Capturing the “Spirit of the Tiger”
In the woods adjacent to Tiger Band Plaza, you will notice a grand new structure: the statue of a tiger, made up of several pieces of steel, coming together to form the Spirit of the Tiger.
If you take the Spirit Walk pathway down to the practice field, words engraved in stone meet you at five-yard intervals: “In Tradition & Excellence. In Spirit & Pride. Guardians of the Clemson Spirit. We are Tiger Band.” Inspiring words for the devoted members of Tiger Band.
And as you reach the field itself, you will see long morning shadows cast by the trellis above the student seating area form a beautiful fan pattern on the brick beneath. With green grass in front and blue sky above, the air hums with the feeling of possibility.
All these elements combine to create a wonderful environment for the “Band That Shakes The Southland.” Through the hard work of many, both the practice field and statue have become part of the fabric of the band.
“When the creative process begins, you start out with an idea,” Dr. Mark Spede, Director of Bands and of Tiger Band, said. “A lot of times, when you get a lot of creative people in the same room at the same time, that original idea blossoms into something new and better and more exciting. It’s really a tribute to the artists who designed this space that it morphed into what it is.”
Those artists are T.J. Dixon and Jim Nelson. Since 1991, they have worked with Gerald Vander Mey and Barry Anderson of the Campus Planning Office to integrate landscape design and artwork around campus. “We started working for Clemson about 25 years ago. Our first project was in front of Mell Hall,” Dixon said. “That went so well that they had us back […] to do the military heritage plaza. Probably the last big project was Memorial Park with the Scroll of Honor.”
When this opportunity arose, the pair were again tapped for another piece. Their task this time was to create a practice area for Tiger Band.
“[W]e designed this beautiful pathway and the history wall. We also wanted to do something that would provide shade. But we wanted to have a place where they could really be all afternoon and feel comfortable.”
Tiger Band Plaza, which was dedicated in 2014 and named for former Tiger Band directors John H. Butler and Bruce F. Cook, is a beautiful space. In addition to sporting a full-sized practice field and director’s tower, it features a brick resting space where members can prep their instruments and take a break. It is covered by a trellis that will eventually be covered with shade-giving ivy. The aforementioned pathway to the Brooks Center is adorned with inspirational phrases, while, on a separate pathway to the side, is the History Wall.
The newest addition to the space is the eight-piece Spirit of the Tiger sculpture, which was installed in Spring of 2017. The idea to include a tiger came on a whim, and the innovative design was inspired by the marching band itself. “At one point, we had a little overlook over the field, and we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll do something in the paving,’” Dixon said. “And then I thought, ‘Oh, boring! No one looks at the paving!’ We kept thinking, and Jimmy [Jim Nelson] just jokingly says, ‘Well, where’s the tiger?’ And I said, “Yeah, the tiger. But we don’t want to do just the tiger.’ And then we came up with the concept of parts of the tiger all coming together, just like the marching band on the field… to make the Tiger Spirit, as you call it.”
Viewed from the stone bench of Spirit Point, the eight steel pieces of the sculpture merge into the image of a prowling tiger.
Hidden in the design is a saxophone. That is because this project would not have been possible without the family of Clyde McRay “Chip” Rauch, Jr. Chip was a 1991 Clemson alumnus and saxophonist in Tiger Band who passed away a few years after graduation. His family wanted to create a memorial and were drawn to this idea.
His brother, Christopher Rauch, spoke of Chip’s love of Clemson, and how the project felt like the right fit for such a memorial. “We all loved it,” he said. “We liked the way they put in the saxophone into the actual structure itself. It just meant a lot to my family to have it named in memory of my brother. We were proud to be part of this project and we’re really excited with how it turned out.”
Chip’s mother, Libby Rauch, was also enthusiastic. “We’ve been working on this project for two to three years now,” she said. “It’s an incredible feeling… I feel that my son has come home to Clemson, and he loved Clemson more than any place on earth. So, I truly feel in my heart that he is happy and home. He would be thrilled with seeing this.”
Spirit of the Tiger is the crown jewel of an elegant space, and Dr. Spede is both appreciative for the support the band receives and optimistic for things to come. “We’re very grateful to all the donors who have contributed to this area, and it just shows the love that people have for the band and especially the alumni, and the family of alumni who have come through here,” he said. “It’s been an important part of people’s lives for many generations, and it will continue to be so in the future. We’re just very fortunate that we’ve had such a great alumni base that has helped us out.”