An inside look at Tiger Band – the Guardians of the Clemson Spirit
After four years as a Tiger Dancer, Clemson senior Caroline Anderson has the inside scoop on all things Tiger Band, including Clemson’s legendary Tiger Band Camp. We asked Caroline – a seasoned blogger – to share with us the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs of the band’s opening moves as they roar onto the field.
Caroline is majoring in elementary education and writes her own blog about college life. She is a native of Easley, S.C., and following graduation next May, plans to teach school in the Upstate.
By Caroline Anderson
“Where are you from, what is your major, and what is a fun fact about yourself?”
These are very common prompts heard on Clemson’s campus this time of year. Introductions in class, meetings in groups, and even saying hi to new students in Harcombe, this is the form our initial conversation always seems to take. However, this introduction always seems to be a lot more exciting when it is being shared on the 50-yard line of Death Valley. What makes it even more amazing is when 337 people have the same fun fact: “I am in Tiger Band.”
The old adage of “So this one time at band camp…” rings very true in the middle of August. For incoming freshman, Tiger Band Camp is a whole new undertaking that is both exhausting and exciting. For our returning members, the first day of Band Camp is a huge family reunion! Seeing the members of your section, the friends you have made along the way, and, of course, the hard working staff members who you know are bracing for the busiest two weeks of the entire school year.
The Brooks Center goes from being quiet and collected, to a lively, spirit-filled spot, with everyone wearing orange and carrying an instrument (in some shape or form…my pom poms count!) After a morning full of auditions, registration, and then a pizza dinner, it is time for the Clemson University Tiger Band to come together for the first time as a group.
The feeling in the band room on that first night of camp is unlike anything else. Buzzing with excitement, you can almost feel the eagerness. All the seats are taken, people line the walls, and of course the sousaphone players are sitting on top of their instrument cases in the back corner of the room. Conversations cease as Dr. Mark Spede takes his spot on the podium at the front of the room, at his music stand, almost as if he is about to conduct us. Not a word is spoken, and he simply turns around and writes a number on the board, just as he has done every year that I have been a part of this program. 337. The biggest the band has ever been. Overflowing with talent, diversity and passion, we are now a part of one of the largest volunteer marching bands in the country, and we are excited about it!
The evening continues with speeches from the most important people we will work with during the semester. Dr. Mark Spede, Mr. Tim Hurlburt, Dean Richard Goodstein and more. It goes by in a blur of facts, information and that classic Clemson spirit. Before we know it, the new members leave for their first meeting, and the old members hurry to set up one of my favorite Tiger Band traditions.
The new members are welcomed the best way we know how: rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the hill while we play, drum, dance and twirl to Tiger Rag. Then you sit with your section in the middle of that amazing stadium and take the time to really meet the people with whom you will be spending the next two weeks, semester and maybe even longer.
The first day of band camp is filled with excitement. You wake up refreshed and ready to work! For many of the new members, this is the first opportunity to be on our band field here at Clemson. Finding your section, stretching and then hearing the words, “ Basics Block…” come across the loud speakers are the initial steps that the band members will follow for over a week. Since Tiger Band is such a wonderfully diverse group, there are combinations of all kinds of marching styles. Basics block is the opportunity for our directors to teach us to march as uniformly as possible. As someone who had never been in marching band prior to Tiger Band, the phrases, “Flank, 8 to 5, and slide” were all completely foreign! The morning practice is marked a success when the band can successfully move all over the band field in unison to Meagan Trainor’s, “All About That Bass” being played over the loud speakers! Afternoon practice is in the Brooks Center in our sectionals. Mellophones, trumpets, dancers, guard members and many more all break off into groups to work on the piles of music and choreography that have to be mastered in the next two weeks.
The evening practice then brings one of the most exciting moments of the week. Dr. Spede climbs up onto his ladder on the 50 yard line as the band gathers around him in their concert set. He brings his arms up to conduct and everyone ends up with goosebumps as the band produces their first sounds together on the band field. We then work through drum major auditions! Our drum majors are student directors who are selected by the band. They conduct for us, help us set our drill and are a huge help with everything related to Tiger Band! The final night closes as each practice does, meeting on the paw in the middle of the field and proudly doing the cadence count!
Our next day of practice begins with the same enthusiasm and sorer muscles. This day brings a Tiger Band tradition – “Pre Game.” The band plays an integral part in the 25 most exciting seconds in college football! Running out of the tunnels in the West End Zone to line the field in Death Valley and play the Tigers down the hill is unlike any other experience. Therefore, learning how to do this is a hugely important part of band camp. This year, Tiger Band is debuting a brand new Pre Game entrance into Death Valley, so our entire day is devoted to learning the counts and sets for this impressive display! Three practices and around 10 hours later, it is on the field and our hard work is evident.
