Saxes vs. Brass Horn Polishing

Main Piece

In the Southern Methodist University (SMU) band, there is an ongoing rivalry between the Sax section and the Brass section. There is a particular tradition, or game, that occurs every year at the annual “Horn Polishing” event, which occurs at the conclusion of the football season.

After the Horn Polishing, a senior in the Brass section will give a spoon (or other small metal object) inside a Crown Royal purple bag to a junior in the Brass. It is the job of the Saxes to obtain this item. According to AB, the Saxes have never succeeded, which is why he doesn’t know exactly what the item is. The ceremonial handoff occurs in secret in the Band Hall.

Usually, the Saxes attempt to get the item from the Brass junior after the hand-off by securing the exits of the Band Hall. However, other Brass members will tackle the Saxes in order to prevent them from stopping the item carrier. AB tells me about the last time this hand-off happened:

“The carrier was Cathy, a very quick and small woman in Brass. She ran out of the band hall like a bullet. A car was waiting for her and zoomed away when she got inside. Meanwhile, other Brass members were tackling the Saxes so we couldn’t stop her.”

AB also tells me that his sophomore year, the Saxes also had a car waiting to chase the Brass getaway car, and a car chase ensued, which almost ended in a car accident. Because of this incident, the band director asked them to dispense with the tradition. However, the student leaders of the band liked the tradition, so they didn’t get rid of it – just “toned it down a little.”

Informant background

AB is a university student at Southern Methodist University (Dallas), originally from the California Bay Area. He is a member of the SMU band.

Performance context

AB described this to me during a phone call when I asked him to tell me about SMU traditions, rituals, and rumors.


Rivalries between sections seem to be a common theme among most school bands, but this particular tradition is a way for the two sections to physically put their rivalry to bear. From AB’s description, while ostensibly strategy could be involved in the Saxes’ gambit to get the item from the Brass, every year it seems to turn into a primarily physical tackling event: an intriguing parallel to the end of the football season, which is celebrated just prior to this ritual.