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Michigan State University Spartan Marching Band

Spartan Marching Band
Michigan State Spartans script.svg
School Michigan State University
Conference Big Ten
Founded 1870
Director David Thornton (2017-present)
Assistant director Simon Holoweiko (interim)
Members 300+
Fight song "Victory for MSU"
Michigan State Marching Band Uniforms.png
Website []

The Spartan Marching Band (SMB) is the marching band of Michigan State University. Founded in 1870 as a 10-member student group, the band is the oldest in the Big Ten Conference. The SMB made their first appearance in the Rose Bowl in 1954. The band has played for five U.S. Presidents, performed at five Rose Bowls, two World's Fairs, and one World Series. The father of the MSU Band program is Leonard Falcone, who directed the SMB from 1927 through 1967.

The SMB has toured the United States extensively, appearing in concert and on football fields in San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Orlando, St. Louis, Denver, New Orleans, Pasadena, Salt Lake City, El Paso, San Antonio, Tokyo, Tucson, San Diego, Tampa and Washington, D.C.[1]



The 300 member Spartan Band is one of the oldest and most recognized university marching bands in the country. The Spartan Band was founded in 1870 as a 10-member student group. Shortly after the founding of Michigan Agricultural College in 1855 as the nation’s first land grant institution intended to promote scientific agriculture through education in the same, 10 veterans of the civil war organized the first band on campus. This band became the first such group organized among the future members of the Big Ten Conference. A little known fact about MSU is that a bronze marker commemorating the students of MAC's class of 1861 who left to fight in the war[2] is hidden on the wall behind tall bushes alongside the lobby of the present music building. The field west of the building, where the band practiced from its early days through most of the 20th century, was originally the military drill field and the music building sits on the site of the old armory building in front of that memorial. These veterans, under the leadership of Ransom McDonough Brooks, performed on campus in the 1870s and were the predecessors of today’s Spartan Marching Band. The Spartan Band was a military unit connected with the college ROTC for most of its existence. Until 1952, the band members wore military khaki uniforms.

MAC military band

In 1885 when the campus established a formal relationship with the military, the band was reorganized as a cadet military band. During this time the band was led by students and military officers, including cornetist I.E. Hill, and Professor B.G. Edgerton, who was the first to lead the band in performance before a US President (Theodore Roosevelt). Other directors in this period included A.J. Clark, Frederick Abel, J.S. Taylor, and Carl Kuhlman. Taylor would lead the first band to perform the new college fight song, written by cheerleader Francis Lankey. That performance would come shortly after young Lankey’s death in 1919.[3]

The Falcone years

The longest serving director of the band was Leonard Falcone, an Italian immigrant and the brother of University of Michigan band director Nicholas Falcone. Many of the band's traditions were established during his 40-year tenure, and the band grew from a 65-member ROTC auxiliary into an adjunct of the new department that would become today’s College of Music. The first green and white uniforms and many other significant changes would happen during this time. When the career of Nicholas came to a premature end due to illness in 1935, Leonard would earn the distinction of being the only person to direct the bands at both of the rival schools concurrently. When MSU began playing Big 10 Conference football in 1952, the band, under Falcone, received its first green and white uniforms. Most of the strict military uniform codes are still adhered to today with squad leaders holding routine inspections before every performance.

Falcone was a baritone horn virtuoso, professor of baritone and euphonium, and a prolific transcriber and arranger of music for concert band. He arranged and rearranged the fight song continuously throughout his career, and his name is still tied to one of those arrangements used at every game (dubbed “Falcone Fight” by the band_.

Falcone drastically increased the visibility of the band through an aggressive schedule of performances and trips. He added 3 US Presidential performances to the band’s resume as well as 3 televised Rose Parade and game performances in the 50s and 60s. There was a band shell on the campus where Bessey Hall stands today that was the site of regular band concerts for many years.

