Marches to its own beat
During halftime at Saturday’s game against Rice, a horde of about 300 students stormed the field.
The Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band enters.
The show begins.
"Marching band keeps me going. To come on the field to play and entertain the fans is great," said Cameron Kubos, a music education freshman and trumpet player. "And sometimes it’s better than your standard sit-down concert."
The band played the jazz tune "Night in Tunisia" and the hit "Disco Inferno" at Saturday’s game before a crowd of 26,514. The band marched to "Night in Tunisia," where its shape ebbed and flowed from diagonals to curves, all the while members marched in step, criss-crossed each other on the field and kept playing in beat.
And they’ve had only about four hours of joint practice to learn the show.
The practices are spread out over three days in the week: brass instruments on Monday, woodwinds on Wednesday and then a full session Friday night. Depending on kickoff time, the band meets again on game day for another practice. With Saturday’s early start, the band members were tooting their horns at 8:30 a.m.
Marching Band Director David Bertman expects his students to come through, as he said, "Be accountable for yourself and your sound," while the band learns the new show.
But even with the stress and pressure of memorizing a show, the tomfoolery, such as dressing up in hula skirts, continues. Even Bertman chimes in with his humor as he asked the band a question during one of its recent practice sessions.
"Band, tell me what you like about Rice?" Bertman said.
"Not a damn thing!" the band said in unison.
The marching band is not only animated and spirited on the field, but during their practice sessions too, where they burst out with Cougar cheers or heckle students who are wearing non-UH paraphernalia, such as a burnt orange T-shirt.
"It’s a love for UH when you care about something passionately like these kids do," Bertman said.
Members agree with Bertman’s notion on spirit and UH tradition.
"Yes, we’re loud and we’re obnoxious but we’re the spirit of the University," said Shawn Kuehn, saxophone player and hotel restaurant management sophomore. "It’s expected of us to have this level of energy."
The band’s diversity serves as a microcosm for the University itself, Bertman said. About 50 percent of band members are music education majors while the other half range from psychology to biology.
Most of the members participated in marching band during their high school years, and while many love to play, a large portion enjoys the other perk of marching band: football games.
"Football games are the best – just the accumulation of this energy that comes from the band; it’s a rush to have all it transfer to the team," said Joshua Becerra, trombone player and a music education sophomore.
Band high jinks – swinging of bell horns, heckling the team and dance moves for every touchdown – are constantly performed within the bleachers to keep up the high energy. And even when the football team doesn’t perform well, band members strive for excellence.
"If our football team does poorly, well, we just have to put on a great show," said Oscar Castillo, trombone player and psychology sophomore.
"We have to try to boost the morale if the game is going south. That’s what we’re here for – rain or shine, rain or shine."
The game has ended. Kuehn watches the fans nearest to the end zone rush the field to celebrate the victory over its crosstown rival.
"It’s over," he sighs in relief. "I’ve been here for about 10, 12 hours, and it’s over. But to put so much energy into this and to get it back – and in a win – it’s worth it."