An Invigorating Presence

Prior to kickoff, 80,000 Texas fans begin to stir. They realize their band is approaching, but cannot yet see them. They hear the groundswell of a rumbling drum cadence emanating from deep within the tunnel behind the end zone. Enthusiasm and a palpable sense of pride fill the air. Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is filled to the brim with people and awash in burnt-orange. The fans train their eyes toward the tunnel and await the emergence of `Big Bertha.'

Big Bertha is the largest bass drum in the world. When seated upon its trailer, it is over ten feet tall. It is known as the "Sweetheart of the Longhorn Band." It's emergence onto the field signals a beacon that the pre-game show is officially underway. The crowd responds with a fever pitch. After the pre-game routine is completed, the band forms a giant block 'T', and then march it toward the end-zone for the Longhorn football team to run through as they enter the stadium.

Sports Washington recently spoke with Dr. Robert Carnochan. He is the director of the famous Longhorn Band, also known as "The Show Band of the Southwest." Originally this piece was going to draw constructive comparisons between the Husky Band and the Longhorn Marching Band. Dr. Carnochan, however, stated that he would consent to the interview as long as no comparisons were made. He wanted to focus solely on the Longhorn Band, and not be perceived as being negative-- especially considering the respect he has for the Husky Band. So this was our agreement. We kicked off the conversation by discussing Big Bertha.

"Big Bertha has been on campus for 50 years now," said Carnochan. "She is obviously one of the big icons of the university as well as the Longhorn band… This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Bertha coming to campus… The drum sits on a stand that has wheels on it, so we can roll it up and down the hill from the stadium and the band hall."

Carnochan was asked if Texas has any pep rallies on Fridays prior to home games.

"From time to time," he said. "This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of several traditions aside from Bertha, including Vince Dinino taking over as band director.

It's also the 50th year anniversary of the "Hook ‘em" sign. (In November) there is going to be a re-creation of the pep rally that took place fifty years ago when that sign was actually introduced on campus, by one of the cheerleaders that was at that pep rally in 1955.

"We also have a tradition that was just brought back two years ago by one of our drum majors called Friday Night March Around," he said. "Basically it's a volunteer group of students, and there's anywhere from twenty to fifty to sixty students that show up to do this. They hit a couple spots on campus, (including) one of the main dormitories. Then there's a big parking lot where all the tailgaters come in on Thursday night before the games and hang out. They're probably the most appreciative crowd, because they just love the band and love hearing the music. We just go around and hit a couple spots around 7 PM Friday evening. It's all voluntary and by the students and drum major that want to do it."

Carnochan was asked describe the routine before each Texas home game. It turns out that the Longhorn Band rehearses for an hour and a half before engaging in a ritual that is very Texan in nature.

"It's been a long-time tradition that the band eats BBQ together," he said. "We have a catering service that comes in and the students pay a nominal fee and eat BBQ together and hang out. There's a big President's reception in a neighboring building; so all of our section leaders go over there and play for the President and all the guests of the President. Then we get back together in our band hall, and have visualization. Everybody is sitting there in full uniform, and we think through everything we're going to do. From marching down the hill into the stadium, to the pre-game show, transition into halftime, etc. We just think through all the music and drills, so we have one last mental shot at it before we actually begin."

As the band lines up and embarks toward the stadium, they are aware that 80,000 people are waiting for them.

"When we do this march into the stadium, it's a big deal," he said. "We have this nice hill that leads from our band hall down into the stadium. There's a nice big tunnel that leads from the north side of the stadium, straight out onto the field. We start marching down the hill and straight through the tunnel and onto the field. We (launch) straight into our pre-game show, so it's a very seamless entrance into the stadium. As soon as the crowd sees the drum come through the tunnel, they start going crazy. They start clapping along with the band, once they hear the drum line playing their cadence. When we reach the field, we kick into our fight song and go through our whole pre-game routine."

Are the stands always filled up early with people?

"As a tribute to Mack Brown, they are very full," he said. "Prior to Mack's arrival everybody got here at the last second or during the first quarter. Which unfortunately is pretty typical for most stadiums around the country for college football. I think our stadium is an exception to that, because our fans really enjoy what happens in pre-game.

"Mack really preached that over and over when he got here," he said. "People started coming to the stadium early. People started wearing more burnt orange. It became cool to wear that. In the past people thought it was a terrible color and thinking why would they want to wear that? So now people are taking more pride in all that. They show up early and are very supportive of us."

Carnochan offered an interesting aside, from when the Texas Longhorns traveled to Columbus, Ohio earlier this season.

"I think at Ohio State is probably the most enthusiastic crowd I have ever seen at a college football game, prior to kickoff," he said. "I think it has to do with what the bands are doing on the field, and how much people appreciate it and how much they are into it. It's at Ohio State that they dot the `I', and everybody wants to see that. I have never seen so many light bulbs go off at once.

"We play Ohio State again next year in Austin," he said. "I know there is a big push for Ohio State to raise enough money to bring their whole band down here. There's a very good chance that both bands will be doing their own thing at halftime next year, and that would be just tremendous."

In conclusion, Carnochan was asked to describe what gets the Texas crowd the most fired up when his Longhorn Marching Band is on the field.

"The biggest deal is when we're playing the `Eyes of Texas', which is our alma mater," he said. "Everyone in the crowd takes their right hand and puts it as high as they can in the air with the Hook ‘Em sign. We play the `Eyes of Texas' straight through. Everybody in the crowd stops what they're doing. The entire stadium is into it. Everyone knows all the words, EVERYBODY sings. It's a tremendous vibe in the stadium. It's an awesome sight when you get the right perspective and can just look up in the crowd and see everybody doing that at the same time.

"There is one other great thing that helps (unite the stadium) that the team always does without fail," he said. "After the game is over, with Mack Brown at the front of the pack, he brings the entire team over to the crowd and very close to the band. Everybody sings the alma mater, and holds their Hook ‘Ems up. It's a whole community thing. It's not like the game is over and the team just goes into the locker room and doesn't care what's going on.

"Everybody lives and dies together in that stadium."

Derek Johnson can be reached at Top Stories