LSU Band Directors explain what it takes to run the show
Believe it or not, as someone raised in Southern Louisiana, the first time I attended an LSU football game was as a freshman in college. I stood outside the gates of Death Valley and waited with my friends for the Golden Band to march over Victory Hill. It was hot, the crowd was filled with anticipation, and then came the sound of the drum line. With such force and rhythm, their cadence played as, row by row, the Golden Girls, Colorguard, and band appeared. Everyone cheered and when the band stopped, a roar from the crowd echoed down North Stadium Drive. I grew up loving college football, but until the first four notes of “Pregame Salute” were played, I never really felt the spirit of being an LSU Tiger.
For Tiger Band directors Dennis Llinas and Kelvin Jones, their stories of marching down Victory Hill mirror the same wonder and excitement, and if you ask other fans they will tell you the same. There is something about the Golden Band that elevates LSU Football, but what many people don’t know is how much preparation goes into perfecting the Tiger Band sound.
The process begins in February when the directors, with the help of student leaders, start to think about halftime for next season. Jones said this process takes several weeks of getting together to pitch ideas and explained what goes into narrowing them down.
“If we are doing five or six shows, which shows are we going to aim for? If we do these shows what can we do–visually, musically, what tunes–to kind of really get a refined idea.” He said the goal is to try and come up with a theme that ties in songs that will transcend across the generations of fans.
“We try to get into an idea of a show concept rather than just one particular artist,” said Jones.
After those decisions are made, they are announced in April to build some excitement before summer starts for returning students. Those seasoned band members will come back for band camp in August, and for new or transferring students, their auditions begin in the summer. Llinas has a screening process to predict who will be attending band camp, where they hold official auditions and make the final selections. This year there were about 450 students auditioning.
Knowing these numbers in advance help Llinas and Jones throughout the summer when they spend most of their time composing material for the fall, as well as creating drills which is how the band will march and take shape, out on the field, during halftime. However, the number of musicians auditioning is far higher than the 325 students it takes to be in the final line up, so the work is predicting how they will find the perfect sound.
“What the distribution is, how many trumpets or how many piccolos, that all depends on what is a balanced sound based on talent level. So if it ends up being that we don’t have enough talented people to be a great 325, we trim it down even smaller,” said Llinas.
When the summer comes to an end, and before their band camp begins, the student captains and section leaders that were selected go through a training program where they learn how to teach and what it means to be a good leader. Llinas says that this is what makes Tiger Band so special because the student leadership really drives the success of the program.
“Our worth is a little bit, but the band is as good as it is because of the members,” he said.
Everyone finally comes together during their band camp in August, where practice begins and the final lineup for the band is chosen. This happened on August 15th, which gave the band only two and a half weeks to prepare for LSU’s first game against Miami. In that time, they worked on every little detail, from their first halftime show, to refining pregame, and figuring out how to get into the stands by learning where to turn and marking the bleachers.
This year the band has been working on several show-stopping halftime performances, that will get the crowd just as pumped as the players do. Llinas says deciding on a focus for the show is typically easy.
“We like to make some kind of character a central person that everyone can identify with, and Mike the Tiger is perfect. He’s our mascot, everyone knows him, everyone loves him, and as long as he does something good people are going to cheer. So we try to come up with a story line around him,” said Llinas.
Last year Mike was a boxer so the crowd got to see him go through training, he goes through a match, then wins and it’s a big Geaux Tigers from the crowd. This year, the band’s first performance will be a showdown in the west where Mike will be fighting a villain through a high speed horse chase, with many more surprises and songs you’re sure to recognize.
All the effort, time and sweat that goes into selecting the members of the band, choosing, practicing and performing songs during the games shows the love and dedication, not only the directors have for our Golden Band from Tiger Land, but the students as well and it’s all for the fans. This year the band and football team are celebrating 125 years and there is so much fun they have in store for us.
Photos by Sean Gasser