The third day of camp brings a noticeable shift. We are tired, with sore muscles and piles of music notes, drill sheets and choreography drifting around in our brains. This is made worse by the heat. Summer in South Carolina is unlike any other, so our push to stay hydrated still stays strong on this third day. With water breaks on the hour, the band members are focused on staying healthy and learning as much as they can in the short time before our first performance. Dr. Spede always says that health comes first, school comes second, and band is third, but we all know, band is a priority with this group! By the third day, the music is already becoming ingrained in your brain, and you have heard Tiger Rag easily one thousand times. Practice is hot, patience is short, but as the Guardians of the Clemson Spirit, this is what we do. We run it all again, we set drill, we mark time, and of course, we do it all while wearing orange! As practice ends for the third day, looming on the horizon is our first performance as a group at the President’s Picnic.
“Every single student who marches on the field is there because they love what they do and they love Clemson.”
Today is the day when all of our hard work is shared with campus! Since most students just moved in the day before the picnic, rarely do they realize that we have been hard at work all week! After a quick morning practice, the band breaks for lunch and heads off to get ready. As a dancer, my prep process is a little more strenuous than other sections: curling hair, layering on makeup, stretching, and tracking down those pom poms. We reconvene at the Brooks Center and then march across campus together for our first performance at the President’s home. Starting my freshman year, this has always been one of my favorite performances. The new students are excited to be on campus, and the band members are ready to show off all that they have learned. We line up on President Clements’ driveway, with the hundreds of faces in the crowd pausing to look and wonder what is going to happen next.
From that first high kick, the energy is through the roof. No matter how hot, sweaty, tired and sore you are, there is something about those first few notes of Tiger Rag that simply stir your heart and gets that adrenaline pumping! Everything you have gone through all week is pushed aside for enthusiasm, excitement, and a love of Clemson. Kicks are higher, notes are louder, and smiles are bigger, because this is what Tiger Band is here for! As the crowd of nervous freshman joins in for the cadence count with eager grins on their faces, you are reminded of what all of your hard work has been for –to guard the Clemson spirit, to represent our school and to share that passion with anyone who is willing to listen!
There is a renewed sense of purpose on our next day of camp. Campus is thriving with all of the new students. Freshman are adjusting to their new home, upperclassmen are preparing for what they know is soon to come and the whole school now knows who Tiger Band is! The performance the day before brings with it a new level of enthusiasm, and a refreshed perspective on why what we do is so important to Clemson’s many traditions. This year, Tiger Band did have record amounts of rain to work with, as we got rained out three days in a row! Much of our time had to be spent indoors, working in our sectionals. Tiger Band has a few surprises up their sleeves this year, so this was perfect time to perfect some of our “moves” while Mother Nature smothered our outdoor practice field. Dealing with the weather, stress, and exhaustion is all worth it as we gather in the band room to talk about our progress, make new friends and grow in the community that is Tiger Band.
Days 6,7 and 8
The first days of class bring Tiger Band members to the full height of busyness. It is also when those fun facts get to come into play! Sitting in class, introducing yourself with name, major, hometown, and the fact that you are in Tiger Band always elicits an excited response from teachers and students alike. That classic “band nerd” trope is one that is discarded on Clemson’s campus! The University knows what we do, and it is this sense of purpose, as the Guardians of the Clemson spirit, that make it all worthwhile.
Band camp continues as usual with the second day of classes being our first break from practice in over a week. Evenings don’t feel normal unless you are under the lights on the practice field with the sounds of Tiger Rag wafting around you, but it comes as a welcome break to rest, stretch sore muscles, and get started on that homework. Not to worry though, we pick right back up where we left off on Friday at rehearsal!
Days 9 and 10
The final weekend of our traditional band camp is when it all comes together. Drill has been memorized, music has been practiced, choreography has been mastered and now it is time to put it all out there on the field. The sound of “Pre-Game, off the field” is one we originally dreaded, but now it is simply a part of what we do. Every yard line, every count and every left-footed step-off feels natural and the feeling of successfully running a piece of our drill is unlike any other. Halftime has come together beautifully (Tiger Band has some fantastic shows this year!) and the first full run is so exciting. Seeing two weeks worth of work unfold beautifully makes all of that work worthwhile! We finish these final evenings of camp gathered on the Tiger Paw in the center of the band field, arm in arm, swaying as we proudly sing the alma mater.
As a senior, this is an exciting time that I will never forget. This place, this group of talented students, the time, the sweat and the passion are unlike any other activity. Tiger Band is all volunteer based. Every single student who marches on the field is there because they love what they do and they love Clemson. We have managed to come together like a smoothly oiled machine, sliding across the field making beautiful music, stirring hearts and igniting the crowd, and it is remarkable to me. We did it. We made it. And now we are ready for Game Day in Death Valley.