Even as controversy continues to swirl around Ohio State’s decision to fire marching band director Jonathan Waters, hundreds of hopeful students descended on the band center in Ohio Stadium with the goal of becoming part of the 2014 Ohio State University Marching Band. Months of hard work were going to be put to the test and dreams would come true or be crushed by two intense days of tryouts.
The band’s tryout process is a major reason why the band is known as ‘The Best Damn Band in the Land.’ Unlike some other college marching bands which only have music auditions, OSUMB candidates are judged on both their marching and their playing. Everyone in the band tries out every year with four year band veterans lining up right next to people who have never been in the band as they are put through their paces and evaluated. The fact that no spot in the band is safe and that everybody goes through the same tryout helps to push everyone to be their best, nobody can afford to relax and coast just because they have been in the band before and experienced veterans have been cut in favor of new people who outperformed them. Many college bands alter the number of people in their band each year, taking anyone who meets a certain criteria. This does not happen with the OSUMB. Each year the band consists of 225 members, no extras are taken regardless of how good other candidates are, and every year people are cut who could perform at a level that would be indistinguishable from those who made the band in the eyes of the average observer. To be part of TBDBITL you can’t just be good enough, you have to be one of the best.
For a detailed look at the tryout process, check out my article on them from last year, however he is a quick overiew. As mentioned above, OSUMB tryouts consist of both music and marching auditions. Music auditions are done individually for a staff member of the OSU School of Music; candidates are asked to play some prepared music, such as school songs, as well as do some sight reading. The marching auditions consist of two parts. For the first part the band is separated by row and two candidates at a time are put ‘on the line’ where they have to perform a series of marching fundamentals that are called out by the row leaders; the candidates are judged on their ability to perform each fundamental, to remember the drill that was given, and to recover from mistakes. The second part of the marching auditions is done as one big group and involves marching and playing school songs.
OSUMB tryouts are an intense two days that are designed to push candidates to the limit. The band’s marching style is very physically demanding and candidates are in a constant flurry of activity during tryouts. Even when waiting for their turn ‘on the line’, candidates are working hard, trying to perfect their marching as they know that making the band can come down to the tiniest detail. When they are on the line, candidates are quickly given a series of fundamentals that they then have to remember and perform. These drills are often complex as they are partly designed to see how a candidate recovers from a mistake, can they drive through it and keep going without missing a beat or will the mistake rattle them and hurt their performance.
This year’s tryouts concluded Wednesday afternoon and on Wednesday evening all the hopeful candidates anxiously filed into the band center to find out if all their hard work had paid off. They listened as 225 names were read off, the tension high as they all prayed to hear their name. I can still remember the night when I made the band back in 2003. It was my third time trying out but thanks to an injury and illness in previous years, it was the first time I had completed tryouts. The atmosphere in the room was different than expected, there were no loud exclamations of triumph when someone heard their name being read, instead there was maybe a small cheer but normally the name was met with a silent smile out of respect for the fact that hearing your name read meant that someone who you had worked and sweated with would not be hearing their name. I had tried out in E-row (one of the two mellophone rows in the band) and I remember the growing tension when Dr. Jon Woods got to E-row. Dr. Woods read 14 names but mine wasn’t one of them and I was hit with a wave of disappointment; I knew there was another mellophone row but I didn’t think that the odds were good that I would make it in a row I didn’t tryout in. Finally Dr. Woods got to R-row and I started to hope again. However with each name read that wasn’t mine, that hope sunk a bit. Finally only R-14 was left, one last mellophone, one last chance for me to make the band. And then I heard my name! I had made it! The sense of relief that washed over me was incredible and I had a hard time believing it.
On behalf of all of us at tBBC, I would like to extend our congratulations to all of those whose dreams came true Wednesday. Your hard work has paid off and now you get to be one of the select group that has gotten to wear that uniform and march down the ramp on a Saturday afternoon. Celebrate your accomplishment but remember the work is just beginning. Being The Best Damn Band In The Land isn’t easy and this season will bring even more intense pressure and attention than any other time in the band’s history. Being part of the OSUMB means hard work and pressure but it also means incredible experiences and new friends. It also means that you are part of something much bigger than you, a tradition that stretches back over a century and a family connected by being part of that tradition.
To those of you who tried out but didn’t hear your name called on Wednesday night, I know you are disappointed but don’t dwell on it and don’t give up. Plenty of people have been cut, some of them multiple times, and have gone on to make the band in future years. Keep working, keep practicing and come back next year ready to be even better.
The next few weeks before the start of the football season will be busy for the marching band as they take advantage of the fact that school has not yet started to hold additional practices to learn all of the pregame traditions of the band as well as the first show of the season. The football team will open the season against Navy in Baltimore on August 30th and as of now, TBDBITL is scheduled to make the trip to support the team and entertain Buckeye fans in attendance. Despite the unusual circumstances that they have faced over the past three weeks, the members of the 2014 OSUMB have already shown their ability to maintain their focus and drive through adversity and I have no doubt that they will continue to make OSU fans proud with their performances this season.
