In the spirit of the television show “Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown,” I will start a new series in which I document the various subcultures on Princeton’s campus. Today, I will feature the Princeton University Band.
I have already mentioned the Band in my previous posts. They’re hard to miss; their signature preppy orange sport coats enliven any University event. The Band is also known for playing at the most random times. For example, I heard them play a few tunes in the Whitman College dining hall one evening while I was at a Speak with Style meeting. Another example is when they march into the University’s libraries during reading period, much to the chagrin of the most studious students. I also noted that they strip down to their underwear and play in the Woodrow Wilson fountain following a football victory at a home game.
A girl in my zee group is in the Band. She has been trying to bring everyone in our group to a practice for the past month. On Tuesday, I caved in to her demands and went to one of their weekly practices.
The Princeton University Band is all-inclusive; they will take anyone at any time regardless of their musical talent. Don’t know how to play an instrument? They’ll put you behind a drum that you can barely handle. World class musician? Join the trombone section! Never marched before? Come to a football game as your first practice! Seriously, they don’t care who you are or what you know, they will take anyone as long as you are willing to learn and be a part of the band.
I arrived at Woolworth Hall around 7:00 pm. A van with tiger stripes was parked behind it. People scurried around as their instruments were offloaded. Within a minute of arriving, four people had already introduced themselves to me. Everyone was friendly and seemed eager to attract new members. The Band even provides instruments for students to use. I was given a tenor saxophone to borrow for the night.
For those who do not know me, I played in my school’s band for eight years as a saxophonist. I enjoyed it but never truly drove myself to unlock my full potential as I had with other activities. It is rather odd how I used to play the saxophone every day for many years in school and then had not touched one in the six months since graduation.
While it took a few minutes for me to remember some of the finer details about playing, I quickly fell back into my old habits. As I walked into the practice room, several more people said hello to me. The band room looked like a smaller version of my high school’s music room. There were about twenty people scattered around a semicircle that faced the conductor.
“Yooooo band!” shouted the conductor. “Yooooo Kyle” they replied in response. This was their special call for gathering everyone’s attention.
The group began with the usual set of scales that one would expect before proceeding to the songs. My highlights included playing: Forward March (a Princeton fight song), the “dah-dah-dah” in Sweet Caroline, and Any Way You Want It. Although I had not played a saxophone in six months, the music was not very difficult. I quickly caught the gist of it. By the end of the second song, the conductor, a fellow student, walked over and talked to me. These band members were friendly!
A few observations about the band itself:
- My high school band director would probably say that it sounded like the Mummers.
- The trombone section was very loud. They could turn a call and response section into just a response.
- There were a lot of inside band jokes and lingo. What is a tubonerphone? Or a saxinet?
- The musicians were a hodgepodge of students. Some were amazingly talented instrumentalists. Others were only continuing their music journey from high school for the fun of it, like me.
- Everyone was really dedicated to and loved band.
After two hours of practicing, they read the schedule for the rest of the week. Then, they passed out the band newsletter, The Weekly Poop. I met a few more people and then returned the saxophone. The band’s president, along with a few members, was encouraging me to join them in other practices or games. I laughed and said, “I’ll think about it” before disappearing into the mask of night.
I’ve thought about it during the past few days. While I do not have enough time to join as a full-fledged regularly occurring member, I would not mind coming to practice on my free nights. I will definitely have to wear the orange jacket and join them in a game.
To sum it up, think of band in this manner: imagine a small coal mining town in West Virginia that is content with their unique way of life. Over time, their geographic isolation causes a new culture and vernacular to form. When an outsider travels through, the town is eager to see someone different, so they try to draw him in. At first, this place seems strange to the traveler, but he becomes accustomed to and enjoys them. This is band.
Stay tuned for more…