Falcone retired and took on a role as professor emeritus in 1967, though he remained a fixture around the campus until weeks before his death in 1985.[4]

Ushering in a new era

Assistant Director Bill Moffit, who was known for directing Purdue's marching band in later years and invading the quiet neighborhoods of East Lansing to march them to Falcone’s doorstep before a game in 1984,[5] added a new dynamism to the marching patterns on the field beginning in 1960. Moffit's "Patterns in Motion" drill innovation, centered around a 4-person squad system, was pioneered at Michigan State. This continued under future directors, including Harry Begian, Kenneth Bloomquist, Thad Hegerberg, Carl Chevallard, David Catron and longtime assistant William Wiedrich. Many of these directors only served one year, including William Wiedrich, who had previously been the assistant for 6 years under the only long-term director of this period, David Catron. The Spartan Band was the 1988 recipient of the Louis Sudler Trophy for collegiate marching bands, administered by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. In 1989, John T. Madden became director of the band, and after his retirement in 2017, became the second-longest-serving director in band history. During his tenure, the band added two more presidential performances and foreign venues to its long list of accomplishments. The new director, Dr. David Thornton, is a former doctoral student at MSU, and was the assistant director for the last two years.


The Spartan Marching Band instrumentation is notable among college bands in the U.S. as being made up of brass, saxophones, and percussion, with no flutes, piccolos, or clarinets. Instead, E-flat cornets play the high "woodwind-like" parts. The extra brass and the elimination of the upper woodwinds allow the full ensemble sound to fill the large Big Ten Conference stadiums. The Ohio State University and San Jose State University, both of which are all brass and percussion, are the only Division I FBS marching bands with similar instrumentation. As of the 2008 season, all horn-playing members perform with silver instruments on game days. In addition to the percussion and color guard, each year the pregame block contains 238–241 additional personnel:



From 1989 to 2017, the director of the Spartan Marching Band was John T. Madden, a graduate of Michigan State University and an SMB alumnus. Madden was also the director of the Spartan Brass, the athletic band for men's and women's basketball and hockey. As Associate Director of Bands, he also directed the MSU Symphony Band (the middle of MSU's three auditioned concert bands), and taught private conducting lessons for several Wind Conducting graduate students.

In 2017, Dr. David Thornton, who previously served as the Assistant Director of the Spartan Marching Band since 2015, took over the position of Director of the Spartan Marching Band after Professor Madden retired.

Simon Holoweiko, a SMB alumnus and former drum major, is the interim Assistant Director for the 2017-2018 season.

Instructors and graduate assistants

Working directly under the director are graduate assistants and instructors. Instructors are typically paid positions and their duties include looking after the colorguard and percussion sections. In addition, the Spartan Marching Band has a visual and field coordinator - Glen Brough, alumnus and former drum major of the SMB - who has instructed the band on all things visual and marching since 1987. Graduate assistants are graduate students from the MSU College of Music who help arrange music for halftime shows, conduct challenges, and assist with auditions.

Jon Weber is instructor of percussion at the Michigan State University College of Music, where he teaches applied percussion lessons, percussion ensemble, salsa band, and the award-winning Michigan State Drumline. The percussion ensemble, with Weber as co-director, was selected to perform at the 2013 Percussive Arts Society International Convention. He has presented clinics throughout the United States, and in the summer of 2012 presented clinics and a recital in Colombia. Weber has also presented clinics at the Collegiate Band Directors National Association Symposium, Yamaha Sounds of Summer Program, and served as a panel clinician at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention multiple times. Weber has performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, the Brass Band of Battle Creek, the Flint Symphony Orchestra, the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, the New York Solsti Orchestra, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. He is the percussionist for the world fusion group The Nomads and served as a percussionist for various salsa and fusion bands. In 2009, he founded the Michigan State University salsa band, Salsa Verde, which performs throughout Michigan; he still directs and performs in this ensemble. He currently plays drumset with the Michigan salsa band Orquesta Ritmo. Weber assisted in the MSU Study Abroad Program in Cuba in May 2015, both teaching and performing with the musicians enrolled in the class in Havana. Weber taught the Michigan All-State percussion program at Interlochen from 2007 – 2009. He has also taught percussion and the drumline at Oklahoma State University. He has performed Michael Daugherty's timpani concerto Raise the Roof with the MSU Wind Symphony and Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion with Orchestra with the MSU Symphony Orchestra. Weber heads the percussion faculty for the summer Performing Arts Camp at Michigan State University. With the MSU Drumline, he has presented performances at the Bands of America Grand National Championships, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and wherever the Spartans play football, including the Rose Bowl in 2014. From 2004 - 2011, Weber was composer/arranger for the Detroit Pistons Drumline, which has performed at NBA games in Detroit and Chicago, with Kid Rock on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the 2006 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, Texas. University and NBA Drumlines have performed his percussion arrangements and compositions throughout the United States, and in 2013 – 2014 he arranged the front ensemble music for NorthCoast Academy. Weber received his DMA in Percussion Performance from Michigan State in 2008. He is a Yamaha Performing Artist and member of the Vic Firth Education Team.

