Friday, August 18, 2017

The Central Marching Band

By Casey Gamble and Bryan Whitledge

In September 1923, the students of the Central Normal College were hustling around in a frenzied attempt to register for classes (Central Normal Life, 9/25/1923, p. 2). The only peace to be had on campus was coming from the newly-established marching band. Before ever taking the football field to entertain during a game, the band was given the duty of lightening the atmosphere and reminding students that their first days in Mount Pleasant were the start of an exciting chapter of their lives. It would be two months before the marching band would have their maroon and gold uniforms and would take the field supporting the effort of the players on the gridiron at an away game against Alma on November 24.

Central Marching Band, 1923

Since that time, the Marching Band has been a fixture of the fall. More than 50 years after their first appearance, the Marching Chips were there in 1974 as the football team took part in the biggest game in Central's history to that point, the Camellia Bowl, otherwise known as the Division II National Championship. Because the University was able to offer only $17,000 of the $200,000 needed to send the band to California, a little help was needed to send the band out west. Clarence Tuma led a community fundraising campaign that raised the additional money. Tuma also had a final surprise for the band.
"Before they left California [by plane, bound for Michigan], Clarence Tuma had loaded a full round of Coors Beer for the band members. As they flew over Denver, Colorado, Norm [Dietz] gave Clarence the baton, and on the downbeat, everyone opened a Coors.John W. Beery
Coming back to the present day, students new and old will be moving to Mount Pleasant in the coming days. They will be buying books, getting their residence halls and apartments in order, and catching up with friends after three months of summer vacation. All the while, just like 94 years ago, the CMU marching band will be heard in the background, lightening the atmosphere during an otherwise chaotic time.

CMU’s first football game, a clash with Rhode Island on Thursday, August 31, is just around the corner and the football team has been putting in hours of hard work on the practice field. But the football players aren’t the only ones honing their skills daily in preparation of the opening kickoff. During band week, which happens right before the start of classes, the Marching Chips are on the practice field all day, every day, whether in the blazing heat or the pouring rain. Throughout campus, the Marching Chips work on the songs and routines that will be on display for thousands of fans throughout the fall.

The cadence of the drums can be felt across the Warriner Mall, the trumpets blare the high notes that will be the highlight of their performances, and the members of the woodwinds work in numbers to create big volume that will support the whole band. All of these musicians put in hours of work to learn about eight songs for football halftime shows in addition to the dozens of pregame tunes, stand times, and of course, the CMU Fight Song.

The work doesn’t stop after band week. It should be remembered that the members of the Marching Chips are first and foremost students at CMU. Once classes start, many of the music majors will be taking ten or more classes along with their marching band duties, which includes practicing a few hours each afternoon, except for game days when some sections begin practice before 7:00 am. Graduate students and senior section leaders will help the mostly freshman marchers keep each foot together and each note in sync until the formations are performed to perfection.

And what does all of this hard work bring? Well just like in 1923, it brings cheer to the students of CMU when they need an upbeat song to get them through the day. Of course, it brings life to football games and the annual homecoming parade. It brings traditions that have been handed down through generations of Marching Chips. Finally, for the musicians who are a part of the Central Marching Band, they earn a wealth of experiences, they garner a sense of pride in persevering to accomplish something magnificent, and they make memories that will last a lifetime.

This blog post originally appeared in a different form August 26, 2014. It is one in a series of information detailing the history of Central Michigan University in celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the institution. Be sure to check out the official 125th Anniversary website – – and the Clarke’s upcoming exhibit, opening in September, for more great stories.