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Big, brassy Marching Mizzou

125 years of marching to different drummers

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  • Story by Nancy Moen and Ryan Gavin
  • Photos courtesy of MU Archives
  • Published: Sept. 3, 2010
Marching Mizzou

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Photo captions

  1. 1895: This look at the 10th edition of the University of Missouri band on the steps of Jesse Hall is the earliest photo available. The Cadet Band, as it was known then, was part of the Military Department on campus. Savitar, 1895, page 52A.
  2. 1905: Not long after its inception, the Cadet Band gained a reputation as one of the most spirited groups on Mizzou’s campus, which the Savitar raved about: “For real enthusiasm and genuine college spirit, the band far outranks any organization in school and is justly entitled to the support of the entire student body.” Savitar, 1905, page 175.
  3. 1909: In addition to performing military drills, the Cadet Band put on several concerts. Savitar, 1909, page 221.
  4. 1918: World War I was nearing its end, and the Military Department’s band, never letting the music stop, continued to enjoy significant popularity and to uplift the spirits of the men and women of Mizzou. The uniforms changed to match military wear of the time. Savitar, 1918, page 151.
  5. 1922: As the band grew, so did the variety of its performances. The sounds of specially arranged Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky works emanated from festivals and parades — and, innovatively, from the radio. Savitar, 1922, page 310.
  6. 1929: The iconic “Big M” formation took shape in the 1920s and was a regular attraction at parades and football halftime shows. It was also around this time that people started to refer to the marchers as the “Tiger Band.” Savitar, 1929, page 232.
  7. 1938: With the increase in popularity, the Cadet Band soon had more applicants than spots for performers. In 1938, for example, the band selected the top 65 instrumentalists from more than 200 applicants from high schools across the Midwest. Savitar, 1938, page 348.
  8. 1940: Seen playing at Yellowstone Park in this photo, the band began to make several trips per year. In addition to performing at away football games, the University Cadet Band was commissioned by the state to represent Missouri at the World’s Fairs in New York and San Francisco. Savitar, 1940, page 170.
  9. 1942: Since its inception, and for more than 20 consecutive years, the band has received an A+ rating in the annual military inspection of the Seventh Corps Area. Savitar, 1942, page 195.
  10. 1954: Shown here, the Tiger Band played at one of many galas in Kansas City in the week leading up to the Kansas game. Under the direction of George Venable for three decades, the Cadet Band earned the highest honors in the Big 6 Conference. In the 1950s, it moved from the ROTC to the Department of Music.
  11. 1960: The band in 1960 was a sparkling new edition of what Mizzou fans had come to expect. The organization remade its image in 1958, adopting the moniker “Marching Mizzou” and allowing women in the band for the first time. The band went from 70 members a few years earlier to 165 instrumentalists and 14 majorettes under new director Charles Emmons. In 1959 and 1960 Marching Mizzou made five national-television appearances, including this one in the 1960 Orange Bowl. Savitar, 1960, page 246.
  12. 1967: Twirlers and cheerleaders – women in gold, men in black – played a bigger role in the band’s performances, helping to make formations and lead the Memorial Stadium crowds in song. Savitar, 1967, page 7.
  13. 1972: Under the direction of Dr. Alexander Pickard, the band continued to grow in size, coming in at more than 250 members by the mid-‘70s. The band was introduced as “The Big M of the Midwest,” and the name fit perfectly. The national performances continued, with the band playing during halftime at the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl; at Chiefs, Cardinals and Bears NFL games; and at Cardinals and Athletics MLB games. Savitar, 1972, volume 2, page 237.
  14. 1975: According to the Savitar, the band became the first American university band to play in an English stadium in 1974, putting on performances at the renowned Chelsea and Wembley Stadiums on a tour of London. Thousands of soccer fans stuck around after games in the rain to watch Marching Mizzou perform. The band earned this rave review in the <i>London Daily Express:</i> “They brought with them all the razz-matazz of the American campus … you’ve never seen anything like it outside a Hollywood stage setting.” Savitar, 1975, page 87.
  15. 1981: With such a storied tradition, former members of Marching Mizzou wanted a chance to pick their old instruments up again. The Alumni Band, seen here at Homecoming in 1981, puts on a show every fall, giving old marchers a chance to get back together. Photo by John Trotter, Savitar, 1981, page 249.
  16. 1985: The 1985 World Series featured two Missouri teams – the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals – and also showcased Marching Mizzou, which was celebrating its 100th year. The band got a police escort from the Nebraska game to make it in time to Game 1 at Royals Stadium. Photo by Russell Laib, Savitar, 1986, page 46.
  17. 1991: Marching Mizzou’s garb has changed significantly throughout the years, going from military uniforms to several variations on a Mizzou black-and-gold theme. Photo by Denny Simmons, Savitar, 1991, page 182.
  18. 1994: Although the band started off solely playing classical music, through the years the repertoire (scandalously) has expanded to include jazz, rock and other popular music. The sousaphones are seen here preparing for a Disney-theme show. Savitar, 1994, page 128.
  19. 1999: Performances outside of Mizzou events became a staple of Marching Mizzou over the years. Shows at NFL games, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals/Rams, doubled as a means of outreach to music students in the region. Savitar, 1999, page 346.
  20. 2009: Marching Mizzou plays before a packed Memorial Stadium at every home football game. Faurot Field went from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2003, so band members no longer worry about muddy spots on the field.