Drum major(s)

Drum Major Ian McNabb performing the traditional Drum Major backbend during pregame

Typically, the Spartan Marching Band has only one drum major for the entire ensemble. However, in years when the drum major is a graduating senior there are two, allowing the new drum major to have one season of apprenticeship. Auditioning for drum major requires attending instructional sessions by the current drum major, culminating in a one-day event with the director making the final selection. The drum major is the highest ranking student official in the organization. Gameday responsibilities include leading the pregame show and performing a backbend, a hallmark of the Spartan Marching band.

The "Voice of the Band"

The Announcer for the Spartan Marching Band is also known as the "Voice of the Band." Throughout the years, the SMB has only had a few people in this position. "The Voice" introduces the band during Pre-Game, Halftime and Postgame, as well as many special events, pep rallies, and Spartan Spectacular, in addition to traveling with the band on away trips and bowl games. The longest running, and most well known, to hold this position is legendary broadcaster Tim Skubick: longtime host of the Michigan Political show "Off The Record".[6] Tim served as the band's voice starting in 1968 (after being a member of the band from 1963-1967). In 1993, following the regular season, Skubick stepped down from the role. Starting with the Band's performance at the 1993 Liberty Bowl, and continuing through the 1997 season, the position was held by longtime Lansing broadcaster Jerry Marshal. In 1998, a first for the band, Peter Clay took over the role while still a senior at MSU. Peter left after just one year to pursue a job in broadcasting out-of-state. From 1999 through 2007, Radio broadcaster Tim Kiesling was the Voice of the band. In 2008 Peter Clay, TV and radio broadcaster and former Tuba in the band, returned to the role and is the current voice of the band.

Gameday traditions

Morning of Game Day Practice

The Spartan Marching Band starts every home game day with rehearsal. This practice is open to the public and is a great way for those who cannot attend the football game to see that week's marching band show live. That said, with a noon game, early morning rehearsal can be just that; early.

Student Bookstore Performance

Before meeting the rest of the band on Adams Field, approximately two hours before kickoff, the Spartan Marching Band Drumline performs for a crowd in the median on Grand River Road in front of the Student Bookstore (commonly known as SBS). Pieces played include "Martian Mambo," "Ditty," "Band Day Beat," "The Series," and "X," the latter of which was composed by Drumline Instructor Jon Weber.

Concert on Adams Field

Before all home games the band performs a free concert on Walter Adams Field (formerly Landon Field) next to the music building. The concert usually begins 1.5–2 hours before kickoff.

The Series

"The Series" is the name of the percussion cadence ("street beat") used by the SMB for parade marching. It is composed of seven different cadences strung together (in series) in march tempo. Each cadence has a unique set of maneuvers specific to each section—the tubas, for example, will have horn flashes during one cadence, while the trumpets will perform different horn flashes during another. The Series is extremely intricate and requires hours of practice (in addition to regular pre-season rehearsals) by new members to memorize their section's moves. It uses a full high step throughout (with the exception of the drumline and the color guard), and combined with the intricacy of the upper body movements and vocals, is one of the most physically demanding and uniquely recognizable trademarks of the SMB. This is the cadence used as the band marches to Spartan Stadium each game day. Thousands of fans line the Kalamazoo Street bridge to cheer on the band as they march to the stadium.

