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These Ducks provide the soundtrack for the game

For the love of music. For the love of football. For the love of the Ducks.

The reasons why students join college marching bands are wide-ranging.

For the University of Oregon students who joined the 217-member Oregon Marching Band this year, it’s been a wild — but not entirely unexpected — ride through the football season.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - Members of the Oregon Marching Band who hail from Hillsboro include (back row, left to right) Eric Bigwood, Madi Vilhauer, Julia Fischer, Hannah Fuller, Kate Rohrich, and front, Charis Gault and Michael Blomenkamp.

Fourteen students from Hillsboro are members of the OMB and have traveled to the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and the National Championship game Monday in Arlington, Texas.

Those 14 represent every high school in the Hillsboro School District.

“We call ourselves the soundtrack of the game,” OMB member Julia Fischer explained, as the snippets of music the band plays between downs is a reflection of what’s happening on the field.

Fischer, a UO sophomore who attended Hillsboro High School, is the leader of the 28-member alto saxophone section. A physiology major, she’s been in the OMB for two years.

“I had a great experience in high school marching band. Being a part of a college ensemble, playing music at a higher level is fun,” she added.

For junior trombone player Madi Vilhauer, joining the band was a foregone conclusion. Vilhauer, a Century High graduate, joined OMB as a freshman.

“I’ve been a Duck fan for as long as I can remember,” she said, adding that her parents are also die-hard Duck fans.

For Vilhauer, joining the band has been much more than a way to watch the football games; it’s been a whole new learning experience. In high school, Vilhauer played the flute. She switched to trombone when she joined the OMB because “there were way too many flute players.”

A third Hillsboroan, Kate Rohrich, is a drum major for the band, conducting from high on a ladder while the band is on the field. Rohrich attended Liberty High School.

Marching bands have long been a part of the culture of college football, providing halftime entertainment for fans.

At Oregon, the first band was called the University Band, an all-male band organized in 1911, according to the Oregon Athletic Bands website history page. The school’s first paid band director was Albert Perfect. Hired in 1915, Perfect wrote “Mighty Oregon,” the school’s now-familiar fight song.

OMB is the largest entity of the Oregon Athletic Bands, directed by Dr. Eric Wiltshire. The marching band is active during the football season, while the smaller Green and Yellow Garter bands are two elite ensembles made up of OMB members, according to Anna Waite, administrative coordinator of athletic bands.

Those groups perform throughout the year at various athletic and campus events that require a smaller group.

About two-thirds of the bands’ funding comes through the university’s athletic department while the other third comes from the Associated Students of University of Oregon (student government), as well as donations, Waite said. Travel to postseason games is funded almost entirely by bowl game income.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on before the band brings its energy and school spirit to the field, Waite said.

Before school begins in the fall, band members spend two weeks rehearsing about 90 hours. Once classes begin, the students rehearse about 10 hours a week.

On the day of a typical home game, band members will practice on the Autzen Stadium field before fans begin filtering in, and then play in the parking lot for tailgaters. After that, the band performs a short pregame show and plays the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

At halftime, there’s another six- to eight-minute field show. This season, the band prepared three different halftime shows. One features the music of Huey Lewis & the News; one the music of Bruno Mars; and the third — called “Evolution of the Dance” — features band members not playing and marching, but performing famous dances through the ages.

As fans filter out of the stadium, the band stays and plays a short post-game concert and ends with the traditional singing of the “Oregon Pledge Song.”

Fischer calculated marching band members had a 15-hour day on Rose Bowl game day.

“We ate breakfast at 4:30 (a.m.),” she said. That was followed by staging for the Tournament of Roses Parade, two hours of marching and playing in the parade, and then a police escort to the stadium for the game.

Long, yes. But Vilhauer and Fischer agreed it was well worth it.

“I love our rendition of the national anthem,” Fischer said.

At the end of the anthem, red “silks” are carried across the field to form the stripes on the American flag. Playing the anthem before the Rose Bowl game, she said “was such a great experience,” enhanced by fireworks and a flyover of a B-2 Stealth Bomber.

That memory is one that Vilhauer will carry with her.

“It was really cool,” she said.

During the national championship game’s festivities, the band played at various pep rallies as well as pre-game and halftime shows on the field.

Before they left for the trip to Texas, Vilhauer and Fischer were looking forward to a busy few days of practice and performance, and showing off Oregon’s spirit on a national stage.

The best part of being a “band geek,” Vilhauer said, is “it’s a great way to make friends. With 250 instant friends, it’s a good way to make memorable college experiences.”

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