A year of planning, three minutes of spotlight

Olga Cronin

Watching them from the upper stands, they look like lost ants as they mill about the football field in no apparent direction. Clad in everyday clothes, one might wonder what these people are doing.

Then an enthusiastic voice from above gives them direction.

Suddenly the mob takes shape, and what started out looking like a scrambling mess of students turns into a highly organized group displaying timing, talent and creativity.

The group is the Big Red Marching Band.

They make a human spider when stretched across the field. They play the theme song of the original “Spider-Man” show while raising their instruments that glisten in the hot afternoon sun.

A pair of eyes watches the band’s every step. A pair of ears listens to its every sound. And, when needed, a voice in the stands guides the band via microphone.

The man with the eyes, and ears and voice is Jeff Steiner, the director of the band.

Steiner puts his imagination to work, and he conjures up different displays to suit the theme of the show, such as the spider shape evolving on the field .

Elizabethtown sophomore Shawn Robinson praises his mentor’s ideas.

“Our director made it that way,” he said. “He has a really big heart. He has so much patience.”

Steiner sees that it takes both sides to make success.

“I do the creative part,” he said. “They’re responsible for the work ethic. I’m Mr. Fix-it.”

The marching band boasts a membership of about 100 students, an increase of 12 from last year. They practice for two hours a day, three times a week.

“We’re trying to build things up,” Steiner said. “We’re trying to get non-music majors involved.”

Three quarters of the band are music majors and are required to be members of the marching band.

Robinson started out as a trombone player in his high school band but turned to the tuba when the high school group needed a tuba player.

Despite heaving a 40-pound instrument around the football field under the hot sun, Robinson remains positive about the tuba.

“It’s exhausting, but you get shade from it,” Robinson said of the bulky brass instrument that sits on his shoulder.

Like members of other student organizations, Robinson recognizes the benefits of being on a team.

“It’s a ready-made friend base,” he said. “It’s fun.”

The marching band not only plays for football games but also plays exhibition performances for the high school bands that come to Western for competitions.

Robinson’s decision to come to Western was influenced when he saw the band play in one of those exhibitions. He hopes he can have this same impact on visiting high school students.

“I think it does (have an influence) if they see the college gang having fun,” he said. “I know it made me like Western when I came and saw the band play.”

Hartford freshman John Tanner and Beaver Dam freshman Jason Voyles had similar experiences when they saw the marching band play.

Although the two have been playing instruments since seventh grade, they are not music majors and are not required to join.

But they both said their heartstrings were plucked when they heard the band perform the theme from “Star Wars.” Being big fans of the movie, Tanner and Voyles could not deny “the power of the Force” and felt compelled to join.

Aware that the stereotype about band “nerds” still exists, Voyles chose to rise above it.

“We went through all that in high school, but we ignore it now,” he said. “Now we don’t really care.”

While trumpets and trombones fill Smith Stadium with “Lady Marmalade,” a hit song featured in the movie “Moulin Rouge,” different colored flags twirl and wave, making a myriad of colors that complements the music swelling around them.

Melinda Lalonde, a freshman from Montreal, Canada, learned about Western’s color guard during MASTER plan, when the director of the marching band informed incoming freshmen about the opportunities available in the color guard.

“I’ve no experience, but I’m learning,” Lalonde said. “I’m excited. I hope I don’t screw up.”

Lalonde also found that joining the color guard was a helpful way to meet people and to settle into her new surroundings.

“We’re all really close now,” said Lalonde, speaking about her bandmates.

As the band pours music into the vast stadium, the members of this team depend on one another to be on time and in step to use both music and motion to make displays of words and pictures across the field.

This is their performance.

This is their achievement.

This is their fun.

Reach Olga Cronin at [email protected]