The Kickstep

The Kickstep is a very fast field entrance which has become a trademark of the SMB. It was established in 1954, the first year MSU attended the Rose Bowl. Performed at 220 beats per minute, the kickstep is a run-on routine choreographed in eight-count segments with horn, knee, and hand accents on counts two and four. The kickstep is a highly strenuous physical routine which requires intensive practice and conditioning.

Spinning the "S"

This is a drill move performed by the Spartan Marching Band during the pregame show while playing the Michigan State University fight song. While playing the breakstrain of the fight song, marching band shifts to a hollow Block "S" formation, with the final shape popping up and charging down the field at the exact moment that the chorus of the song begins. The four-man "squad" drill that is unique to the Spartan Marching Band causes the "S" to appear as though it is being "spun" as the marching band shifts to position.

The 7-up

As the Spartan Marching Band plays the fight song during parade marching and the pregame routine, all of the instrumentalists and auxiliary performers execute an eight-count horn swing with an accented upward movement on the 8th count. New members learn this maneuver as a "7-up", counted as such: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - UP!

Visitor's fight song

A Big Ten tradition, during every pregame show the SMB performs the opposing team's fight song upfield towards the visitor's section. In Spartan Stadium and wherever the band travels, from Hawaii to arch-rival Michigan, the SMB considers it a point of pride and respect to play the opposition's fight song with the utmost musicality.[7]

Third quarter cheer

Between the third and fourth quarters of home football games, the percussion section performs their "third quarter cheer" in the southeast endzone. The show varies by year and is a favorite among the student section.

Postgame Show

After every home game, the Spartan Marching Band takes the field one last time to perform selections from the day's halftime show. In addition, the band often performs a favorite postgame tune, usually Carlos Santana's "Everybody's Everything". If the visiting team's band is in attendance, they may also participate in the post-game concert if their schedule permits. Postgame shows traditionally end with MSU's alma mater and fight song to round out another Spartan football experience. After the postgame show, the band may march the Series out of Spartan Stadium to Demonstration Hall, then leave formation to gather together for the final tradition of game day.

Postgame Dismissal

Here, after words of wisdom, kindness and correction by band director, members of the SMB sing the alma mater, MSU Shadows, a cappella, in four-part harmony. After dismissal by drum major(s), the official game day traditions are complete.

If the visiting band is still present at this point in the day, an informal reception may follow and the percussion sections of both bands often join in an impressive drum off that is always a crowd favorite.

Big Ten Flags

The Big Ten Flag Corps is a pre-game and parade tradition in the Spartan Marching Band that was added in 1967. Members carry large banner type flags on lance poles, which salute the fourteen universities in the Big Ten Conference. The section consists of dedicated, hard-working, and athletic individuals who carry out unique traditions that exhibit the style and form of the Spartan Marching Band.

Other traditions

Pre-season rehearsal

Pre-season drill begins 10 days before the beginning of classes. During this week, new members can spend over 120 hours practicing. Percussionists arrive ten days before the start of classes, followed by section leaders, squad leaders, and the drum major(s) on Saturday. New members arrive next, and "non-leader" veteran members ("vets") arrive last. Typically, music and field rehearsal begins at 8:30 A.M. and lasts, with breaks, until 8:50 P.M. After this whole-band rehearsal, freshmen are required to attend "freshmen orientation" inside Demonstration Hall from 9 P.M. to 11 P.M. Pre-season rehearsal ends with a light schedule on the day before classes start: uniform inspection and full-band and section pictures. A practice "march to the stadium" usually occurs on the Monday before the evening before (public viewing is encouraged), followed by an in the stands rehearsal to end the preseason drills. The public is not permitted in the stadium for this rehearsal. In-uniform pictures are scheduled no earlier, because incoming freshmen earn the right to wear the uniform the evening prior, by demonstrating everything they learned during the week in a rite of passage known as "Freshman Dress Rehearsal" (formerly known by many names including the "Hayride", "Midnight March", and "Student-Run Review Rehearsal").

Memorized music

The Spartan Marching Band learns a new halftime show for every home game of the season. All members are expected to have their music memorized by Thursday of the week of the game. Any member, despite rank in the block, may be pulled out of a show for that week for not having music or the marching drill memorized. Full-sized flip-folders are never used. All freshmen and veterans assigned to a new part must play all the MSU bleacher cheers and pregame music for their section leaders from memory by the end of Freshmen Dress Rehearsal, or forfeit their place in the block, becoming an alternate.

