by Doug Ireland
The SON was shining recently on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
When the Northwestern State football team played in front of 100,334 fans at LSU on Sept. 14, the first half featured surprising success by the visitors, who were just a dropped pass in the end zone in the final minute away from a 24-21 halftime deficit.
That left Demons fans buzzing, and Tigers fans a bit unsettled. But in the next 12 minutes, they unified as one to savor a spectacular halftime show.
Of course, LSU fans were enchanted by the Golden Band from Tigerland. Many, however, were shocked when the Spirit of Northwestern took the field with an even BIGGER band – Louisiana’s largest at 342 members – and put on an equally fabulous performance.
The showcase concluded with LSU’s band returning to the north side of the field, and the SON skipping its traditional Demon spellout to pack the south end, with the mass of musicians blanketing the grass and delighting the fans with a stirring rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Few, if any, visiting bands have ever come into Tiger Stadium and made such an impression. In fact, it was announced as the first time the LSU band had ever shared the field with another school’s squad, a sign of mutual respect and state pride.
Four dozen of the SON are products of Central Louisiana, led by one of the three drum majors, Michael King of Buckeye. They are the student leaders of the ensemble, which puts in plenty of work to prepare for its six performances at halftime of NSU games.
The band begins practice 10 days before classes start on campus. Without academic responsibilities, those rehearsals stretch from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
When professors go to work, the practice routine reduces to six hours weekly (10 hours for the color guard and drum line).
This year’s first show, which debuted in Turpin Stadium Sept. 7, and then was performed a week later in a slightly truncated fashion at Tiger Stadium, was originally conceived last fall, said director of bands Jeffrey Matthews. Generally, design concepts for the next season begin soon after football finishes, and are usually done in March with drill design and music arranging being completed during the summer by professor of music theory, Dr. Adam Hudlow.
Band directors put in about 100 hours of prep before the first band rehearsal, said Matthews. Then about three weeks of work with the SON gets the first show shaped up for the fans to enjoy.
Anyone who has seen the SON perform in the last four decades understands what the band and its leaders consider hallmarks of NSU’s marching musicians.
“BIG SOUND!!!,” noted Matthews. “Our number one priority is making sure we sound great and that people are impressed with both the quality and quantity of that sound.”
While there are YouTube links to the LSU show and many more SON performances, nothing compares to being on hand to experience it. This fall, NSU has four more home games including pregame and halftime shows, and constant music during the game from the stands: Sept. 28 (vs. Southeastern La.), Oct. 19 (homecoming vs. Central Arkansas), Nov. 9 (vs. Lamar) and Nov. 21 (vs. Stephen F. Austin).
The SON’s public address script for each halftime proudly introduces “the best sounding band in all the land.” As the Depression Era baseball great Dizzy Dean famously said, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”