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University of Wisconsin Marching Band


University of Wisconsin Marching Band

The University of Wisconsin Marching Band
School University of Wisconsin–Madison
Location Madison, Wisconsin
Conference Big Ten
Founded 1885
Director Michael Leckrone
Assistant Director Darin Olson
Members 315
Fight song "On, Wisconsin!"
Uniform White hat with red/white plume, red jacket with red/white overlay with W logos, black pants, black shoes with white spats.

The University of Wisconsin Marching Band is the marching band for the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was formed with 11 members in the fall of 1885 to support the military battalion. Today, it has grown to about 300 members and performs at all Badger home football games.


  • History 1
  • Auditions and membership 2
  • Instrumentation 3
  • Traditions 4
    • The 5th Quarter 4.1
    • Band banquet 4.2
    • On Wisconsin Finale 4.3
    • Reversing the Caps 4.4
    • Skyrockets 4.5
    • Tuba March 4.6
    • Union South 4.7
  • Controversy 5
  • Other performances 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes and references 8
  • External links 9


Band on Langdon Street in front of the Armory, circa 1910
Performing in Los Angeles, CA in 1962 during a trip to Pasadena, CA for the 1963 Rose Bowl
First Female Drum Major, Dee Willems, in 1989.
Performing at Camp Randall Stadium for a football game

The University of Wisconsin Marching Band was created in 1885 as the Wisconsin Regimental Band. Previously, the University Military Battalion marched to only a drum and the Battalion commandant, Major Chase, stressed in 1883 that there was a "need for a fife and drum corps to play for the Battalion drills." The first band consisted of 11 members, with two or three more joining before the year ended. It was not until 1894 that the 26 members of the University Band began playing at football games.

In September 1928, it was announced that all football engagements would be handled by 100 men, to relieve the strain from concert performers. This was the beginning of the current Band Department. Under Edson W. Morphy, the "Second Band" became more active with Athletic Department events. In 1934, the band gained a new director, Raymond F. Dvorak, who continued to revolutionize the band in many ways including introducing the now famous "arm-swinging" during the singing of Varsity, the school's alma mater.

Late in the summer of 1969, the band gained a new director, Mike Leckrone. The military aspects of a marching band were not popular with students of the time and enrollment was suffering. Leckrone introduced physical conditioning by requiring that every member attend Registration Week (Reg-Week) fundamental drills as well as by pioneering a more physically demanding marching step ("stop at the top") and a new pre-game entrance (the "Run-On"). He ordered every performance to be filmed, and scheduled viewing sessions in which he pointed out any inconsistencies or errors, which lead to the publishing of the "Dummy List", or a list of every performer's errors. These traditions are still maintained.

Auditions and membership

At the end of August returning and prospective band members attend "Welcome" or "Registration Week" (Reg-Week), commonly known to students as 'Hell-Week'. Reg-Week teaches prospective members the fundamentals of the signature "stop-at-the-top" prancing marching style and serves as a period of physical conditioning. Over the course of the week, the band marches for 2–3 hours each morning, has a short break for lunch, and then marches for another 3–4 hours in the afternoon. At night there is often a 2-3 hour music-only rehearsal. A highlight of Reg-Week is the countdowns, which are similar to "suicides" in basketball or "lines" in volleyball, where members march out and back five yards at a time. Countdowns during Reg-Week are typically 50 yards.

Every potential member also must perform a short music-only audition for the director, Mike Leckrone, who has been director for over 45 years. Membership is also not guaranteed for returning members in order to ensure that everyone works to the best of their ability.


The University of Wisconsin Marching Band is composed of about 300 members and divided into 28 ranks. On average, there are about 224 marchers on the field, not including the drum major. The band keeps the rest of the students as alternates, mostly freshmen, on the side lines to potentially replace injured members. These ranks number from 1 to 25 and letters A through C. There are also "X" spots designated X-1 through X-18, which fill gaps in formations. The drum major is considered the primary student leader within the band. Each year, the director and field assistants select one drum major and one assistant drum major. All band members are issued silver instruments (with the exception of the school-issued clarinets that have been spray-painted white). The Wisconsin marching band consists of mainly brass instruments with percussion, saxophones, and some clarinets. This band does not include a Color Guard or a Piccolo/Flute Section typical of many traditional bands and Big Ten marching bands. Following is a list of instruments, the ranks they occupy, and the number of members for the 2011-2012 school year.


The 5th Quarter

The University of Wisconsin Marching Band's Fifth Quarter is one of its traditions. The band marches onto the field from the nearest end zone, then halts, and facing the winning team's stands, plays that team's school song. They then turn, face the other side, and play that team's school song.

Thousands of spectators remain in the stands for fifteen minutes after the game for the Fifth Quarter performance. Usually played during the Fifth Quarter are songs such as "On Wisconsin", "You've Said It All", "Space Badgers", "Dance Little Bird" (The Chicken Dance), "Beer Barrel Polka", "Tequila", "Hey Baby", and others. The band first played "You've Said It All", also known as the "Bud" song, at hockey games during the 1972 season. The song, by New York composer Steve Karmen, had become a Budweiser advertising jingle in 1970 and is the basis for the beer brand's more recent commercial song, "Here Comes the King." It became popular among Wisconsin fans when the band traveled to Boston for the 1973 NCAA men's hockey championship, where the song was played at games, on the street, and in hotel lobbies. When performed by the Wisconsin band, the advertising line at the end of the original beer ad is replaced by the line "When You Say WIS-CON-SIN, You've Said It All!"[1]

At the end of the Fifth Quarter, the band lines up once more to play "Varsity", while the spectators sing. The band then exits the field to the north entrance to perform more and to sing "It's Hard to Be Humble".