Updates on the Jonathan Waters Situation
It was another busy week related to the university’s investigation of and subsequent termination of former band director Jonathan Waters. We have previously published letters by Alexandra Clark and Jeanette Town detailing how they were never interviewed by the OSU investigation despite their rookie names being listed in what has now become known as the Glaros Report, named after Chris Glaros who led the investigation. This week they were joined by two other women whose rookie names were listed but who were never interviewed as part of the investigation, Victoria Nolte and Lindsay Barrie, in signing and delivering a letter to OSU President Michael Drake reiterating that they did not find their rookie names offensive. In the letter, the recent alumni stated “You should also know that we have made public statements indicating that our nicknames are completely inoffensive to us, were in fun, and we embraced them in that spirit…Mr. Glaros would have known that had he bothered to ask about our feelings before including our names in his unwarranted and, yes, offensive report.” Also signing the letter was Jocelyn Smallwood who stated that her positive testimony was omitted from the final report.
Ms. Smallwood was not the only person interviewed by the investigation who had problems with the Glaros Report. This week Rebecca DeMattia, one of the five alumni interviewed for the report, stated that the Glaros Report misquoted her and omitted testimony that conflicted with the report’s findings. The Glaros Report stated that Mr. Waters cursed at Ms. DeMattia following her submission of what was supposed to be an anonymous mid-season evaluation. In her letter to the university, Ms. DeMattia stated “At no point did I indicate to the investigator that Mr. Waters cursed directly at me, as the report states.” In regards to the report’s claims that Mr. Waters was dismissive of sexual harassment, Ms. DeMattia stated “The idea that he would be dismissive of sexual harassment is absurd…Mr. Waters personally helped in tough situations. Yet, as far as I can see, the entirety of that was excluded from the report.” As a former squad leader in the band, Ms. DeMattia was the recipient of special training given to senior marching band members, saying “I can tell you the elimination of hazing, alcohol abuse, and overall cultural change were items that Mr. Waters worked very hard to achieve.”
The growing outcry against the university’s decision has not changed the mind of OSU President Dr. Michael Drake. On Wednesday Dr. Drake spoke at a Columbus Metropolitan Club event in downtown Columbus where he stood by the decision Mr. Waters when questioned, stating “What we saw was a culture….Again, the facts in this case showed us that there was a culture that was not in line with our requirements under Title IX, not in line with our principles, not in line with our values. And we needed to make a change to move forward.” Dr. Drake did not actually wait for questions though to address the firing as he joked about the ensuing controversy saying “I used to tell people that, you know, there’s a honeymoon period in these things, “I felt like I wasn’t quite able to get out of the church.”
Last week I reported on an interview by Professor Russell Mikkelson, Director of University Bands and interim marching band director, who stated that certain a meeting occurred in 2009 involving many high level university officials where the tradition of Midnight Ramp was discussed and approval was given for its continuation. Among those reported to be at the meeting were representatives of the OSU police and numerous marching band alumni have stated that OSU police have been present at Midnight Ramp over the years. This week OSU fired back. While the university didn’t make any statement regarding the 2009 meeting, it did say that there was no recent record of OSU police being at the annual tradition.
Perhaps the biggest news this week on the matter came on Thursday when the Columbus Dispatch revealed the contents of Mr. Waters’ university personnel file which they had obtained via a records request. That file included Mr. Water’s annual evaluations by director of the OSU School of Music, Professor Richard Blatti. In his first year as director, Mr. Waters received an overall rating of ‘exceeds expectations’, the second highest rating possible. That rating rose in his second year to the top rating of ‘exceptional.’ The evaluation did not specifically mention any of the ‘sexualized’ traditions of the band that were detailed in the Glaros Report but the evaluations did hint at the existence of these traditions as Professor Blatti wrote “Jon is confronted with many years of ‘tradition’ and many well-meaning alumni whose proclivities and excesses need constant but gradual attitude adjustment… Jon has already begun to address these predispositions and is courageous in tackling some of the more-extreme views head-on.” He also stated “I am proud of the changes Jon has made in the way the (marching band) and athletic bands operate, and look forward to an even healthier environment for our students than ever before.”
The release of Mr. Waters’ excellent annual evaluations and the revelation that the Glaros Report omitted at least some testimony that supported Mr. Waters adds to the growing list of issues relating to the report. The Glaros Report concluded by finding that Mr. Waters had done nothing to change the culture of the marching band despite the fact that this conflicted with testimony given by other members of the OSUMB directing staff that was included earlier in the report. Professor Blatti’s evaluations of Mr. Waters as director prove even more problematic for the report as they show that high level officials in the university, including the head of the School of Music, were aware of at least some of the band’s less savory traditions and that these higher ups were aware of and approved of what Mr. Waters was doing to change the culture. I find it hard to believe that Professor Blatti would give Mr. Waters a rating of ‘exceptional’ or call his efforts ‘courageous’ if he wasn’t actively doing enough to change the band’s culture.
Mr. Waters and his attorney, David Axelrod, were not silent this week. On Thursday they delivered a letter to the OSU Board of Trustees where they officially requested that Mr. Waters be reinstated as director of the Ohio State University Marching Band. Mr. Axelrod also released a white paper where he provided a thorough legal analysis of the situation to show that OSU had other options besides firing Mr. Waters.