Marching music at Mizzou rose from the ranks of the Military Department in 1885 with a small roster of men led by a spiffy drum major in headgear that resembled a fuzzy watermelon.

The university provided instruments and fashion-forward uniforms of the day — wool jackets in Prince Albert style and stovepipe hats — but the 12 charter members supplied their own music. Community response to their first concert appearance was enthusiastic.

We’ve had a lot of practice and many changes since that vintage band began performing, but the enthusiasm generated and the loyalty of members remain constant.

In celebration of its longstanding tradition, Marching Mizzou encourages alumni to return for Homecoming 2010 and the 125th year of the band’s founding. Former members of Marching Mizzou will join the Oct. 23 on-field performance and honors activities. Typically, about 250 band alumni participate in the Homecoming performance, but more are expected this season because of the celebratory year.

Seems like prehistory

Lt. Enoch H. Crowder (Crowder Hall namesake) took his place in history by founding MU’s band with a $125 grant from the Board of Curators, making the University of Missouri Cadet Band one of the first university bands in the nation.

School of Music records indicate that Crowder paid the first director’s $25 monthly salary out of his own pocket. And it was worth the price because large crowds of onlookers would gather in the 1800s to watch the weekly review of the Reserve Officers Training Corps band.

By the turn of the century, the ROTC band was making regular appearances as a concert and marching group. The group performed for Farmers Week, Farmers Fair, horse shows, parades, mass meetings, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and other student activities.

Applications for band membership were surging. Rather than turn away so many trained musicians, a student director led a “feeder band” that filled vacancies in the main group.

Marching to Mozart

There was no musical tramp, tramp, tramping around the Columns in the early days. 

Even into the “Roaring Twenties,” MU’s 40-member Cadet Band showcased the music of Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Saint-Saens, Meyerbeer, Grainger, Wagner, Schumann and Gounod.

A statement in the 1926 Savitar may make us chuckle now, but at the time, it was a serious explanation for the choice of music: “The Band has always stood for the highest forms of music. It has never fostered that symbol of modernism known as jazz, but has represented in its programs the music of Beethoven, Wagner and all of the great classical and modern composers.”

Nonetheless, modernity — and all that jazz — was approaching. 

The 1938 band of 65 men was known for excelling in military activities. By 1956, it had formed three groups: Marching Band, which used dance steps (modified fox trots) for the first time during halftime drills; University Band, with 120 musicians who entertained with programs of pop and semi-classical music; and Concert Band, which resumed lawn concerts in front of Jesse Hall.

