Author Archives: Harrison Roberts

Trojan Marching Band: Old Navy, A Drumline Tradition

Background: The Trojan Marching Band is known as Hollywood’s Band for its many, many appearances in tv, movies, and advertisements. They have appeared in shows like Glee and Scrubs, movies like Forrest Gump, and programs like the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards. Through these connections, the band has also taken part in various events for companies around the world. In 2014, Gap Inc. hired the TMB drumline to perform for the grand opening of their largest Old Navy store in Shanghai, China. The informant, CN, relays this story how he was told it.

Main Piece: Because the Trojan Marching Band has a particular brand and logo, most companies won’t want to pay for the rights for those or have the band’s uniform tied to their advertisements. CN tells me that most companies have them simply cover up their TMB logos with tape, wear their harnesses, or wear something entirely different. For the Old Navy performance, Gap Inc. supplied the drumline with specially made covers meant to go over both the uniform and harness that would blend in and bear the Old Navy logo instead of the TMB one (Pictures can be found Here). 

Drumline members in Shanghai playing for the Old Navy gig in 2014. Note that the Old Navy covers are over the drum harnesses, and seem to blend into the uniform.

After the gig, CN said that the drumline got to keep some of those covers, but that they didn’t have anything to do with them. That is until a member of the drumline had the idea to use one of the remaining Old Navy vests as a form of punishment for freshmen. At the start of Saturday morning rehearsals, which is at 7:34am, whoever is the last freshman cymbal player to arrive has to wear Old Navy for the entire Saturday morning practice. As time went on, Old Navy got dirtier and dirtier, but no one ever washed it. Now, CN says that the drumline still uses the Old Navy tradition to give incentive for freshman cymbal players to show up as early as possible. The cymbals often receive the most freshmen out of any subsection of the drumline, so it’s important to the upperclassmen to make sure the freshmen have a reason to show up on time. Certainly, wearing a dirty, smelly vest over your clothes early in on a Saturday morning can’t be enjoyable, so freshmen have to learn to plan ahead to avoid it.

Context: Old Navy is a piece of the TMB’s history in that it marked a drumline trip to China for a big advertisement gig, but it also appears regularly through the Old Navy tradition. Every Saturday from 7:34am to 10:00am the TMB practices, even on game days, and punctuality is paramount for these early morning rehearsals.

Thoughts: I believe that Old Navy is used primarily for humiliation to teach freshmen “to be early is to be on time.” By CN’s account, the smell isn’t really that bad and the thick cover can help to prevent a new cymbal player from accidentally pinching their skin and clothes between the cymbals. Humiliation as a driving force can push freshmen to wake up earlier than their peers and spark a sort of competition of punctuality. 

Annotation: Band Bangs the Drums in Shanghai 

Afghanistan: Mullah Joke and Religious Rigidity

Context: TA is a 71 year old clan head in Afghanistan and served as the Minister of International Relations for a previous president of Afghanistan. In this joke, he mentions Mullahs, which are educated Muslim men who often teach the religion. In the joke, TA discusses differences in religious rigidity.

Main Piece: The following joke was told to TA about six or seven years ago from some students he encountered in an Afghan village. He told me that the joke is primarily about religious rigidity, and it makes fun of how some people are too rigid with religious beliefs. 


TA: Some boys, their fathers send them to the temple on Fridays to listen to some recitation from the Holy Book. And then the Mullah also tries to teach them religion. And he was telling the boys, “If at any time you have a crush on a woman or someone, you must go and take a bath because you’re not clean and you have to be clean to offer worship… you won’t be able to do that if you have a crush on the woman or you see her in a dream. But the thing is even if you have a dream, you’re dreaming of another woman and you’re dreaming of having sex with her. You must go, even if you don’t have any intimate relations with her, just go and tell her so that she also takes a bath.” So some young guys, they’re smart guys, and they wanna make fun of him. So the next morning he goes and he knocks on the Mullah’s door, he says “I’m sorry to say this, but last night I had a dream, and I had your wife with me in the dream. If you could please ask your wife to take a bath.” So the guy is very angry, but he can’t say anything because that’s what he taught them. And the next day he goes and talks to him again, and the Mullah says “what now?” And the guy says “Well, Mullah, you take a bath please.”

[Laugh together]

HR: Do you know, where did you first hear that joke?

TA: I was in a village in Afghanistan just a few years ago, 6-7 years ago, these were students I was talking to, and they told me this story…

HR: Do you think that this was a joke told to make fun of religion in general? Like how in the US we like to make fun of Catholic priests for some of the same things?

