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The Big Red Marching Band performs at all home and Ivy League away games, as well as the occasional NFL stadium, and on rare occasions (because we love 110-yard fields so much), CFL fields. We are also known for our spirited parading through the Campus Store, Willard Straight Hall, and when we're feeling truly studious, the circulation room of Uris Library.
If you've never heard of us, hey, it's cool. Most of us never heard of aardvarking or flute ups before we joined either, but it is never too late to boin jand. If you would like information on joining, check out the rest of our website or email email@example.com!
The BRMB is the largest fully student-run organization in the Ivy League. It is larger, by far, than any of the other Ivy Bands. Our membership is generally over 200 people. We like marching in formations and playing, often at the same time, while the other Ivies (or "scatter bands") like running around randomly and playing, often at distinct times.
The members of the band are quite the spirited bunch, and we have a liking for all things BIG and Red. From our massive first rehearsal to the final football games of the season, bandies will sing and play Cornell songs such as NCFS, My Old Cornell, and our fight song, Davy. And since you asked (oh, we know you were thinking it), WE had it before those Broadway people got their hands on it.
By this point, you must thinking that the BRMB runs like a well-oiled machine. Well, even the most perfect of machines is prone to breakdowns of sorts. The Head Manager and the Drum Major, with the help of the rest of the Bandstaph, bring some order to the chaos. They're the ones crazy enough to take the jobs. Feel free to click around here and see the stuff they (and everybody else) eat, sleep, and breathe.
The aardvark's origins are shrouded in mystery; legend has it that it was born in the early '60's. As originally performed, the aardvark was executed upright with the hands wiggling next to the ears. It has since evolved into a display during which the aardvarker, suspended from a railing, ladder, or other fixed object, warbles a series of shrill, upper register pitches as they bend their spine backward and shake their arms wildly. No one is certain why this traditional exhibition was named after the burrowing, insectivorous mammal native to South Africa.
For several years, Cornell's Big Red Band was content with merely putting on its halftime shows at football games. In 1947 it expanded these activities--as a result, oddly enough, not of public demand but of an unfortunate incident which occurred during a gridiron encounter.
In this particular game, a top-notch sophomore quarterback named Pete Dorset completed an amazing ten out of ten passes to lead Cornell to an upset 28-21 victory over Princeton at Palmer Stadium.
After the game, the jubilant members of the Big Red Band commenced to file out with the crowd as usual. But feeling was running high among the disgruntled Princetonians, and the band was beset by hecklers. One Tigertown student snatched a trumpet, and another attempted to wrest a tuba from its owner. Soon the band found itself involved in a small-scale riot.
Of course things quieted down quickly, and the incident was soon forgotten. But the next time the Big Red Band appeared, it remained for an impromptu concert until the main body of spectators had filed out. The concert proved such a success that it was made a regular part of the band's schedule.
Thus was born one of the traditional activities of the Cornell football season.
--From the Cornell Daily Sun, November 18, 1954
At the end of each winning football game, band members turn their hats around 180 degrees, and there they remain until removed at the end of the performing day! That means they stay backwards throughout the Post-Game Concert, and along the parade route out of the stadium. We don't know where this started.
The Band, like a mammoth 18-wheeler, needs to travel. Unlike an 18-wheeler, we're big (well, biggER). To manage such a large vehicle, we traverse the grounds of Cornell (and anywhere else) in a four-by parade formation. Over the years, the different sections have evolved different traditions/songs to go along with the percussion cadences. One thing the band as a whole can agree on is the playing of our fight song, Davy, as we pass by large tour groups, eager tailgaters, or as we pass through Willard Straight Hall, the Campus Store, or numerous other campus locations.
Each Homecoming weekend, Big Red Band alumni return to Ithaca, brush the cobwebs from their instruments, and join the Big Red Alumni Band. The first Alumni Band in 1982 was the brainchild of Drum Major Dwight Vicks III and Head Manager Bob Geise. The band grows in size each year as bandsmen from seven decades renew old friendships and find common bonds with fellow bandies from other eras.
Our trumpet section consists of manly men and strong women, so they like to demonstrate their strength by doing pushups whenever the football team scores.
Not to be outdone, the flutes have "flute-ups" and and saxes have "sax-ups". The flutes toss a member of the section up in the air and the saxes raise their horns for each point scored.
