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Grambling State Marching Band Puts On An Amazing Show At Cal!

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It was Cal versus Grambling State not only in football, but also the band. Who won?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As a Jew, I am extremely comfortable with self-loathing. Now, me hating myself does not always have to do with my Judaism.  And the Cal-Grambling State game today reminded me of this classic scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm (embedding inexplicably disabled).

So, why am I hating myself this week? It's very simple: I'm a self-loathing woodwind (i.e piccolo, sax, or clarinet).  Hating myself because I am a woodwind?  Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me.

When Ohio State rolled through with its combined total of zero woodwinds, I yawned and said "Wake me when you have a clarinet." I said this:

The first thing that I noticed regarding the OSU band is that they have no woodwinds. They have solely brass and percussion (AND LOTS OF IT!). This is immediately alarming to me. Sure, my brass friends would crack a few jokes when I would bring this up, but the reality of it is that woodwinds are, in my humble opinion, a key part of any marching band blend.

Not to include woodwinds is to restrict your musicality. You'll have a strong brassy sound at the expense of having the lighter touch. The best example is when OSU plays Fight For California. Here is a video of the pre-game show from Saturday thanks to valued reader CalBear81:

Their version sounds exceedingly weird as they do not have a single woodwind. When it came down to it, I felt that the Cal band that day was superior to the Ohio State band. The Cal band is the best damn band in the land, right? But this last weekend, we had the Grambling State band come to town and they were clearly superior to the Cal band. I am here to report why that is and the main reason why I think they were better was an interesting mixture of woodwinds to brass/percussion.  That instrumentation (i.e. the different numbers of instruments) seemed key to me.

Why did the GSU blow the Cal band out of the water on Saturday? Let's get into this deeper. I base this off of my view of their halftime show, during game songs, and post-game show. Apparently, they played a pre-game show at noon at Memorial Glade, but I did not see it (despite being fairly close by). To assist, here are some videos of their performances thanks to valued readers CalBear81, Avi, and, were I to read this site, me.

Halftime:

Postgame:

The first thing that jumped out at me was their volume. I actually watched the halftime show from behind (since they faced the west side and I was on the east side). I watched the Cal halftime show from the front and even then, the GSU band was louder. That volume can sometimes just be meaningless noise, but in this case it was not. It meant energy and it meant enthusiasm. It meant fun.

The Cal band could never match their volume and it could never match their energy. I really think the reason behind that was GSU's mixture of instrumentation. I do not know their specific numbers, but based on how they were in the stands, the GSU band had like 2 rows of woodwinds. They then had like 4,000 rows of brass/percussion.

It truly to the deepest point of my heart pains me to say this, but the sad, sad, sad reality is that woodwinds are musically less important than brass/percussion. An individual brass player is more likely to be heard than an individual clarinet or sax out there on the field. So, they had the woodwinds to ensure complete musical flexibility. No weird half-songs like OSU trying to do our fight song. But they really focused their instrumentation on the brass, which can bring both the noise and funk.

When I discussed the Cal and Stanford bands, I really focused on the instrumentation. Here, GSU's instrumentation seemed light years better than Cal's instrumentation.  Compared to GSU, Cal's halftime show seemed like a milquetoast approach to entertainment. This is not fair to the Cal band, because their halftime show was pretty good. But the GSU band produced a shiningly perfect sound and thrilling dance moves that had the fans joining them in their seats. Then, we put a galaxy on the field and had various characters from Guardians of the Galaxy fighting with Oski and the Tree. Now, Cal has found a winning recipe with these type of shows, best reflected in their 1.5+ million viewed Video Game show from 2007:

This storyline gameplan has replaced the "dance block" mainstay, which was popular during my time in the band lo those many eons ago. I cannot remember a single storyline show during my 4 years in the band (spanning the Clinton and Bush administrations). Well, guess what? This new recipe was "pants yourself, newman"ed by the GSU band today. The Cal band's show today was significantly more creative than the GSU's show, which had a lot of park and play. But was it more entertaining? Not even closer and the missive of any halftime entertainment organization is to bring happiness and joy to the fans. To entertain. Period. Exclamation Point. Question Mark. Interrobang.

I knew that Bob and the Cal Band saw this coming and tried to put their best face forward. In the post-game show, the Cal band hit the "funk" button hard. We even threw down with Everybody's Everything, which has a trombone front line solo and that is both musically and physically fun (a lot of horn flashes, including one potentially decapitating one). Their attempt to push the brass could not compare with the GSU band.

This was also apparent in their in game song playing. At one point late in the fourth quarter, completely well into the DGAF portion of the game, the GSU band just played for like 10 minutes straight. Oh, were you paying attention to the game still? Why?

Their brass/percussion just dropped various beats, the woodwinds added the sprinkles on top, and everybody danced. I never thought I'd dance for 10 minutes straight smack dab in the middle of a Cal game. It was honestly perfect.

Another fun aspect to the energy was their announcer. If you watch the full halftime video above, you can hear him talking about how amazing the GSU band is. In some situations, that may come off as arrogant or unjustified hubris, but it just came off as a fun part of the show. It seemed very "walk the walk" to me. The GSU band on Saturday basically showed up, said "we are the best, fuck you, get out of our way," and then threw a beautiful wall of sound at us. It was a musical right hook in the face and the Cal band, despite our best effort, could only weakly jab back.

Conclusion

Asking the question "Should the Cal band have fewer woodwinds" is a tough question. I was a woodwind and had so much fun in the band. Why would I want to take that option away from people in the future? And maybe there aren't tons of other brass out there, who cannot get in because of the current instrumentation (I suspect that is the case).

But the GSU formula seems fairly easy to introduce to the Cal band. This would not be the first time that we looked at other bands for inspiration. We essentially stole everything Ohio State was doing back in the day. Remix the instrumentation a bit and we can as much do the Whip and the NaeNae as any other band out there. If RichRod can do it, we can, too!

Mix the instrumentation of the GSU band with the creative storylines and you have a great show. Sorry, pics, phonez, tenors, and nets. But don't hate me, I do that enough as is!