Today’s fans of the marching band hear music selections from classic rock, big band, patriotic tunes and women rockers. (Look for Lady Gaga this year.) They watch formations accompanied by traditional fight songs and experience choreographed entertainment. (Expect a demonstration of the evolution of dance.)   

Hear us roar


Women joined the ranks of Marching Mizzou in 1958, and, coincidentally, the fame of the 165-member unit spread, with the band becoming known as “the big M of the Midwest.”

Nationally, Marching Mizzou was among the first bands to form letters and spell out words in drills, according to records of the School of Music.

When Director Charles Emmons and his assistant John Christie created a “Flip Tigers” routine (the word “Mizzou” changing to “Tigers”) for the 1960 Orange Bowl, the drill became a signature move. It is still performed to the music of "Every True Son" and "Fight, Tigers!"

Emmons’ development of innovative drills involved mapping out each show on a miniature field and assigning numbers to indicate the positions of marchers, then transferring the information to a chart.

That art of designing routines is an easier set of steps today, thanks to computer programs that animate drills and can even predict collisions.

Big and brassy fun

Members of the university band began playing for home basketball games in 1960, and a tradition of pep bands emerged. With the beginning of basketball season in 1971, four rotating pep bands rallied fans with fight songs inside Brewer Field House. Today’s pep bands organize under the name Mini Mizzou.

By 1966, Marching Mizzou had grown to 198 members, and the Golden Girls transformed from a baton-twirling squad to a sequined dance troupe with a high-kicking style that appealed to audiences at home and on national television. 

Another part of the continuing on-field pageantry, Big Mo, a 200-plus-pound drum, can challenge a summer thunderstorm for volume. MU acquired the custom-made, giant instrument — one of the 10 largest bass drums in the world — in 1981.

It takes two students to handle Big Mo, one to pull the instrument and one to beat it as it sits on a cart. Big Mo has a rudder for steering and a suspension system for balance but no brakes. Thus, victory laps require careful navigation to avoid running over Golden Girls and cheerleaders.   

Tiger rags

The earliest available photo of MU’s band, in the 1895 Savitar, shows 21 men wearing military-style jackets and hats reminiscent of Civil War attire. Assembled on the steps of Jesse Hall, the members hold 14 various horns, two drums, a “clarionet” and a few unidentifiable instruments.

Military jackets stayed in vogue for years, eventually giving way to jackets with a swash running diagonally from shoulder to waist.

The white jackets of MU’s current uniforms will switch to gold in 2011 to support the university’s push for a gold overlay in the seats at Faurot Field, says Marching Mizzou Director Brad Snow. The uniforms change about every eight to 10 years.

Look for more use of casual uniforms in the future. Members wear gold polo shirts and ball caps with khaki pants or shorts for less-formal occasions, such as Concert on the Quad and multiple Mini Mizzou performances for basketball, volleyball, soccer and other athletic competitions.

Loyal sons and daughters

Membership in Marching Mizzou 2010 requires a weeklong band camp before classes begin in the fall, plus a standing commitment of 15-20 hours on game weeks. It’s basically a part-time job for one credit hour.

Members represent the entire academic community. Most members — about 80 percent — are not music majors. Section leader Alex Heideman, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is typical. Heideman joined the band because he loves making music (drumming, in his case) and performing for 70,000 fans at Faurot Field.

A dream come true is Snow’s description of leading Marching Mizzou. Newly appointed as director, Snow says he had coveted the position since his freshman year playing in the band: “Anybody would jump at a chance to come back home, especially to a place like Mizzou.”

At an August rehearsal during Marching Mizzou camp, Snow shows his loyalty and sense of humor as he directs from his perch on a mechanical lift 25 feet above the stadium parking lot. “More brass. Power chords. Articulation! A sloppy release is unacceptable. Transfer to Kansas!”

The cast of 300 — including musicians, flag corps members (30), twirlers (2), drum majors (3) and Golden Girls (30) — exchanges glances and grins. Practicing on a parking lot in near-100-degree heat produces memories that will linger for decades.

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012