With a high-arching pass to the end zone, the Wisconsin Badgers connect for another touchdown and instantly, two joyful sounds echo across campus.
The first is raucous applause as Badger fans at Camp Randall erupt, underscoring the second sound: a victorious chorus of “Hot Time,” shortly followed by a rousing “On, Wisconsin!” that rings out from the marching band for all to hear.
To many, the sounds of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band are synonymous with crisp fall days on campus spent watching football and enjoying brats. While the band spends much of its time rehearsing for performances on game days during the fall, its hard work does not end with the football season. Instead, they switch to performances which target a broader audience beyond Camp Randall.
To better understand what exactly the band does between football seasons, The Daily Cardinal spoke with Dr. Alexander Gonzalez, Assistant Director of the UW Marching Band. As Gonzalez put it, marching is only one small part of the many duties associated with the band.
“A marching band is a collection of wind, brass and percussion instruments, and they’re playing on the go,” Gonzalez said. “Marching bands really stem from a military tradition — what was a practical necessity for helping guide battles became something that was used for entertainment.”
Though collegiate marching bands generally approach football games in the same way, the same can not be said for other indoor sporting events.
“At UW-Madison, the Marching Band is the band that is associated with the football program,” Gonzalez added. “In terms of other bands, athletic bands or pep bands as we’d call them, that is [also] taken from the continued population of the marching band.”
In addition to football games, the UW Band performs at home games for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, men’s and women’s hockey teams and the volleyball team. These obligations keep band members busy as they travel across the United States to cheer on the Badgers in spring tournaments.
This practice is not as commonplace for other collegiate bands that often form “athletic bands” specifically intended for performances at athletic events outside of football, Gonzalez said.
“Sometimes [forming an athletic band] is dependent on the student population and the needs of the institution,” Gonzalez said.
For bands at other Big Ten institutions such as Ohio State, the school where Gonzalez received his doctorate, forming an athletic band helps to diversify instrumentation that is often restricted by tradition. At OSU, the marching band is strictly limited to 228 musicians playing brass and percussion instruments. In the spring, however, the school’s athletic band can expand to include woodwinds such as flute, saxophone and clarinet, and an increased membership from instruments already on the field.
Though the instrumentation of the Wisconsin Band is sufficient without a spring athletic band, Gonzalez said the university has a pool of excellent candidates in its University Band, a non-audition ensemble that rehearses concert repertoire on a weekly basis throughout the academic year.
“In University Band, [there are] almost 250 students, the majority of which are not tied to the athletic program,” Gonzalez said. “Those are prime candidates to potentially bolster the program, but the way we do things has worked really well and is born of tradition. The way we do things might never change.”
Outside of athletic performances, the band keeps busy with weekly rehearsals of music performed during football halftime shows. This music makes up the majority of the material presented at the band’s traveling concerts, known as “runouts,” which are sometimes imitated by other collegiate bands but never replicated.
“I’m sure there are other institutions that run a spring concert that is similar to ours, but if they do, it is because of the impact that Wisconsin has for kind of originating this idea,” Gonzalez said, explaining how Wisconsin has pioneered the traveling marching band concert. “The runout concerts are so, so unique to UW-Madison. Other institutions hang their laurels on their reputation alone, whereas we are really trying to reach a community and also potential students.”
Other Big Ten bands will traditionally hold miniature concerts on game days, similar to Wisconsin’s Badger Bash, but few travel as widely in the spring as the UW Band does. In a given spring, the Wisconsin Band will perform between four and six traveling concerts at venues across the state. These serve both as recruiting opportunities for new students and a chance to bring music to those who may be unable to visit the band on campus, Gonzalez said.
As Gonzalez said, the runout concerts are one of the most important aspects of what the band does in the spring.
“The audience reception is never dull,” he said. “I’ve never seen a runout concert where people stay seated the entire time. My favorite of them are the children’s concerts we do at the Overture Center. Dr. Corey Pompey [Director, UW Marching Band] will mention a song of ours by a pop artist on the radio, and you hear 12-year-olds screaming at the top of their lungs like we are the second coming of One Direction.”
Though exciting events for the community, the runouts are only a taste of the extended length Spring Concert, which takes place at the Kohl Center in late April. The event, which originated from former Director Michael Leckrone, takes a runout concert to the next level, introducing pyrotechnic elements, enhanced stage lighting and other components of heightened showmanship. In the past, Leckrone would even enter the concert via a flying vehicle. Also making an appearance at the performance are Bucky Badger and members of the UW Spirit Squad.
Last year’s concert was the band’s first with Director Pompey and saw many memorable moments including a tribute to the band’s former seniors who graduated during the pandemic and did not get the opportunity to perform their final spring concert. This year’s concert, taking place on both April 21 and 22, will be the band’s first consecutive concert since 2019 and the second of the Pompey era, after the 2020 and 2021 concerts were both canceled.
Tickets for the event are $25 for general admission and $15 for UW students and remain available on the UW Athletics website.