Many Lehigh students attribute their reasons for attending the university to its beautiful campus, its nationally ranked academic programs or its high percentage of employment for graduates. However, for Seneca Rasey, ’17, the choice to attend Lehigh became clear when she discovered the marching band.
In fact, Rasey, who has been in her school band since fifth grade, first found Lehigh when her mother discovered the Marching 97.
Rasey said she wanted a small school that had a marching band, which is usually a characteristic of larger schools. This has to do with the athletic programs of larger universities versus those of smaller ones.
“A lot of small schools don’t have a football team, so there is no need for a real marching band — they just have pep bands,” she said. “But I like doing the halftime shows.”
Rasey is now one of the 98 current members of the Marching 97.
The band was first founded in 1906 by Lehigh student E.E. Ross, who graduated in 1908. It was comprised of only 15 men and has since expanded to a co-ed group with more than six times the number of members.
The current members are divided into 12 ranks, which are made up of roughly eight students each and are separated by instrument.
This ranking system explains the reasoning behind the number “97” in the title of the band. Rasey said since each of the 12 ranks ideally has around eight people, there would be 96 members. With the addition of the drum major, however, the number rises to 97.
Rasey is a member of the fourth rank and plays the piccolo.
The high number of members gives people who join a chance to meet many other Lehigh students immediately upon beginning their first year at Lehigh. Rasey met fellow piccolo player Jessica Lloyd, ’17, through the Marching 97.
“As a freshman coming in and not knowing anyone, you immediately meet all these people that are so friendly and so open,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd also said the Marching 97 welcomes all students, even those who do not know how to play an instrument. Students who join without any prior musical experience will be taught by other band members.
Jonathan Wood, ’17, plays the trumpet in the Marching 97 and serves as the band’s historian. Unlike Rasey, Wood was not initially planning on joining the marching band at Lehigh because he was afraid of the time commitment on top of his academics.
On any regular week during football season, the Marching 97 practices twice a week for two hours. However, during weeks with home games, it has an additional day of practice, plus a practice session Saturday morning before the game.
Wood said the call time for the band on game days is around 8 a.m., and members do not get home until around 4 p.m.
He decided to try the band out for a year and ended up staying, as well as joining other music ensembles.
“I just got swept up into it,” Wood said. “I have no idea how I got this meshed into music, but I love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The members of the band also come up with a new halftime show for every home game. Rasey explained that pairs of students volunteer to come up with the show and then bring it to the rest of the band so the whole group can vote on it.
Sarah Siegel, ’16, a mellophone player, said that although the band is very student-run, it does have a faculty director. According to the Marching 97 website, this position was first held by Al Neumeyer in 1993 and then again, beginning in 1995, through today. Siegel said he helps out and sometimes leads rehearsals.
“Everything else – the drill writings, the show writing, leading rehearsals, leading music rehearsal for our stands’ tunes…all of that is student-run,” she said.
The Marching 97 is also rooted in many traditions, such as the brown hats its members wear. Wood said these hats are called “dinks,” and each member decorates them with pins and has their class year embroidered on them.
A popular tradition is the “Eco-Flame,” which is when the marching band interrupts classes with their music the Friday before the Lehigh-Lafayette Rivalry game. Due to the fact that this year the game was at Yankee Stadium and many students would have left by Thursday and Friday, the band performed Eco-flame on Monday morning instead.
“(We) march into classrooms, stand on tables, and play try to spread school spirit and everything,” Wood said.
Additionally, this year they walked around campus during various nights of Lehigh-Lafayette week and played outside of dorms, in Hawk’s Nest and even at The Brown and White’s press room.
According to Wood, Eco-flame came about during the 1970s when an economic professor, named Rich Aaronson, complained that his band was not playing loud enough at his retirement party. Afterwards, some band members decided to interrupt the professor’s Friday Economics 1 class and everyone seemed to like it.
Over the years, Eco-flame developed into a school-wide Lehigh-Lafayette week tradition.
And this year, in honor of the 150th rivalry game, the marching band brought Eco-flame to the Big Apple. On Friday afternoon, they boarded a bus and traveled to the major New York City parks to play the Lehigh fight songs. The afternoon’s stops included Washington Square Park, the Wall Street Bull, Highline Park, Columbus Circle, Central Park and even a subway station — which the band was sufficiently kicked out of.
“That’s one of the things about Marching 97. We’re rowdy and we make a ruckus but it’s all in good fun or we hope it’s all in good fun,” Wood said.
Another Marching 97 Lehigh-Lafayette tradition is that on its last rehearsal, which is the Friday before the rivalry game, the band tries to honor its seniors. Wood said that at the end of that practice all the band members get together and sing the Alma Mater.
“It’s a form of camaraderie, of getting the band together,” Wood said.
The Marching 97’s Eco-flame and performances, not only at halftime but also as a response to the team’s performance at football games, make them part of football and rivalry traditions.
These traditions, along with the fight songs and more current band antics, are all aimed at creating spirit and and getting the Lehigh community excited.
“It’s the strongest thing I associate with Lehigh pride, “ Siegel said. “I can participate in this thing that is so visible at Lehigh and so spirited.”
Wood echoed Siegel.
“We are some of the loudest supporters for our football team and our school,” Wood said. “Whenever we get a first down we play a tag, almost like a fanfare, to push our team on, we play our fight songs all the time. So we hope we make a large impact on game days.”