FHSU Marching Band – an integral part of FHSU Tiger gameday

BY JESSALYN KIRCHHOFF

The Fort Hays State University Marching Band is a staple for FHSU Football Game Days, but what does it take to prepare such a show? What obstacles do these mostly unrecognized, pivotal players face every time they perform? This is Behind the Scenes of Tiger Gamedays featuring the FHSU Marching Band. 

Director of Bands at FHSU, Peter Lillpopp said the band’s preseason preparations have been taking place. 

“We just finished our week-long preseason band camp where we rehearsed outdoors in the mornings and evenings,” Lillpop said. “During the afternoon we rehearsed the music indoors in sections and full band rehearsals.” 

Emma Poort, tenor drum section leader, adds to that with her own experience of preparing for the year. 

“Personally, I did not practice much before band camp, but as a drummer, I always find ways to practice,” Poort said. “It could be playing along to a song, stepping in time to something I’m listening to, or drumming on my steering wheel as I jam out in my car. During band camp is a different story.” 

Poort expands on that thought by describing a typical year in preseason band camp for the drumline section which meets 2-3 days before the band to memorize their own music prior to coming together the following week to learn even more new music.

“[At that time, we] practice a ton, play games, and meet all the newcomers,” she said. 

Lillpopp made sure to mention the extreme heat they have tried to avoid by marching in the mornings and playing indoor rehearsals during the afternoon. “

The heat in Western Kansas is intense and we take a lot of precautions to keep everyone safe,” he said. “The first are the uniforms. We unveiled our new uniforms last year. They are made of a lightweight breathable fabric that is much safer than the heavy wool uniforms they had previously.”

Poort is also very thankful for the new uniforms, especially during the late-summer heat.

“Marching without gear on is already brutal enough and marching with uniforms even more so,” she said. “ I am thankful that we have donors that are amazing and helped us purchase new uniforms last year. They are lighter and cooler compared to the old ones.”

Lillpopp noted the team’s hydration habits saying when the weather is hot, they take a lot of water breaks during rehearsals using a specially made water spigot so a dozen members can fill up their water bottles simultaneously. 

The band also met with FHSU EMS Staff early in the year to review proper hydration and nutrition requirements as well as helpful tips to prepare for staying safe in the heat. 

“Just like the Football Team, we need to prepare for our first game while keeping our players safe,” Lillpopp said.

Being hydrated is essential for the band, during practices and at games. As Lillpopp walks fans through what a typical gameday looks like, it is easy to see why. 

Every game day begins with a gameday rehearsal in the stadium, which serves as the band’s dress rehearsal and the only time the band can play in the stadium before games. Then, 90 minutes before game time the band assembles in uniform in front of Tomanek Hall for their warm-up before heading to the game. 

“We march through the student residences and into the tailgate area,” Lillpop said. “The drumline plays cadences all the way. We even have a cadence that the tubas play that is a favorite of the band. We play a few songs to get the tailgate crowd pumped up before heading into the stands.”

From there, everything is coordinated with the game clock counting down to game time which includes a specific time when the band starts their pregame show which consists of the FHSU Fight Song, Song for Fort Hays, Tiger Rag, and the National Anthem.

Once the game begins, the band plays short tunes and cadences in the stands to keep the crowd going and for every first down, they play a shortened version of the Tiger Rag that is coordinated with the announcer. Just before halftime, the band makes their way to the south endzone to get ready for our halftime show. After halftime, the band moves back into the stands. 

“At the end of the game, we go out to the center of the field and perform a post-game show followed by singing the Song for Fort Hays,” Lillpopp said. “The last thing we do is a long-standing band tradition called ‘Snake Pit’ that is just for the band members to have some fun and celebrate all of their hard work.”

What a day!

As for the music, Lillpopp hints at a few new changes. 

“We have redesigned the drill for the Tiger Rag that we play during Pregame. Every year our halftime show music is new and we have a lot of great selections, both new and old,” he siad. “For this year’s show, our primary goal is to entertain the fans at gameday, so we try to feature a new song each game so that everyone has something to look forward to and enjoy.”

Meanwhile, Poort goes so far as to name-drop her new favorite addition. 

“I am really excited to play ‘Good 4 you’ by Olivia Rodrigo. The Drumline has a sick drum break and I am excited to finally be able to play it, plus the song itself is just a banger,” she said. 

Lillpopp said the band appreciates the recognition they get from all of their fans.  

“It means a lot when the coaches, the players, [President Mason], or community members like Don Bickle stop by and say hello,” Lillpopp said. “We love sitting next to the student section at the games because we feel like we are an extension of the game. When we play In Heaven at the right time, you can feel the energy in the stadium go up.”

However, he sees room for improvement, noting the demanding schedule the band members go through saying he is always trying to find ways to recognize them. 

“Their stipend helps offset the time commitment it takes to be in the band, but many of the band members do not have time to work a regular job, so we are always trying to raise the stipends,” he said. “It is money well spent on a group of students who devote so much time doing something that represents the university in a very high profile way.”

As for a student’s point of view, Poort comments on how much she enjoys playing in the band, but sometimes doesn’t feel fully appreciated. 

“Being able to play at the FHSU football games is exhilarating, even when sweat is dripping down your face and back,” she said. “The band plays a big part in hyping people up and getting the crowds ready to cheer for the football team. It is something that few people understand.

“I do not feel like we get enough recognition sadly. I know people love the band and what it brings, but I feel like we could be recognized more. We need a new or renovated building, Malloy lacks classrooms, updated technology, and more. I feel like those updates would have already happened if we had more recognition.” 

There is an upcoming Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble that will hold their Fall concert on Wednesday, Nov. 16th in Beach-Schmidt Auditorium. More information about the FHSU Bands can be found here

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