TA: Not so much in general, but it’s just about the rigidity… some people see religion as very rigid, and others don’t.

Thoughts: I think that the humor in it is similar to the humor in making fun of Western religious teachings. Whenever religion is so rigid that it locks people into hard rules for their lives, it invites them to challenge that authority through humor. This joke provides a divergence from religious culture while tying into the direct punchlines of other Afghan jokes.

Trojan Marching Band: Band Names

Context: Initiates in the Trojan Marching Band all receive a special nickname known as a “Band Name.” Traditions surrounding band names vary by sections. Some sections, like the drumline, name all of their initiates by the end of the first two weeks, others wait until the end of the semester, and most sections name throughout the semester whenever they come up. Band names can be chosen for just about anything that the section finds humorous about the initiate, and they’re often puns that combine multiple aspects of that person. 

Main Piece: My informant, CN, told me the story of his name, “Tiny Dancer”. When he was a freshman, used to make small dance movements when he talked as a way of gesticulating. At one point, one of his classmates decided to quit the line by not showing up to a practice. When another member pressed him on where that classmate went, he recounts that he said “She’s *gone. Like, she’s not coming *back”  (with gesticulations at every *), but the drill instructor didn’t understand what he meant. His upperclassmen thought this was funny, so in reference to an Elton John song, they named him Tiny Dancer. 

There’s also a sort of ritual about how naming becomes official. CN told me that, when the upperclassmen have decided to name you, they take your lanyard that holds your printed name and band logo. That night, they flip it to the blank side and draw a picture to represent your name, and the next day after sectional practice ends they will keep everyone back. They call the initiate to the front of the group, and say something like “Due to constant dancing on the field with tiny dance moves and wearing different kinds of sunglasses, the drummer formally known as CN shall henceforth and forever be known as Tiny Dancer.” The exact phrase “The [player] formally known as [parent given name] shall henceforth and forever be known as [band name]” is consistently used to mark the transition from non-band member to band member. 

Band names are not only the mark of induction into the band, but they’re also legitimate nicknames. CN tells me that most of his friends in the band call him “Tiny” instead of his parent given first name, and those friends often introduce him to others as Tiny. In CN’s words “Band names become a part of our identity…” and when his band friends call him by his first name it feels off. As a way of cementing band names into the band member’s identity, even when the band name doesn’t stick as a functioning nickname, whenever someone says something that references someone’s band name, they “take a lap” (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions).

Thoughts: Nicknames are a common and simple form of folklore, especially when the nicknames are tied to a liminal, or transitional, periods. Traditions involving nicknames of initiates often mark a level of acceptance into a group. This is just as true in the Trojan Marching Band, where members in their first year in the band receive a band name. I believe that the concept of band names is both interesting and consistent with previous analysis that humor is often a medium for liminal periods. By accepting a band name that jokes about an aspect of one’s personality, one can be better accepted into the group because they’ll know more about the humor that group expects from them. From the perspective of the TMB, band names can function as a sort of alternate identity that links everyone in the band to something greater. Where once there were a few hundred instrument-playing students, there are now a few hundred band members, and that distinction is made in part through band names, among other traditions.

Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions

“Con”-text: Band Camp is a week or week and a half period before the start of classes where initiates to the Trojan Marching Band will learn the ropes of the TMB’s instruments, marching, and perhaps most importantly traditions. Informant CN, a member of the TMB and previous section leader, discusses many of the traditions that used throughout Band Camp and the ensuing football season.

Main Piece: The following is a list of traditions, for which the individual contexts will be provided below:

  1. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says “Conquest,” “Concept,” “Consequence,” or any other word beginning with “con,” members of the band will repeat back “Con~quest.” They extend and emphasize the “con” for dramatic effect or humor.
  2. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says “You” at the beginning of their sentence, the band will interrupt them by finishing with “S, C, Trojans!” sometimes throwing up the Fight On hand sign. 
  3. Whenever the drill instructor says “Check,” the drumline will make soft noises with their instruments. Snares, quads, and basses will swap their sticks over their drums and cymbals play a small zing. Notably, freshman cymbal players are not allowed to “check” with their cymbals.
  4. Whenever any school other than USC is mentioned, the band screams back “Sucks!”
  5. During Rivalry Week with UCLA, whenever the drill instructor or band director says “UCLA” or “Tusk”, the quad drummers begin playing Tusk, and oftentimes the band joins in and interrupts the speaker. 
  6. If any freshman asks a question, especially during band camp or if the question has been answered before, they will be told “Figure it out Freshman.”
  7. During Band Camp, Freshman are only allowed to refer to their upperclassmen by their band names, and in many sections they are required to learn all of the band names and parent given names of their section, as well as how they got those band names (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Names).
  8. Whenever the drill instructor or band director says anything that accidentally references a band members’ name, they have to “take a lap”, meaning that they run around their section of the band or even the entire band. When this happens outside of practice, band members will walk around the chair they were sitting in or simply twirl their finger to represent taking a lap.
  9. At the end of Saturday’s game day practice, the band director gives a prediction of the score, accompanied by a drumroll from the drumline. 

