By STEVEN NALLEY
Craig Aarhus knows it’s a cliche to say members of Mississippi State University’s Famous Maroon Band are family, but sometimes, he means that literally.
Aarhus, MSU associate director of bands, said the members form close bonds through rehearsals, trips, games and other activities. Many of them become lifelong friends, he said, but some of them become more than friends.
“Each summer, we usually receive 3-4 wedding invitations in the band office from students who met in the band,” Aarhus said. “Even though we don’t set it up that way, it’s just how band works sometimes.”
This year, the MSU band program will celebrate 110 years of enriching the campus’s arts environment, making Bulldog fans cheer and bringing young musicians together.
Elva Kaye Lance, MSU director of bands, said in addition to the annual Alumni Band weekend during Homecoming, special inserts about the band’s history will appear in printed programs for each band concert. Memorabilia dating back to the early 1900s celebrating the band’s role in the history of MSU as a whole is also on display throughout the band program’s office, she said.
“Later in the Spring semester, we will invite the band alumni and former directors and their families to be our special (guests) at one of our concerts,” Lance said. “It is exciting to be a part of a program that has such a long history of involvement in the life of our university and of our state. As an alumni of the band and the university, my membership in the band was a very important and positive part of my experience at State, and I certainly want those students who are presently enrolled in our program to feel that, through their enrollment in our band, they, too, have become a part of an organization that reflects a special campus experience.”
The anniversary year begins with band camp, which Lance said will start soon after the fall semester starts, preparing students to play halftime shows at MSU football games. Lance said a student music selection committee from within the band membership makes recommendations for the halftime shows each year, and faculty and staff incorporate those suggestions into show planning and music selection.
“Our first halftime show is titled ‘Wide Open’ and will include ‘Open Up Wide/Get It On’ (Bill Chase), ‘La Suerte de Los Tontos’ (Stan Kenton) and ‘Free’ (Chicago),” Lance said. “(The second) is a ‘Rock’ show featuring ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (Jimi Hendrix), Radar Love (Golden Earring) and Let’s Groove (Earth, Wind and Fire). Show 3 is an ‘End of the World’ show including music of Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Europe, Aerosmith and R.E.M. Additionally, we will have our traditional pre-game show, our annual Patriotic Show and our Homecoming Show that features the Student Association Homecoming Court.”
In addition to the Famous Maroon Band, Lance said, MSU’s program includes four concert bands, two jazz bands and two basketball pep bands. Concerts include a two-day MSU wind ensemble tour in DeSoto County and west Tennessee, a campus concert in early November, and the annual Honor Band Clinic in late January, she said.
“Additionally, all four of our concert bands will be featured in concerts throughout the spring semester,” Lance said. “Making music with this level of student musician is certainly a joy. We have great students in our band program who are very bright, talented, and cooperative. We respect our students and we get their respect in return. Additionally, we as a staff share common goals and philosophies and genuinely enjoy working together.”
Madison Poole, social chairman of the band, leads a social committee that creates icebreakers and social events to strengthen the bonds between band members. For instance, she said, the committee is looking into an Olympic-themed social at the Sanderson Center with water polo, basketball, badminton and other games.
“Icebreakers and other social events help transform the Famous Maroon Band from 350 people to one unit,” Poole said. “One of my favorite things about the band is that the first day you walk in the door, you feel welcomed. The directors do not talk down to you. They talk to you as if you were another director. Every person in the band loves music and loves what they are doing, so there is always a very positive atmosphere.”
“This is my third year with the Famous Maroon Band,” Poole added. “To be honest, I am not looking forward to the day I have to say goodbye. The Maroon Band is my family.”