MSU Shadows

Every band member must learn the MSU alma mater, MSU Shadows, which was arranged by MSC Music Professor H. Owen Reed, with words by coach Barney Traynor. Sung in four-part harmony, MSU Shadows was introduced in 1948 and is played and/or sung[8] by the band. After marching to Spartan Stadium, the band gathers near the tunnel leading onto the football field and sings before lining up for the pregame Kickstep entrance. It is always played during the Pregame performance. MSU Shadows is also sung at the end of game days, after marching back and usually performing for the sizable crowd of band fans. After the final home game of the year after the seniors sing the infrequently-sung second verse, the content of which is about one's love for MSU remaining after graduating. MSU Shadows is also featured prominently during the annual Alumni Band Reunion Day, during which band alumni gather from around the world to perform at halftime during a home game.

Sparty Watch

Sparty Watch is a band-sponsored event beginning Monday night before the University of Michigan game and ending the evening after the game. Sparty Watch is a 24-hours/day guard of the Spartan statue to prevent vandalism. The football coach has been known to show up with food for the hungry band members camped out in the cold.

High School Band Day

High School Band Day was a long-running tradition in Spartan Stadium where high school bands from across the state were invited to perform during a home game halftime. The first Band Day was held on November 6, 1954. In its heyday, the event gathered more than 3,000 musicians. After nearly forty years, the tradition ended in 2001.


Away games

The full Spartan Marching Band will travel to one or more away games per year, depending on proximity of away games and invitations to travel. Travel to Notre Dame (odd numbered years) and the University of Michigan (even numbered years) occurred yearly until changes in the makeup of the Big 10 conference ~ 2014. In the 2015-16 schedule, away games included Western Michigan, University of Michigan and Ohio State.

Bowl games

The Spartan Marching Band enjoys a long-standing tradition of traveling to bowl games. There is no further audition required for band members; all members are required to participate in the travel (which is not the case in other Big Ten bands). There is no cost to students. Bowl appearances for the Spartan Band include: 2015 College Football Playoff Cotton Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl, 1954, 1956, 1966, 1988, and 2014 Rose Bowls;[9] 2009 and 2011[10] (Rose Bowl) Pasadena California;Capital One Bowl (Orlando, FL); 2012 Outback Bowl (Tampa, FL); 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, AZ); 2007 Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, FL); 2003 and 2010 Alamo Bowl (San Antonio, TX); 2001 Silicon Valley Football Classic (San José, CA); 2000 Citrus Bowl (Orlando, FL); 1996 and 1990 Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX);[11] 1995 Independence Bowl (Shreveport, LA); 1993 St. Jude Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN); 1990 John Hancock Bowl (El Paso, TX); 1989 Mazda Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, FL); 1985 All-American Bowl (Birmingham, AL); and 1984 Cherry Bowl (Pontiac, MI). A portion of the SMB also traveled to the 1993 Coca-Cola Bowl in Tokyo, Japan and the 1997 Aloha Bowl in Honolulu, HI.


  1. ^ Official website of the Spartan Marching Band Accessed 7/12/06.
  2. ^ William J. Beal. History of the Michigan Agricultural College; and biographical sketches of trustees and professors. 1915, Page 246
  3. ^ Spartan Marching Band Website, History page "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2011-03-18. 
  4. ^ Wikipedia Page: Leonard Falcone
  5. ^ Michigan State University Archives – Leonard Falcone collection
  6. ^ Off the Record (WKAR TV series)
  7. ^ "Rival bands in harmony mutual respect can be heard in today's U-M. MSU game."Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1998
  8. ^ Recordings, Falcone collection, Archives of Michigan State University
  9. ^ "Play band! Rose Bowl's marching musicians maintain a strenuous Spartan pace," Detroit Free Press, December 31, 1987
  10. ^ Tourangeau, Kelley. "Spartan Marching Band Preps for Capital One Bowl". Focal Point. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "Band on the run: the Spartan Band family heads for the Sun Bowl." Detroit Free Press, December 31, 1990

External links