On September 10, 2000, the Big Red Marching Band performed for the Montreal Alouettes (a tradition that, I understand, continues into the present). We left Ithaca the day before, and by some miracle of divine proportions, crossed the international border without losing any of our members. I don't know how the trumpets found sufficient restraint to refrain from exposing themselves to the Canadian Border Patrol. After arriving in Montreal and enjoying a night of luxurious accomodations on the gymnasium floor of a local high school, the band made its way to Stade Percival-Molson for the game.
I don't recall whether it was during pre-game or halftime, but one of the formations was a generic block "CU". Sounds simple enough, right? Of course, anyone who has marched on a CFL field knows that it's a little...different. The left side of the "U" was supposed to be on the 53-yard line to the drum major's right. It was at least partially composed of horns. Well, they found the 53-yard line all right... the OTHER one. That also happened to be the location of one of the ends of the "C". The net result was that the band did form two letters. They just happened to be "OJ". I thought the historians of that time might have destroyed all photographic evidence of this, but a picture did make its way onto bones.org.
Was it intentional? Perhaps the horns were making a shout-out to a high profile murder defendant (this was only five years after the O.J. Simpson trial). Or maybe they wanted to express their love of a particular citrusy drink. Then again, it was probably just an accident. One of the horns sent the picture to Tropicana, who sent them t-shirts.
The "OJ" incident was just the start of an eventful 2000 season. Cornell won three Ivy games by one point, including coming back from 28 points down during the "renegade band" trip to Harvard. They beat Columbia by 4 when the Lions mismanaged the clock at the end of the game. This set up a winner-takes-the-Ivy-title game against Penn (SUCKS) on Schoellkopf... in which the Big Red were destroyed. Oh well, whatever... the band still won, as it always does.
- Matt Carberry '03
I was a freshman in the fall of 1969, and joined the BRB (Rank 4, clarinet) as soon as I got to campus. The all-male band maintained the proud tradition of marching from formation to formation as we executed theme shows planned out by the Show Committee made up of band members. A key feature of these theme shows was that each formation was meant to represent something, i.e., it was not merely a geometric formation. Our first away game that fall was at Rutgers, and the show theme was student life. One of our formations was a giant hypodermic needle, with the sousaphones inside the barrel of the syringe. The narrator (Bob Anspach '70) talked about Gannett Clinic as we marched into formation. After we played out piece (sorry, I don't recall what it was), we marched into our next formation, and the way we did it was that the men forming the movable part of the syringe marched so as to push the "plunger" down, and the sousaphones marched (or, I think, ran) out the needle. Pretty neat!
However, one alum who was at the game didn't think so, and he was Jansen Noyes '06 (as in Noyes Lodge, Noyes Student Union [now gone]) -- you get the idea. He wrote a letter to President Corson claiming we were advocating use of drugs, and of course this brought down the wrath of the administration on Professor Stith, the band advisor. Well, now a confrontation was set up between the band and the administration, and as you know from your ancient history, that time in America in general and Cornell in particular was nothing if not confrontational. The Daily Sun played it up big, and the band was seen as just the latest victim of official oppression. So what do victims of oppression do? They stick it to The Man -- and that's what the show committee decided to do.
The last home game of the season was Fall Weekend, then one of the big three social weekends on the annual student calendar. The band had done some practicing in secret, away from the view of Prof. Stith. When we took the very muddy field that November Saturday afternoon, a huge roar went up from the stands as we kicked off our show, which was a salute to the Ivy League. One of our formations was a big fist (knuckles toward the Crescent, wrist toward the West Stands), and the narrator saluted Harvard for its riot the previous spring. Our next formation was a chapel, representing Dartmouth, with the steeple tip toward the Crescent. Standing in the fist, the sousaphones formed the lines representing the clenched fingers. As we played "The Chicago Police Band March", the band marched in position while the sousaphones started to march to the next formation -- forming a giant raised middle finger. The stands went absolutely wild. I never heard such a noise in my life. The whole thing was beautifully captured on film by Nick Krukovsky '65.
Needless to say, the shit hit the fan after that. From that day to this, the Big Red Band has generally confined itself to geometric formations. In my personal opinion, Greg Pearson was brought on as assistant director precisely to see that this sort of thing never happened again.
As for me, I played in the band the next year and became head manager in my junior year. An interesting postscript happened in the summer of 1980. My wife and I were visiting Cornell en route back from a business trip and stopped in at my old fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho. I went up to my old room and there was a brother there studying. We got to talking, and I asked him if there were many brothers in the band, as there had been in my day. Yes, he said, he was in the band himself. I proceeded to tell him this story, and as I got to the punch line, he stopped me and said, almost in tones of awe, "You were in The Finger? We watch that every year at the band banquet!" He ran into the hall and called, "Hey, Ted! C'mere! Here's a bro who was in The Finger!" "What? You were in The Finger! Cool!" It's the nearest I've ever come to being famous.
