Million Dollar Band embodies rich tradition at Alabama
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Saturdays during the fall semester at the University of Alabama are steeped in traditions.
White tents populate the university’s Quad along the main drag through campus for tailgaters, flags and plastic shakers wave in the air, the school’s crimson color washes over the campus and “Roll Tides” abound.
But at an hour when most people are waking up to prepare for the game, the university’s Million Dollar Band, is rehearsing and preparing to carry on traditions that make Saturday a game day in Tuscaloosa.
The university’s largest student organization’s name in itself is a tradition. At a time when the football team was not performing well, in the early 1920s, one prominent alumnus told a sports reporter that the team wasn’t very good but the university had “a million dollar band.”
While the origin of the band’s name is sometimes disputed, the university released that explanation in a media guide decades later. It’s since been accepted as tradition.
At every rehearsal and performance there are high expectations from the directors and fans, but if you ask any of the 400 students “it’s a tradition.”
At the game day rehearsal prior to the game against Texas A&M, entire sections of students met early before rehearsal to run through difficult portions of the music. The band has a tradition of clean musical performances, and they weren’t going to give that up even under the hot early morning sun.
Members of the band stood at attention, raised their hands when spoken to, and hustled back and forth as the directors perfected the drill formations.
“You have to do this with pride,” Dr. Ken Ozzello, the band’s director, said in between sets.
But those are all traditions the larger fan base does not see. It’s not until the members step out in their crimson and gray uniforms that these traditions become visible to the public.
Each instrument section incorporates unwritten traditions, sometimes adapted from other sections, during warm-ups on the Quad. The small plots of grass left uncovered by the tents are assigned to sections of instruments. But that’s not written anywhere either. It’s just understood.
While the snare players tapped on their drums, and the cymbals crashed in unison, the color guard assembled at the steps of the library. The girls, dressed in their rhinestone and sequin uniforms, fluffed their curls and checked their crimson lipstick.
Matt Meadows, a fifth-year senior and section leader, described one tradition his section, the mellophones, have to complete before kickoff.
“We always gather up in a circle and sway back and forth and we do a chant that’s based off what the team’s going to do,” he said. “Part of the chant is ‘who’s going to help them win the game,’ because we’re there for them. All four quarters, the band is there.”
The tubas occupied the front steps of Gorgas library, where the entire band would later stand for Elephant Stomp, a pep rally for those tailgating on the Quad.
“We say the Lord’s Prayer before the game, then one of us gets in the middle and kind of hypes everyone else up,” Sean McLeod, a freshman, said. “Then we all sing ‘Glory to the tubas.’ Each section is different, but it’s all really fun and great.”
At the game, the band prepared the stadium for the team’s entrance before kickoff with cheers and the fight song. Students spelled out “BAMA” on the field and formed the outline of an elephant, a reference to the school’s Big Al mascot.
The crowd erupted with each cheer and the clamor continued to grow as the football team prepared to rush the field.
In the stands, the band remained in the southeast corner of the stadium, even when the student section emptied after halftime.
Between downs, the band filled the stadium with a wall of sound, choosing from long-standing offensive or defensive cheers. During timeouts, the drum majors chose from a repertoire of tunes to include Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” War’s “Low Rider” and N’Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye.”
The most coveted tune, Green Day’s “Basket Case,” per usual, was performed after the third quarter while fans in the stadium held up four fingers to denote the coming quarter.
If you ask fans what the greatest Million Dollar Band tradition is, they will probably say “Rammer Jammer,” the cheer played after every win.
But if you asked the band members themselves, they’ll tell you it’s the singing of the university’s alma mater.
Emily Church, a sophomore member of the band, explained that at the beginning of the season upperclassmen surround the freshman and sing it to them. At the last game day rehearsal of the season, the underclassmen surround the seniors and sing to them.
“We’re welcoming the freshmen to the family and then we tell them how much we appreciate them at the end of their run as a member of the MDB,” Church said. “That’s really special.”
On Saturday, band members, directors and alumni who sneak in to stand next to friends, stood arm over arm as a lone baritone player let out a long tone. The singers matched pitch, and turned their eyes to the drum major. With a coordinated breath, everyone began to sing.
“Alabama, listen, Mother to our vows of love, to thyself and to each other, faithful friends we’ll prove.”
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com