There’s Nothing Wrong with the Stanford Band

In the wake of the Rose Bowl, Internet comment threads are awash with fury over the unorthodox nature of the Stanford Band (officially called the LSJUMB). Sure, the band’s organization, gloss, and performing presence are miles away from that of bands like Wisconsin’s, but the people who complain about their silly antics are missing the point.

The 2013 Rose Bowl performance of Stanford’s informal fight song (not my video):

The fundamental goal of a school band is to entertain the audience. In the context of a football game, this means performing before and after each half, as well as during any other breaks in the game. It doesn’t matter if the band marches like Wisconsin, jokes around like Stanford, or just sits in the stands; if the band doing something entertaining while the players are off the field then it’s doing its job.

America is just now coming to grips with the fact (already well acknowledged in Northern California) that LSJUMB has a very different method of providing entertainment than traditional bands. Their costumes, arrangements, “marching” style, and thematic choices are all part of a unified performance. It’s unorthodox, over-the-top, and silly, but entertaining. A Stanford Band performance is much like the movie “Airplane”: sure, it’s not “The Godfather,” but it will certainly make you smile when you see it.

The haters should realize that the band’s antics are nothing new. My parents (who have connections to the university through employment and postgraduate studies) laughingly describe the band’s halftime shows from decades past, which have involved (among other things) jokes about football injuries and rude formations on the field.

This kind of informality creats a unique but bizarrely charming atmosphere. A great personal memory of mine involves the Stanford band. In 2000, my parents took me to see the Rosebowl (which also happened to be a Stanford-Wisconsin matchup). Before the game, we were visiting the Santa Monica pier and ran into an impromptu, chaotic Stanford Band performance. Everybody was quite relaxed and friendly, and I got to take my picture with the Stanford Tree. For the next decade or so, the Stanford Band was my favorite marching band, and somewhat of an influence as I played trumpet in middle school and high school. I knew that if I ever was in a college music group, I wanted it to be something like LSJUMB.

Stanford’s musical performers are unquestionably different from those of other universities. Yet they still create memories and inspire good cheer, if not in the way audiences usually expect from college bands. The people who spend so much time getting offended overlook the fact that Stanford’s silliness and sheer disregard for convention is actually quite amusing. Stanford Band members are at heart entertainers who are good at their jobs. Their audience just needs to learn to sit back and be entertained.

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