parade march, perform pregame, halftime, or postgame shows. Overnight travel may be included in which case members are put up with "host families" or in hotels at no cost to members.

Bowl games

The Spartan Marching Band enjoys a long standing tradition of traveling to bowl games. There is no further audition required for band members, all members are required to participate in the travel (which is not the case in other Big Ten bands). There is no cost to students. Bowl appearances for the Spartan Band include: 1954, 1956, 1966, 1988 Rose Bowl;[4] 2009 and 2011[5] Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL); 2007 Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, FL); 2003 and 2010 Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX); 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic (San José, CA); 2000 Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL); 1996 and 1990 Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX);[6] 1995 Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA); 1993 St. Jude Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN); 1990 John Hancock Bowl (El Paso, TX); 1989 Mazda Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL); 1985 All-American Bowl (Birmingham, AL); and 1984 Cherry Bowl (Pontiac, MI). A portion of the SMB also traveled to the 1993 Coca-Cola Bowl in Tokyo, Japan and the 1997 Aloha Bowl in Honolulu, HI.



Shortly after the founding of Michigan Agricultural College in 1855 as the nation’s first land grant institution intended to promote scientific agriculture through education in the same, 10 veterans of the civil war organized the first band on campus. A little known fact of MSU is that a bronze marker commemorating the students of MAC's class of 1861 who left to fight in the war[7] is hidden on the wall behind tall bushes alongside the lobby of the present music building. The field North of the building, where the band practiced from its early days through most of the 20th century was originally the military drill field and the music building sits on the site of the old armory building in front of which that memorial was placed. These veterans, under the leadership of Ransom McDonough Brooks performed on campus in the 1870s and were the predecessors of today’s Spartan Marching Band.

MAC military band

In 1885 when the campus established a formal relationship with the military, the band was reorganized as a cadet military band. During this time the band was led by students and military officers including cornetist I.E. Hill, and professor B.G. Edgerton who was the first to lead the band in performance before a US President (Theodore Roosevelt). Other directors in this period included A.J. Clark, Frederick Abel, J.S. Taylor, and Carl Kuhlman. Taylor would lead the first band to perform the new college fight song written by cheerleader Francis Lankey. That performance would come shortly after young Lankey’s death in 1919.[8]

The Falcone years

The longest serving director of the band was Leonard Falcone. He was an Italian immigrant and brother of University of Michigan band director Nicholas Falcone. During his 40 year tenure, many of the band's traditions were established and the band grew from a 65 member ROTC auxiliary into an adjunct of the new department that would become today’s college of music. The first green and white uniforms and many other significant changes would happen during this time. When the career of Nicholas came to a premature end due to illness in 1935, Leonard Falcone would earn the distinction of being the only person to direct the bands at the rival schools concurrently.

Falcone was a baritone horn virtuoso, professor of baritione and euphonium, and a prolific transcriber and arranger of music for concert band. He arranged and rearranged the fight song continuously throughout his career and his name is still tied to one of those arrangements used at every game dubbed “Falcone Fight” by the band.

Falcone drastically increased the visibility of the band through an aggressive schedule of performances and trips. He added 3 US Presidential performances to the band’s resume as well as 3 televised Rose Bowl Parade and game performances in the 50s and 60s. There was a band shell on the campus where Bessey Hall stands today that was the site of regular band concerts for many years.

Falcone retired and took on a roll as professor emeritus in 1967, though he remained a fixture around the campus until weeks before his death in 1985.[9]

The modern era

Assistant Director Bill Moffit , who was known for directing Purdue's marching band in later years and invading the quiet neighborhoods of East Lansing to march them to Falcone’s doorstep before a game in 1985,[10] added a new dynamism to the marching patterns on the field in the 1960s. This continued under future directors including Harry Begian, Kenneth Bloomquist, Thad Hegerberg, Carl Chevallard, David Catron and long time assistant William Wiedrich. Many of these served only one year as director of the band including William Wiedrich who had previously been the assistant for 6 years under the only long-term director of this period, David Catron. In 1989, John T. Madden became director of the band, now the second-longest-serving director in band history. During his tenure, the band has added two more presidential performances and foreign venues to its long list of accomplishments.

Facts and figures

  • The 300 member Spartan Band is one of the oldest and most recognized university marching bands in the country.
  • The Spartan Band was founded in 1870 as a 10-member student group. All of the original members were veterans of the American Civil War.
  • The Spartan Band was a military unit connected with the college ROTC for most of its existence. Until 1952, the band members wore military khaki uniforms. When MSU began playing Big 10 Conference football in 1952, the band, under long-time director Leonard Falcone, received its first green and white uniforms. Most of the strict military uniform codes are still adhered to today with squad leaders holding routine inspections before every performance.
  • Five U.S. Presidents have been entertained by the Spartan Band: Theodore Roosevelt (1907), Herbert Hoover (1930), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936), Lyndon Johnson (1965), and Bill Clinton (1996 & 2000).
  • The Spartan Marching Band Fan Club was founded in the early 80's by members including Steven Carp and Adam Mandel.
  • The Spartan Band was the 1988 recipient of the Louis Sudler Trophy for collegiate marching bands, administered by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
  • The Spartan Band has toured the United States. The band has appeared in concert and on football fields in such far-flung cities as San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, St. Louis, Denver, New Orleans, Salt Lake City, Tokyo, Tucson, San Diego and Washington, D.C.
  • The Spartan Marching Band was selected by ABC Sports to record the 1995 "ABC College Football Theme Music" in June 1995.
  • The Spartan Marching Band is associated with MSU's State of Art Winterguard, 2009 WGI Independent A Champions.


  1. ^ Official website of the Spartan Marching Band Accessed 7/12/06.
  2. ^ [1] "MSU band members march to beat of game-day success." Tara Thoel, The State News, September 27, 2006. retrieved June 21, 2007
  3. ^ "Rival bands in harmony mutual respect can be heard in today's U-M. MSU game."Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1998
  4. ^ "Play band! Rose Bowl's marching musicians maintain a strenuous Spartan pace," Detroit Free Press, December 31, 1987
  5. ^ Tourangeau, Kelley. "Spartan Marching Band Preps for Capital One Bowl". Focal Point. http://focalpoint.cas.msu.edu/?p=2527. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  6. ^ "Band on the run: the Spartan Band family heads for the Sun Bowl." Detroit Free Press, December 31, 1990
  7. ^ William J. Beal. History of the Michigan Agricultural College; and biographical sketches of trustees and professors. 1915, Page 246
  8. ^ Spartan Marching Band Website, History page http://www.spartanband.net/history.html
  9. ^ Wikipedia Page: Leonard Falcone
  10. ^ Michigan State University Archives – Leonard Falcone collection

External links

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Sudler Trophy Recipient
Succeeded by

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