- Paul Cashman '73
My name is Dave Williams. My Father, Frank W Williams Jr., was a Graduate of Both Cornell Under Grad 1934 and Cornell Law School 1936. Today Law School is 3 years, but back then he was able to start his first year of Law School during his Undergraduate Senior Year. Dad, my Mother, My Uncle and many Family Members and Friends attended Big Red Football games regularly throughout the 1930's,40's and 50's. They enjoyed the Football and loved the Big Red Marching Band. In that era, attending an Ivy League football game was equal in sport's entertainment prominence to attending a NFL game today.
My Father used to relate a story about Cornell Football from the Late 1930's. It seems that Cornell was to play (I believe he said) Ohio State on a Saturday Afternoon in the Late 1930's. At that time, there was a nationally prominent sports writer named Grantland Rice. Mr Rice was considered to be the Dean of the Sports Media, at that time, in the same way John Madden or Chris Berman would be in today's media. Mr Rice wrote that the winner of the Cornell Ohio State game would be considered to be the consensus "National Champion" of College Football for that year.. Cornell Won!!
I attended my first Big Red Football game in 1954 vs Colgate at Ithaca. At that time, they released red balloons after the First Cornell touchdown.
In the late 50's we attended Cornell (away) games at Princeton. I distinctly remember one game in 1957 (Cornell at Princeton):
When the Cornell Band was on the field, The Princeton Tiger mascot walked through the Cornell Band's line of Marchers and did everything he could to disrupt the Cornell Band's Program. Among other things, the Tiger had a large "hand squeeze horn" which he played throughout Cornell's half-time program. When the Princeton Band took the field for their half-time program, The Cornell Bear Mascot started to do the same things that the Tiger Mascot had done. The Cornell Bear Mascot had been at it for about ten seconds when a "Well Dressed" older gentleman from the Cornell sideline ran out onto the field and ushered the Cornell Bear back to the Cornell Sideline. Observing this, My Father and Uncle were quick to point out that this demonstrated that Cornell and the Big Red Marching Band were a Class Act, while Princeton Band entourage and their "Mascots" were not.
I am proud of Cornell and the Big Red Marching Band for continuing such a fine program and tradition.
- by Dave Williams
In 1945, the Ivy League was formally established. These eight traditional football competitors no longer ruled the national scene as they did at the turn of the century, but their rivalries ran as deep as ever. It seems that on several occasions in this era, rowdy visiting fans would travel to Ithaca, sneak onto the Arts Quad the night before a big game, and paint over our statues of A.D. White and Ezra Cornell with their own school's colors.
This did not sit well with the Big Red Marching Band.
Their revenge would be exacted on November 28th, 1946, the night before the season closer at Penn. At 1:00 AM under a new moon, Cornell bandies took to the mean streets of Philadelphia with cans of red paint. Casualties, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, included "former Provost Edgar Fahs Smith with his face red ... and Benjamin Franklin standing his stone vigil with a bright red sash befitting an Ambassador to France." Regarding Smith, "The face had been painted red as well as a book held in one hand, while on the base was lettered 'C.U.' in brilliant red." Several other spots around campus were hit, including the medical school and Franklin Field's ticket office.
Unfortunately, these insurgents weren't as well-trained in criminal activity as the people who had earlier vandalized Cornell. A total of ten were chased from the scene and arrested by Penn's campus police ... caught red-handed, if you will. These gentlemen spent the rest of the evening in prison. By a first-hand account:
The ten expendables spent much of the night singing Cornell songs from their cells while carving initials into the bars with nail files and regretting the fact that they weren't given time to use their 'secret weapon,' a sack of lime which was to have been spread on Franklin Field into a great C.
Penn authorities declined to press charges and the Cornellians were released the next day, just in time for the football game.
Rest assured, band members of the modern era would never dream of causing a ruckus at another school's campus (especially Penn's), and have never had any confrontations with law enforcement officers. However, the Big Red spirit exmplified by these bandsmen continues today, both on and off the field.
By the way, Cornell lost that game 26-20 to finish the season at 5-3-1, which just goes to show: the band always wins.
- Kyle Preston '06