CN says that some of these traditions continue throughout the year, but they’re really ingrained into the freshmen during band camp. For the origin, CN said that some of the call and response traditions started fairly recently. Nobody knows exactly who started it, but now everybody does it (the example was “con”quest). “It means nothing but you can find yourself doing it all the time. The traditions are just wired in at band camp.”

Thoughts: The beginning of a liminal period can sometimes be seen as a time for “weeding out” those in a group of initiates who might not be committed to the organization while at the same time impressing upon the initiates the procedures and traditions that will unify them. I believe that Band Camp is an example of this combination of tradition teaching and weeding out. Band Camp takes place in the hot LA heat, and it requires new members to constantly prove themselves to upperclassmen in an attempt to be accepted. The traditions that restrict Freshmen behaviors aren’t necessarily meant to humiliate them, but rather to adjust them to Band culture. As for the call and response traditions, those often serve to give the band members a reason to pay attention to every word the drill instructors say, so the tradition is likely allowed to continue even if some members may be making fun of their instructors by it.

Trojan Marching Band: Traditions on the Band Bus

Context: The Trojan Marching Band carries a level of prestige with it that entices many to follow it, meaning that the band’s appearances at USC’s sporting events are imperative. Informant CN states that the band hasn’t missed a football game in 32 years (more than 400 games!), and that creates an expectation for the band to appear. The band travels to away games primarily on a group of buses (this includes bus trips to Arizona, Cal Berkeley, Colorado, and Washington State, as well as a biennial flying trip to Notre Dame), and that leaves several hours of down time. CN described to me some of the traditions that band members use to occupy their time on the bus. 

Main Piece

  1. Name Jokes and Open Mic: For reference, the bathroom on the bus is known as “the Head,” which will serve as the basis for many traditions. For example, band members have an open mic where members go up to the front of the bus and use the PA system to tell a joke. They begin by tapping the microphone and saying “Is this thing on?” to which the rest of the bus responds “No!”. They then say “Once upon a time my name was [band name]!” and the bus asks “Why?” (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Names). The member will then make a “Name Joke”, which are most puns involving the band member’s name and very often be inappropriate. The member will then say their main joke, which could be a roast of another member or a general joke they came up with. If the roast or joke hits particularly hard, the band members will chant “Holy Shit” as the joke-teller returns to their seat. If the roast or joke is deemed bad by the bus, they will instead chant “Head! Head! Head!” and the joke-teller must go to the back of the bus and sit on the toilet for a while. CN says that this is all in good fun, but that it’s still never a good feeling to be sent to the Head. 
  2. Rules: There are rules for the bus that every band member must know and that someone will recite at the start of every trip. They are exactly as follows:
    1. “Rule #1: Nobody, but nobody, including nobody, shits in the Head.”
    2. “Rule #2: You can get off the bus, you can get on the bus, but you can’t get off on the bus.”
    3. “Rule #3: Please refer to Rule #1.”
    4. “Rule #4: Fuck ___”

The first and third rules simply state the common sense rule that pooping in the bathroom is not a good idea, as it will stink up the entire bus. The second is another common sense rule to not do anything sexual on the bus. The fourth and final rule is a reference to ___, who CN says was a rude band member whose legacy reflected that. Normally, their name would be said, but for the purposes of privacy it has been anonymized. 

Thoughts: The Open Mic time seems like a good chance for freshmen to break into the band’s sense of humor and thus further initiate into the group (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Names; Band Camp Traditions). CN said that freshmen are commonly asked to make jokes during Open Mic, and this can help them through the liminal transition into the group. The rules seem like a joke, but they’re all common sense and the necessity of every member to know the rules makes it a somewhat unifying experience.