Talk about the Marching Jayhawks with drum major Sarah Zimmerman

October 15, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Sarah Zimmerman

It's been a rough few years for the Marching Jayhawks. There have been four new directors in the past eight years. Total membership stands now at only 177, the smallest of any marching band in the Big 12 Conference. But there are signs of a resurgence. Drum major Sarah Zimmerman takes your questions.


Hi folks. I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence. You may have seen our weekend story about how the KU marching band is a wee smaller than others in the Big 12. Sarah Zimmerman is joining us to chat about that and other band-related issues. Welcome Sarah!

Sarah Zimmerman:

Hello! Thank you for chatting with me today, I'll do my best to answer your questions about the Marching Jayhawks, of which I am proud to be a member.


What, in your opinion, is the ideal size for a college marching band?

Sarah Zimmerman:

I would love to see our band fill up all of the uniforms that we have available! That being said, I'm far more concerned with the sound a band puts out than I am with their size. Just because a band is large, doesn't mean that they are producing the best sounds that they could be. Musicality should be more of a focus than numbers.


What is the one thing that Athletics could offer as a catalyst to bolster the size of the band; stipends, more trips, etc.?

Sarah Zimmerman:

Athletics does a great job of supporting the Marching Jayhawks. They support us financially, and send us on trips. They also include us in the Adidas contract, providing us with the same things (clothing, etc.) they provide the athletes with. They even provide the drum majors with the cleats we wear during our pre-game show. I don't know that there is any one specific thing they could do further than what they do for us already. We appreciate all that they do do for us.


Do the marching Jayhawks invite other Big XII bands as guests at KU football games? I know when the Big XII was formed, the old SWC schools retained a "standing invitation" without charging each other for tickets. Do the old Big 8 schools have something like that, and if so will it be extended to the south schools? If it won't be extended, why not?


Sarah Zimmerman:

I'm not sure that we are responsible for inviting other Big XII bands, but we do work with the bands who want to travel to our stadium. As far as I know, the Big XII bands travel based on schedule and availability of time at half time, among other things, rather than by invitation. I do know that we've had visiting bands from the south perform at our stadium since I've been a member of the band. As far as having to pay for tickets, I have no idea.


Sarah, in your opinion what needs to change to make the band the best around?

Sarah Zimmerman:

I think we need to continue what we're doing. We put a strong focus on recruiting last spring, and we happily welcomed nearly 100 new members this fall. We strive to perform at the highest level, both musically and visually. We perform entertaining shows, and have fun supporting the football team. We will continue to recruit, and our numbers will grow. And as far as I am concerned, we are the best band around!


Can you explain the "hog calling" ritual that goes on before the game? I watch it with amusement and confusion.

Sarah Zimmerman:

It's a tradition. A crazy one. And we love it. "Hog Calling" is what the band does before every home game, after we've marched into Memorial Stadium. We all stand together and sing "When It's Hog Calling Time in Nebraska..." I don't remember off the top of my head how the tradition was started. The main point is that it pumps all of us up for an exciting football game, and gets us in the mood to perform pre-game and support the Hawks!


What kind of out-of-pocket expenses can a prospective Marching Jayhawk expect?

Sarah Zimmerman:

Not many. We pay a uniform fee at the beginning of the season, and part of it is refunded when we turn our clean uniforms in at the end of the season. Many members pay a fee for instrument insurance when they borrow their marching instrument from the university. New members have to buy marching shoes. There are other optional fees, including buying a band jacket, etc. As far as paying tuition, students can choose to enroll in the band for zero or one credits. (If they take it for no credit, there is no fee.)


I submitted this question this morning before I knew I'd be moderating...


Sarah: In the 21st century, why still have marching bands? Aren't they somewhat antiquated by now?

Sarah Zimmerman:

I don't think they are at all. Can you imagine going to a college football game and not hearing your Alma Mater's fight song after a touchdown? Sure, they could play a recording of it, but where do you think those recordings come from? I think that I can speak for all of the Marching Jayhawks when I say that we love what we do. Marching band is an activity that continues to grow and change as the years go by. I think the difference between our pre-game and half time shows is a testament to that. Pre-game is very traditional, "old school" if you will. We move a "KU" and a sunflower around the field while we play all of our school songs. At half time, we play contemporary music (not marches) and focus on more visually interesting drill. Outside of the area of college marching bands, there are also drum corps that spend all summer competing with difficult shows, all for a chance to make it into the DCI finals. As far as I can tell, marching bands are thriving--not at all antiquated.


And finally...



What kind of day is it?

Sarah Zimmerman:



Thanks to Sarah Zimmerman for joining us today.


Melissa Kounelaki 10 years, 8 months ago

I think the 'Hog Calling' tradition goes back to the early 70s, possibly started by John Clyatt. Granted, I heard this from his daughter, also a former Marching Jayhawk. Dunno how to confirm. Cool chat! Go band!

wildcat86 10 years, 8 months ago

KU's band is not the best band around. I'm sorry to say it but it isn't. If you had seen them at the KSU vs. KU game this year and then watched K-State's band after them, you would understand where I'm coming from. I was in Free State's band all three years of High School and watching KU's band at the KU marching festival was horrible. They were worse then some of the high school bands that were there. They were flat, out of step, and didn't seem like they were happy to be out on the field. When I got to K-State 3 years ago, the band was the one of the first things that caught my attention. The sound quality and marching is 10 times better then KU's and this is all from personal experience.

ace85 10 years, 8 months ago

Hey wildcat, I was at the KU-KSU game this year and i'm sorry to say you have no idea what you're talking about. The quality of sound produced by the Marching Jayhawks was far better than the loud blaring noise the K-State band is known for. Not to mention the sets they marched were far more difficult than your standard "park and play" technique that K-State always uses.

However, what confuses me the most is that you come to the LJ World website and start ripping on a rising band program that does nothing but benefit the University of Kansas. This interview was intended to let us hear from a member of the band and to better understand how they are progressing along this season. The Marching Jayhawks are a vital part of the history and tradition of KU and you posting negative comments because you're mad that K-State lost again is darn near pathetic.

On a side note, the current band is far better than it was 4-5 years ago. Their new band director is doing an excellent job helping the program gain members and improve in quality and will continue to do so in years to come.

StirrrThePot 10 years, 8 months ago

When I was in high school, I attended a KU football game and while the football team got trounced in their game, people stayed in the stands for the halftime show. It was 1989. The band had close to 300 people in it. People I know who watched the game from the Hill said you could hear the band from the Campanile, with no canned music to drown them out. It was 1989, and this particular KU Band would go on to win the Stutler Trophy, which is pretty much the equivalent of the national championship for college marching bands. The football team was lousy, but the band reigned supreme. Their sound was huge, they looked incredible, always in step with impressive precision...and I was sold. Three years later I became a Marching Jayhawk. It was once of the best times I ever had.

Obviously things are a little different now. Numbers are way down, they've experienced turnover in the department, and it seemed like just when they got someone in there to turn things around, he bolted. All things go in cycles though, and I believe things will change. Once upon a time Kansas State had a small band and unlike KU's position now, they had NO support. Once things tunred around for their football team, the same happened to the band and people started supporting them. KU has always had decent support from the AD and fans, so hopefully the winds of change will take hold very soon for them. I hope those kids keep the enthusiasm they seem to have, because it will help turn things around.

It is nice to see some of the traditions haven't truly is a great day to be a Jayhawk!! Go Band!

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