Whistles blow as the players gather into circles on the turf field to warm up. After about 15 minutes, more whistles blow, and the individual groups congregate into one massive team in the middle of the field.
The team forms a semicircle around their instructor, who leads them in stretches and breathing exercises. He makes a few announcements before practice begins, then instructs the players to pick up their instruments and begin playing the first of the week’s songs.
Troy Bennefield, who is currently serving his third year as director of athletic bands and associate director of bands at WSU, said he is in charge of all bands and music performed for WSU athletic events.
“The full marching band is made up of over 170 members from 70 different majors,” Bennefield said, “And come from as far east as Delaware and as far north as Alaska.”
Karl Estes is the snare drum section leader of the WSU drumline, a part of the Cougar Marching Band. This means he taps his drum to signal the beginning of each song. He said his leadership position on the drumline also means he is around to teach his fellow percussionists.
“If anyone ever needs help,” Estes said, “someone from the band is there to help. We are all really supportive of one another.”
He started his career as a percussionist when he was in the fifth grade, he said, eventually joining his middle school’s marching band in the seventh grade.
“My dad was a double major at WSU, majoring in both music theory and tuba performance,” Estes said. “Music has been a huge thing in my family since I was a kid, so I always knew that I wanted to do something with music.”
When he came to WSU he found a similar connection with his fellow musicians, whom he called his “family for life.”
“We have such a close-knit group,” Estes said. “Dr. Bennefield says if you join band, you automatically have 150 new friends.”
He said his biggest takeaways from his involvement in the band are the discipline, the social aspect and the camaraderie.
“People that have graduated six or seven years ago come back to hang out and help out on the line,” Estes said. “Relationships made on the line will be lasting ones.”
The 26-member WSU drumline can be seen performing at a variety of events, said Brent Edwards, assistant director of athletic bands and coordinator of marching percussion.
These include home football and soccer games in the fall, the occasional volleyball match or swim meet, basketball games during the winter, and other events such as the WSU birthday, alumni reunions, community service days and pep rallies, Edwards said.
“Our job is to support the sports teams,” he said.
The Monday of a game week is spent inside learning new music in individual instrumental sections, Edwards said, and Tuesday might be spent outside practicing alongside the wind instruments.
The winds and the drumline combine to form the full marching band, Edwards said. By Wednesday, he said, the music is locked down.
“We are not sure how the show will look until Thursday,” Edwards said. “Learning a show in one week is what we call a ‘one week wonder.’ It’s pretty crazy.”
Friday is spent rehearsing, Edwards said, and the band has to meet up again six hours prior to kick-off on Saturdays.
The half-time show at this weekend’s home football game against the University of Idaho will feature the marching bands of both schools combined to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, Estes said. The WSU band will also play Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow” solo.
Band members dressed in crazy costumes can be seen walking around Greek row the night before a big game, Estes said. This group is known as the I.C.B., or the Incognito Cougar Band, he said, and their goal is to get people hyped up.
The marching band began the season practicing a week before the beginning of school, Edwards said. Because the members of the band all rely on each other, they need to invest a lot of time in practice.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” Estes said. “If you want a good result, you have to put the effort in.”
Estes said members of the marching band look forward to going to practice because it helps relieve stress.
“People have so much stress and can come let it out at practice for two hours a day and make the stresses go away,” Edwards said. “I have people come up to me and say ‘I don’t know what I would have done without drumline.’”
Bennefield said even as a diverse group, the players have the mentality of working toward a common goal.
“They are the most dedicated people around,” he said, “and they do a pretty darn good job of not allowing things to get in the way.”