They’re out there, on the field, six hours before kickoff to rehearse. Later comes inspection to make sure they look sharp. Then they’re on the march—to Cougar Prowl to welcome the players, around the RV lot off Stadium Way to play for die-hard fans, onto Rogers Field for a performance at Cougville to play for more die-hard fans, and, finally, back to the field itself for the pregame and halftime show, and everything in between and after.

Home game days make for long days for members of the Cougar Marching Band, who balance rehearsal with classes, homework, work, socializing, and other activities. Here, some of them speak out about their dedication, role, favorite music from recent shows, and more.

Commitment

“We have a high standard of achievement. Our worst rehearsal is our best performance. You need to focus day in and day out and work through your share of the band’s performance in order for the band to perform well. It can be pretty intense,” Samuel Case Taylor explains, a senior from Lacey who’s studying multimedia journalism and has played trumpet in the CMB all four years at WSU.

“It truly teaches you time management,” says drum major Skylar McDavid, a junior and trombone player from Bothell.

Pride and positivity

“It’s an amazing feeling having the crowd cheering for us,” says sophomore mellophone player Natalie Crosby of Vancouver. “It’s so cool the way everyone is hyped and everyone is cheering. It’s so much fun. It’s very exhilarating.”

“I really appreciate the sense of community and support from the school and students,” says Devi Johnson, a third-year CMB tenor sax player and English education major from Port Orchard. “Whenever the crowd cheers at us or yells ‘Go Cougs!’ it’s just a nice feeling.”

“I’ve always felt proud of it,” says drum major Ashley Swanson, a four-year CMB member from Olympia who plays trumpet, studies music education, and aims to be a high school music teacher and band director. “When you’re in uniform and you’re marching around campus, you carry a sense of pride. Having the support of the community helps.”

“I think it’s a whole sense of pride that is delivered,” Taylor says. “When you just kind of pause and look around and feel everyone clapping along, you feel the positive energy.”

Coaches and athletes

“The coaches, they really value the band’s role as part of the home atmosphere,” Taylor says. “Win or lose, the band is there playing the Fight Song. We play it after losses. We play it after wins. We play it at the beginning. We play it at the end. We play it in the middle. It’s a special thing to know you’re adding to their experience and their hype level. You’re there with them, cheering for them. When you’re away at the Apple Cup, you’re able to bring a slice of WSU to Seattle.”

Camaraderie

“I think it provides a home, a social home, for students,” Taylor says. “You get here a week early for band camp, and band camp is just awesome. By the first day of classes, you know so many people. You already have a lunch routine in place.”

“The camaraderie is unmatched,” says Anna Somerville (’20 Music, ’21 MIT), a piccolo player and graduate student from Port Orchard who works for the CMB five hours per week and volunteers at games. “I have met lifetime friends in the band. Being able to make music together is such a special thing.”

“We’re like a family,” Johnson says.

Favorite music or show the CMB has performed in the last year or two

“We performed a Shrek show. That was really fun,” Taylor says.

“I really enjoyed the Star Trek show. I’m a big Star Trek fan,” McDavid says. “The Shrek show had the most formations. You want to relate to the crowd. That’s what we plan for.”

“The Shrek show had people singing along,” Swanson notes.

“We played ‘The Pretender’ by the Foo Fighters last year, and I really like that one,” Johnson says. “My favorite show we did this year was the Shrek show. That was really fun. We did a lot of pictures for that one. I also really love Jaws just because it’s tradition and all the fans know it so everybody kind of claps along and dances.”

Changes

“Dr. [Jon] Sweet’s approach is all about human connections. He’s changed the mindset. He said, ‘OK guys, we’re going to be more positive.’ Our student leadership has been very receptive to him,” says drum major Walter Pittson, a music education graduate student from Arlington.

“We have changed the way we rehearse. It’s more efficient. We do things by yards now. It helps us measure,” McDavid says.

“I think the energy is one of the biggest changes,” Swanson says. “There’s a lot of excitement. Dr. Sweet brought a fresh start. We’re doing more animations. There’s more storytelling in our performances. When we’re playing a Metallica song, we’re spelling out Metallica. It’s a different connection. It’s a different approach.”

Sweet’s bow ties

“Dr. Sweet has impeccable taste,” Pittson says.

The role of CMB

“We’re the most accessible face of WSU,” Crosby says. “We’re the face of WSU as a university.”

Student leadership and legacy

“It means a lot to be able to lead the band out onto the field, build connections with the other future leaders of the band, and help them become the best performers they can be,” McDavid says.

Uniforms

“There’s some dirt around the collar that you can’t really get out,” Taylor says. “If we grow at the rate Dr. Sweet wants us to grow—which I hope the band does—then the band will not have enough uniforms for everybody. Alterations had to be made to be able to put everybody in uniforms this year. You needed to get creative, and that held people back. We need new uniforms so everybody can have a uniform and a crisp look that Cougs can be proud of.”

“The uniforms are not conducive to extreme heat and extreme cold,” Somerville says. “The uniforms we’re hoping to get are more adaptive to extreme weather.”

“They’re really bad,” Swanson says. “They’re pinned together. We ran out of sizes very quickly. It’s hard to make them larger. We had to buy extra fabric for some of them and just sort of pin them together.”

The cold

“It was freshman year. It was the last game of the season, and it was cold as all get-out. The band was wearing its rain jackets. I was wearing battery-powered socks,” McDavid says.

“I’m wearing three pairs of socks right now,” Johnson says just before halftime during the last home game of the 2023 season.

Hand signs

“Each song has a hand symbol,” Taylor explains. “When you’re in a crowded stadium, it can be hard to hear. Hand signals are super helpful. In the spur of the moment, we know what to play.”

Game-day tradition

“After game-day practice we have this tradition,” Taylor says. “We gather at the Cougar head in the middle of the field and sing the Alma Mater. That’s meaningful. That adds a special thing.”

Hopes for fans

“That they watch at halftime. And that they go out and find the halftime show on YouTube and watch it and share it,” Somerville says. “That’s very much appreciated.”

 

More about the Cougar Marching Band

The band plays on (Spring 2024)

Video: Catch the Cougar Marching Band spirit (A football gameday in the life of the band)

Cougar Marching Band memories from band alumni

Meet Jon Sweet: The new director of Cougar Marching Band hopes to grow the program and enhance the student experience

Cougar Marching Band

Give to Cougar Marching Band Uniform Campaign for 2023-2024