Band marches to beat of own drum

— Conor Barry Courtney Tanner
(Conor Barry)

(Conor Barry)

With tubas and percussion, the U’s marching band fills Rice-Eccles Stadium with more than music — they drum up school spirit too.

The “Pride of Utah,” as the band is alternatively known, has approximately 200 members. The selection process is ongoing and will continue through the band’s annual summer camp held in August.

Being a music major is not a requirement for joining the band — members come from all majors, and some even attend other schools (they enroll in continuing education courses at the U).

Its alternative name may be slightly misleading. It has often not been Utah’s Pride. Originally, the Pride of Utah was a military band, loosely associated with the U in the 1940s. It became an official university band in 1948.

By 1969, ASUU quit funding the band. It was revived again in 1976 by Gregg L. Hanson. Now it’s funded in multiple ways and isn’t planning on going anywhere.

Brian Sproul, director of athletic bands at the U, says the group is all about playing great music.

“We try to push the musical selection envelope,” he said. “We’re incorporating electronics into our performances, and it’s really exciting.”

The band only plays during games. It does not compete against other bands, nor does it want to. It rarely even plays in opponents’ stadiums, selecting only a handful a year to travel to.

Members of the band contribute to the musical arrangements, as well as marching patterns. Renovating, readjusting and responding to marching band trends are all a part of the process. And that’s been true of marching bands since they were military bands.

Originally conceived as show bands, with majorettes leading the big songs and big movements, bands prefer to focus on the music and enjoy performing technical routines.

However, Sam Katz, a senior in film, isn’t impressed.

“All they do is march around [and] toot their own horns all the time,” he said.

Luckily for the band, they have plenty of other supporters. The U’s marching band tends to succeed, coincidentally, when the football team does.

When the football team went undefeated in the 2008-09 season, outside interest in the band increased, as well as membership requests, rising from 30 requests to around 80. They were even invited to march in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade that year, the only group invited from Utah to actually participate.

And again, when the Utes entered the Pac-12 in 2011, the same boost occurred.

But that success is not what the band is about. Sproul said the band is “trying to perform at a very high level. We certainly enjoy the football team’s success.”

t.almond@chronicle.utah.edu