On game-day Saturdays from August to October, most Commodore fans prepare for kickoff with tailgates around the Vanderbilt campus. At the same time, however, 125 dedicated students are preparing in a very different way: carefully setting up their instruments in the empty stadium and rehearsing energetic music in the hours before the game begins.
The Vanderbilt Marching Band plays a crucial role in boosting school spirit at football games, so it might surprise many fans to know that almost half of the musicians aren’t actually from Vanderbilt.
According to Cindy Gallagher, the Marching Band’s faculty advisor, 54 out of the 125 student musicians– or 42 percent of the Band –come from other schools in Nashville. 38 of these students attend Belmont University, located less than a mile away from Vanderbilt’s campus.
Gallagher says this intercollegiate participation began many years ago. During her time at Peabody from 1978-80, Peabody and Vanderbilt were still separate schools, but Gallagher herself was able to play the flute and participate in the Color Guard in Vanderbilt’s Marching Band.
Nowadays the band attracts students from schools like Belmont, Trevecca and Lipscomb University.
“Most still enjoy music,” reported Gallagher. “They enjoyed marching band in high school and aren’t able to do it at their schools because they don’t have a football team or any way to do it.”
Matthew Bligh is one such student. Bligh is a sophomore studying Audio Engineering at Belmont University. Besides his fraternity, Marching Band is his biggest extracurricular time commitment. The band practices for a few hours three times during game weeks and twice during non-game weeks. Since they also play for Vandy basketball games, their official season stretches from August to March.
“It’s just a really big family,” Bligh said. “Coming up to Nashville, I didn’t really know anybody in this area. I didn’t know anybody from my high school that went here, didn’t have any friends up in Nashville, so joining band really gave me a nice strong community going into my freshman year.”
And even though Bligh doesn’t attend Vanderbilt, he doesn’t feel like an outsider in the band.
“Once you show up for practice, we’re just hanging out as a group. We all know we go to different schools here and there, but it’s not a big thing,” reported Bligh. “It’s a welcoming environment and everybody feels like they belong, without any questions.”
Vanderbilt musicians also benefit from the diverse makeup of the band. Trent Ogaz is a Vanderbilt senior who studies chemistry and plays tuba with the Marching Band.
“It’s been a nice way to branch out and meet people outside the Vanderbubble,” Ogaz said. “I don’t think it detracts from the tightness of the community at all. They’re still as enthusiastic for our teams, even though they’re not technically their teams.”
Vanderbilt’s status as a Division I school is another draw for non-Vanderbilt students.
Adam Lutz is a junior at Belmont who studies music composition and music theory. He plays percussion in the Vanderbilt Marching Band.
“We do it to play music together, to get out of our college lives, and have fun playing music,” Lutz said. “And we get to do that at an SEC school, where we’re seeing Alabama, we’re seeing Auburn, we’re seeing all these really good football programs.”
Occasionally, the band even gets to travel with the Vanderbilt football team. Each year they accompany the team to the Middle Tennessee State University game, since it is only a few hours away. And if Vanderbilt makes it to the Rose Bowl, the band definitely travels with them.
Looking ahead, both Bligh and Lutz definitely plan to keep playing with the Vanderbilt Marching Band.
“I love being a part of the band program,” Bligh said. “It’s definitely made college a lot more enjoyable.”