Some students like to spend their free time at the gym. Others prefer to take up a new hobby at the Cal Poly Craft Center or go on an adventure with Poly Escapes. Industrial engineering senior Karissa Finn prefers to march around a field with a clarinet and 200 of her closest friends.
Finn is president and clarinet section leader in Cal Poly’s Mustang Band — the marching and pep band ensemble that has been on campus for more than 70 years. Mustang Band rallies the crowd at football games, basketball games and women’s volleyball games.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Finn said. “Our job is to provide spirit on campus. Our primary goal is to make a beautiful sound.”
In the fall, the band performs a new halftime show at every home football game.
In order to do so, Finn said the band holds rehearsals twice a week, sections hold additional rehearsals and individuals practice outside of rehearsal. The band learns three new songs and up to 30 different formations during each performance.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” Finn said, “but football games are fun because of the field show.”
When football season ends and winter quarter begins, the band splits into three pep bands. Each band takes turns performing at basketball and volleyball games, Finn said.
With about 45 performances on average between fall and winter quarters, Mustang Band Director Christopher Woodruff said he is proud of the band’s ability to get so much work done and play a great show in a small rehearsal time.
“My favorite part is probably standing on the sideline and watching the result unfold of all the work that they put into the show,” Woodruff said. “To be able to watch that and hear them sound great and march with confidence and assuredness — that’s the reward right there.”
While only three band members are music majors, Woodruff said approximately 98 of the 200 band members are engineering majors. Many of the students chose to attend Cal Poly because of the Mustang Band, Woodruff said.
“For them, it’s a nice release,” Woodruff said. “They get to have fun and have a good time playing their instruments and doing something outside their academic discipline.”
For graduate student and co drum major Jeffrey Brown, band was part of the reason he decided to stay at Cal Poly for his master’s degree. Now in his fifth year as drum major, Brown teaches music and marching fundamentals, conducts music at games and performs with the band.
“The marching band always had a special place in my heart,” Brown said. “It’s much more social than the other orchestras. It has a lot more spirit to it — because that’s our job when we go to games. We get the spirit up, play loudly and get the team fired up, and distract the other team as much as we can.”
Finn said the social element of the band and common love for music makes it a great support system.
“I like to think of us as a family,” Finn said. “It’s wonderful. And yeah, there’s squabbles, but not really any major conflicts.”
“Any time you have a big groups, you’re going to have conflicts,” Brown said. “It’s just how well you can resolve those conflicts that shows how strong of a group you really are. And most certainly, we’re a family. We go through our differences together, we grow together and we’re always striving for the same ideal and the same directive, which is to make a beautiful sound.”
Above all, Brown said, the band’s main reason for performing is to support the basketball, volleyball and football teams.
“We do it for athletics more than anyone else,” Brown said. “We’ve been told by the teams that we have an impact on their games. We charge them up and give them all the spirit we can.”