Queen’s College was established in 1766 before the American Revolution and exits today as Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey. It owes it’s name to Colonel Henry Rutgers who gave a generous donation of $1,000. With 50,000 students spread over four campuses the University dominates New Brunswick.
I was lucky enough to experience some of Rutgers University life through my old Dubai music friend Ben who is currently a graduate student studying for a Doctorate. After visiting the main campuses lunch in Stuff Your Face in the main university social area was much needed after an early start and long flight. Stromoboli is a Rutgers stable for hungry students. With an infinite range of fillings this baked pizza dough parcel available in sizes from mini to huge it is the perfect comfort food. Stuff Your Face is just around the corner from the fraternity and sorority houses with their greek symbols displayed above doors and on the ‘sidewalk’. The first opened in 1845 and there are now over 80 open to new students.
The High Points Solutions Stadium is the home of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team. The current stadium was opened in 1994 and can hold over 30,000 spectators. Supporting the football team is the marching band and it was a band rehearsal which took me to the stadium. Moving the band around is a logistical operation of some scale as drums and the larger instruments are moved from the music campus across the river. The band currently has 250 members and perform at home games as well as other university events during the Fall semester. My question as to how everyone knows where to be and where to go was answered by sheets of paper which at first glance resemble a cross stitch pattern but each cross is each individual performer. The plan shows where each person needs to be at different points in the music with points of reference to the markings on the football pitch. I have never seen a marching band such as this in action – we are not just going forward but back, turning, sideways and in this drill dancing moves too. Six hours of rehearsal each week makes this a major commitment for all involved but well worth the hard work when it all comes together. By far the majority of the band members have been involved with marching bands having been part of their high school bands. The ones I chatted with were passionate band members with many ideas for future musical content and themes along with marching drills to extend their current repertoire. Some are music education students who will make sure that this tradition of marching bands continues in American high schools for the next generations.
Rehearsal was one thing but to see the Scarlet Knights Marching Band in action was something else. Performing an exhibition drill at the New Jersey High School Band’s competition was the chance to see the routine come together and to see their pre-match drill too. Coming running on and marching as closed columns then separating to form the shape of the letter ‘R’ was received with much cheering from the watching high school students. Many of these high schools students will go on to attend Rutgers and hopefully join the marching band.
The competition itself was, for the many schools who attended, the culmination of a year’s hard work perfecting in some cases performing some very intricate, innovative and entertaining drills. The schools are rated in classes from 1 to 6 depending on size with 6 being the largest school marching bands. The enter either the ‘O’ or ‘A’ competition depending on whether they have previously won competitions.
Thanks Ben and the Rutger’s Scarlet Knights marching band for a great start to my US experience.