As this upcoming Saturday draws closer and closer, the excitement of a new football season at Georgia Tech grows almost exponentially with each passing day. The anticipation of seeing the 2014 edition of the Yellow Jackets football team for the first time and all the questions that surround it can be almost overwhelming: how many games will we win? Who will emerge as a star player? What will the offense/defense do differently this season?
Amidst all of the fans' expectations, the team's preparation, and the media's daily press conferences, a select group of students is working hard behind-the-scenes to prepare one of the most essential and absolutely critical aspects of the gameday experience.
With tryouts, summer practices, and a fall camp of their own, the Georgia Tech Marching Band is hard at work for most of the summer, learning and memorizing countless pages of music and drill. Their goal? To be as game-ready as the football team is when Labor Day Weekend rolls around.
Meeting this lofty expectation is far easier said than done. To quantify the size of this monumental task, consider this: well over a third of the band each year are "R.A.T."s, which is band/Tech terminology for "Recruit at Tech", or new members. This year alone, 125 of the 315 members in the band are new to the organization. In football terms, that translates to starting roughly nine true freshmen between offense and defense.
But you wouldn't know that almost 40% of the band is new every year just by looking at them, would you? When you hear White & Gold and Ramblin' Wreck for the first time this season on Saturday, it will sound the same as it always has. When you watch the band form Tech Tower, the T, and the big interlocking GT logo on the field, it will look the same as it always has. The band's consistency year-in and year-out is a tribute to just how hard both the students and the staff work during the offseason.
Band directors Chris Moore, BJ Diden, and Chip Crotts are at the head of the operation. These three individuals do everything from writing, arranging, and designing the halftime show performance to managing rehearsals to planning road trips and everything in between. And that's not just for football. Men's and women's basketball, volleyball, on-campus concerts and performances, and appearances at dozens of Georgia Tech Athletics Association events also fall within their scope of duty. Any time you see the band performing, one or more of these three outstanding leaders worked out every last detail of that performance well in advance: personnel, transportation, attire, set list, equipment... The list goes on.
And then, of course, there are the students. The unique part about the Georgia Tech Marching Band is that, unlike most major universities, it is composed entirely of non-music majors. The students you see in uniform at every performance are most certainly musicians, but they are also more than just that: they are engineers, programmers, businessmen, scientists, and architects. They don't march in the band for class credit or to satisfy an elective. They do it because they love to play music and they love this school. They wouldn't sacrifice weeks out of their summer, three afternoons a week, and most of their weekends - all while studying at one of the most challenging and prestigious institutions in the nation - if they didn't love to do it.
And that's why I think the Georgia Tech Marching Band is one of the best sounding and best looking bands in the country. That's why you will be hard-pressed to find a more spirited, talented, and dedicated group of students anywhere in the nation. That's why you get goosebumps and you feel that shiver down your spine when you hear the band blasting chords on third down over the 55,000 yelling voices in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
I am thankful to be able to say that I was lucky enough to play bass drum in the Georgia Tech Marching Band for my first two years of college. I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had or the memories I've made in a Georgia Tech band uniform for anything - from performing at Clemson, Virginia Tech, and yes, even Sanford Stadium to witnessing Tech snap the bowl streak in El Paso, the opportunities the band has afforded me have been priceless.
This Saturday, I hope you will feel the same amount of pride that I do when the band takes the field fifteen minutes before kickoff. If anything represents the core values of hard work, dedication, and excellence that Georgia Tech is all about, it's the Yellow Jacket Marching Band.