Band banquet

Begun during the 1927-28 school year by then-band director, Edson W. Morphy, and traditionally held in late November or early December, the band banquet is a chance for band members to reflect on the past marching season and tell stories or jokes. The dress is formal, the band invites speakers and the percussion section performs drum cadences with plates and silverware. There is an awards ceremony, including the Steve Singel Award, the Custer Award, the Crazy Horse Award, the PA Award, the Little Bighorn Award, the MVP Award and the Karl Strieby Award. The Steve Singel Award is given to the person who most embodies the "Spirit and the Pride of the Wisconsin Marching Band." The Custer, Crazy Horse, PA and Little Bighorn Awards are awarded to individuals that exemplify the dedication it takes to march in the band. The MVP Award goes to the most valuable percussionist and the Karl Strieby Award, presented by the flügelhorns, is given to the band member who makes the biggest marching mistake during the year but (almost) makes it look as if it wasn't a mistake at all, suggesting that, "if you're going to make a mistake, make it with class." The night ends with a slide show and the singing of Varsity.

On Wisconsin Finale

Beginning in 1974 the halftime show of the last home football game of the year is ended with On Wisconsin Finale. While playing a maestoso version of On Wisconsin, the band forms vertical lines. At once, lines expand into the letters On Wis and the band marches towards the audience, ending the performance in a knee bow.

Reversing the Caps

Entering the field for the 5th quarter with reversed hats

As with most Big Ten bands, when the football team wins the game, the members of the Band take their hats off and put them on backwards. This is a tradition started years ago and signifies "looking back" at the victory that day.


Skyrockets are a method which the Wisconsin Band has used to call attention to something, such as in announcing a song or cheer, telling a joke, or greeting someone. It began as a school-wide practice, where students have used them to greet a professor at the beginning of a lecture. The sound of a skyrocket is meant to mimic a real rocket by beginning in a low hiss, followed by a short, loud "boom", then an "ahhh", and finally ending in a whistle. An example of a "classic" skyrocket is: "SSSSS ... BOOM ... AHHHH .... WHISTLE! Hey Seattle, is that the Space Needle or are you just happy to see us?"

Tuba March

Tuba March

At the beginning of the fourth quarter the tubas line up single file and begin a march around the stadium, weaving in and out of the stands and concourse, playing songs such as Semper Fidelis, Beer Barrel Polka, and On Wisconsin. This tradition began some time in the 1950s and when athletic director Elroy Hirsch banned the tuba march in 1971 many students and alumni protested. The uproar was so great that the tuba march was reinstated the following year.

Union South

One hour before every home game, the Badger Band congregates at Union South to perform a pregame concert for fans. After playing Chorale #1, the Tubas tell a joke using a skyrocket, and then the band plays On Wisconsin twice. Then the band plays an abbreviated version of the opposing school's song, the pregame concert selection, the halftime show, and finally "The Bud Song" and On Wisconsin one last time to fire up the fans. Then they march to the Camp Randall for pregame.


In 2006 the band was placed on probation by then Chancellor John Wiley after its road trip to Michigan. Then, on October 3, 2008 Leckrone announced the band would be suspended from performing because of serious hazing allegations that involved alcohol and "inappropriate sexual behavior".[2] As a result, the band missed the nationally televised game against Ohio State. It marked the first time in at least 40 years, and the first (and as of the end of the 2014 season, only) time in Leckrone's tenure as director, that the band had missed a home football game.[3] Leckrone said that although only a small number of band members were involved, because members had a "shared responsibility" to the band and the university, "the only thing I could do to send the message was to suspend." [4] A letter from UW–Madison Dean of Students, Lori Berquam, to parents of band members, stated that "Some allegations include but are not limited to: being forced or pressured to have their hair cut in a way that is not flattering; being forced or pressured to eat something disgusting; being sexually fondled against their will; being forced or pressured to drink alcohol or other concoctions that may contain alcohol." Berquam later stated, "I regret the allegation of sexual fondling was misrepresented as confirmed fact in some news reports. We have nothing to substantiate that allegation."[5] The Wisconsin marching band is also currently on probation from traveling to University of Minnesota home games. The last time the Wisconsin band traveled to a University of Minnesota game, many members caused substantial damage to campus property, including stealing a door.

Other performances

Marching in the 2009 New Holstein parade

The band performs at other venues, such as local concerts and parades around the state of Wisconsin.[6]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Ask Abe Archives - Athletics, Wisconsin Alumni Association, accessed February 25, 2011
  2. ^ Scott Bauer, "Wisconsin band suspended for hazing".
  3. ^ Deborah Ziff, "Update: No replacement for suspended marching band at tonight's game", Wisconsin State Journal, 2008-10-04.
  4. ^ Patrick Marley and Jake Garza, "UW suspends band over hazing charge", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2008-10-04.
  5. ^ Todd Finkelmeyer "UW band suspension lifted, but 'culture needs to change'", The Capital Times, 2008-10-10.
  6. ^ "Appearances". UW Marching Band. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

External links

  • University of Wisconsin Marching Band's Official Site, accessed November 22, 2006
  • Downloadable 16-minute audio interview with UW Band Director Michael Leckrone, Leckrone talks about band history, evolution of the Spring Concert and UW fans around the United States.
  • Wisconsin Mellophones, accessed November 22, 2006
  • University of Wisconsin Marching Clarinets, accessed November 22, 2006
  •, accessed November 22, 2006
  • Official website of Trombones section, accessed July 30, 2009
  • Dean of Students Lori M. Berquam wrote a letter to parents/guardians of members of the band on 3 Oct 2008, accessed October 9, 2008
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