Five empty minutes and a board game: Marching 97 leaders write halftime show

Courtesy of Rob Hillman

Courtesy of Rob Hillman

Before it marches onto Fisher Field in Easton, before it begins to play its wide array of instruments, the Marching 97 has to put hours into the performance it’ll present at The Rivalry’s 152nd meeting.

It’s not just the two weeks members have spent practicing the new drill. Before arranging the show, it was five minutes of empty time — a shorter time than when the band performs at home.

Five minutes that band manager Rob Hillman, ’17, and staff assistant, Alexander Ferencin, ’17, had to fill with a performance.

Every home game, the Marching 97 performs a new show that band members, usually volunteers, spend time arranging and then teaching to the other members. It’s tradition, though, that the Lehigh-Lafayette show be arranged by the band manager and the staff assistant.

First, they chose the songs. Each of them chose one: “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics and “Duel of the Fates” from “Star Wars Episode I” – with Ferencin making a few musical alterations to the latter.

Then came the board game.

The board game is what Hillman and Ferencin call a slab of wood, which has been passed down the band for years. It has a football field, with its yard lines numbered and away and home sides marked, painted onto it.

The band has 12 ranks of eight people each. The drills are designed by splitting up each rank into the front half and the back half and giving each half of a rank specific instructions and movements. With the board and 24 slim metal blocks, each marked as the front of a rank or the back of one, they begin to play around, making shapes flow into each other in natural progression.

With the board game and the music, Hillman and Ferencin sat down for hours in the basement of Warren Square C and split the show up into sets, each one containing six to 12 measures at a time. Then they decide what each individual rank would be doing every set.

“We just sort of play with the pieces a little bit, we come up with designs that we want to do and try to go from one design to the next and then choose what we want to do from there,” Hillman said. “We just go set by set by set until we go through the entire song.”

Sometimes, they choose a design they want to do in the middle of the show and then work their way arranging the pieces to get to that design smoothly.

What students see on the field — the spinning wheels, the moving shapes made up solely of students marching — were painstakingly thought out in detail. The moves have to flow into each other, but musicality has to be put into consideration — the drums in the back, ranks that may have solos near the front.

“This is the first time any of us have been to Lafayette,” Ferencin said. “Half of us went to the 150th in New York, which helps. It’s the same kind of atmosphere, or in terms of how we’re thinking, it’s the same kind of atmosphere. It’s a Lafayette home game.”

And as with any other game, the Marching 97 will face the Lehigh stands while turning its back to Lafayette, just as it was orchestrated by the drill writers.

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