When Ryan Harding came to the University of Minnesota as a freshman four years ago, he didn’t know how to maneuver campus, but playing in the marching band gave the now team lead and tenor saxophone player a chance to flourish.
Harding, a biochemistry senior, said the marching band’s training program at the beginning of the school year, Spat Camp, helped him acclimate to the new environment.
“Spat Camp helped shrink down the campus a little, and I got to make some friends right off the bat,” Harding said.
Spat Camp — coined as such because of the spats that marchers wear on their feet instead of boots — is an annual two-week boot camp that takes place at TCF Bank Stadium. The camp ended Sunday with an end-of-summer special performance in the Minnesota State Fair parade.
At the camp, veteran players greet old friends and prepare themselves for another intense season, and rookies learn what’s in store for them at their new second home, TCF Bank Stadium.
Spat Camp is a 13-hour, daily process, and philosophy senior and drum major Joe Walsh said that for the most part, the participants stay true to the camp motto, “Eat, march, eat, march, eat, play, party, sleep.”
Camp activities alternate from music rehearsals to marching practice to choreography to sectionals.
Walsh said players still manage to have fun during the arduous process, making friends and enjoying a one-of-a-kind opportunity.
“We start each day in the morning with marching fundamentals and drill, music and sectionals in the afternoon and marching at night again to stay out of the heat,” Walsh said.
Theater arts junior and flute/piccolo leader Mimmie SjÃ¶berg finds Spat Camp helpful in more ways than just providing early practice.
“I have learned the importance of time management, dedication and teamwork, among many things,” SjÃ¶berg said. “This [marching band] has given me the opportunity to pursue music throughout my college career, even though it isn't my major.”
Even though new connections are forged, players say participating in the marching band puts a strain on their personal lives.
Cinema and media culture major senior Magee Glenn Burns is the second-year team lead of the color guard. She said with classwork on top of required rehearsal hours and performances, she’s left with little free time.
“My roommates who aren’t in band complain about never seeing me,” Burns said. “[But] there’s nothing like run-cadencing on to the field for pregame and performing with 300 other people for an audience of hopefully 50,000.”
Despite the significant number of marchers, one in particular will be missed.
Less than a month ago, the marching band lost fellow member and student Robert Brau to a motorcycle accident.
Brau, 21, had a passion for music that never ceased, Walsh said.
Brau was studying for a major in classical guitar performance, and he served as a student leader for the 2013 and 2014 marching band seasons.
Brau called the University’s marching band his “Away from Home Family,” according to his obituary in the West Central Tribune.
Walsh said in memory of Brau, the band will wear black memorial bands on their shoulders during games that are imprinted with the initials “RJB.”
“These marchers take care of one another at all times,” he said. “And this year, we come together to remember Robert for all he gave to us.”
Each member could likely come up with his or her own story of how the band maintains a sense of community and family, but Harding gave a perfect summation: “We build the pride of Minnesota together.”