Marching band can change your college experience


CalPoly SLO MarchingBand 1

A part of the Cal Poly Mustang Band trumpet section in San Francisco for the Lunar New Year Parade in 2023.

Credit: Ashley Bolter / EdSource

Two hundred people took a deep breath.

The marching band had just run onto the football field and it was time for us to play. We played the first note and everything seemed to melt away except for that moment. For the next 10 minutes, all I could think about was our performance.

When the game was over — after hours of practice, performing and cheering on our team — we ran onto the field once more and played all our favorite songs to emptying stands. Then we marched out of the stadium with just as much energy as we had coming in.

While game days are exhausting, I wouldn’t want to spend my Saturdays any other way. Joining the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo marching band was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it has enhanced my college experience in so many ways.

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Among the most important, it provided a community in which I could fully be myself.

For many, including Lindsay Gonor, a fourth-year liberal studies major and fellow trumpet player at Cal Poly, the community is the best part of being in band.

“I feel like a lot of people stay in band, not because they love marching, but because they love playing their instruments and because they love the people involved. And that’s definitely true for me,” Gonor said.

This community is welcoming and inclusive, bringing people from different backgrounds together. “It’s just a bunch of people with a common interest and like, similar weirdness,” Gonor said.

I love being part of this community and all the fun traditions we have like praising the sun when we stretch, waving to the mountain that appears to have a face that we’ve named “Big Lip Barbara” and singing our fight song super fast when we get dismissed.

Marching band is one of the most diverse groups on campus, at least at Cal Poly, and through this you learn to work as a team with people who are different from you to achieve a common goal. Leadership, accountability, time management, confidence and patience are all skills that members of a marching band gain, which can be applied to their academics and into their careers.

Nicholas Waldron, the associate director of bands at Cal Poly, describes these skills as the “intangibles.”

“What I mean by that is organization skills, communication ability, being able to collaborate, being understanding and empathetic,” Waldron said.

While studies have shown that participating in any extracurricular activity can be beneficial and help a person develop some of these skills, marching band is so uniquely positioned at the junction between a physical activity, a performing art and a social group that members reap all of these benefits.

Beyond the skills people attain and the relationships they build along the way, marching band provides a creative outlet to students that helps them de-stress.

“Not everybody realizes how important it is to have designated [time] not thinking about school,” Gonor said. “One of the most important things in college is to continue to have something that you enjoy doing outside of your major.”

Yuke Billbe, a third-year biomedical engineering major and alto saxophone player at Cal Poly said marching band saved her college experience in this way.

“In my academic career, (there’s) a lot of stuff going on, but I always am able to look forward to (marching band),” she said.

Marching bands also have benefits for the universities.

In his research, Adam Gumble, the director of athletic bands at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, found that marching bands can be powerful recruiting tools for universities.

I know this is true for me. When I was applying to colleges, one of my main requirements was that it had a marching band. Billbe also said she decided to go to Cal Poly after meeting a couple of members of the band.

Even my roommate, who is not in marching band, said seeing the marching band and how much spirit we bring was part of the reason she decided to go to Cal Poly.

Gumble’s research also found that participation in an activity such as marching band increases retention rates and feelings of connection to the institution.

While marching band is a big time commitment, it’s worth the investment.

If I could go back and do it all over again, there’s not a thing I would do differently. Giving up almost every Saturday during the fall for the past seven years has helped shape me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t trade my time in marching band for the world.

•••

Ashley Bolter is a fourth-year journalism major and French and ethnic studies minor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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