“You take a lap. You have to, like, run around the entire band and if, like, Bartner, or something happens that is about you, related to your name, where you’re from any like quirky traits you have, activities you do. [The purpose:] to point out that you have associations with that.”
The informant is a member of the University of Southern California Spirit of Troy. She is a sophomore, both in the school and in the band ranks, studying Computer Science and Computer Engineering. She plays alto saxophone and has travelled with the band to the Weekender and to Notre Dame.
Th informant was asked of any band traditions that take place during a practice. She had first learned and experienced this tradition at her first full band practice, and has participated in it ever since.
The first thing to know about the marching band is that usually a week or two after joining the band, every one is given a band name, often referred to as their “real name.” For some people, that becomes the name they are known by for the rest of their time in band. The are often only a few words long, but some have been as long as the verse of song. They are often based on traits that the person has or something that they did, and they often tie back to some kind of popular culture, like a movie or book. Some people are even given two names, in which case they are “so-and-so” AKA “something-else.” There are a lot of traditions that are attached to these band names, including taking a band lap.
Practices can be long and kind of boring, at least for rowdy college students, so there are many band traditions that are meant to pass the time and release restless energy in order to get more work done during practice. The band is a group of volunteers, so it is important to keep people entertained enough to keep coming back. One custom, meant to entertain, is taking a band lap. Everyone must constantly be on the look out for an excuse to take a lap, or to make someone else take a lap. The most common reasons to do so are if leadership says something related to someone’s band name, saying the city or state where someone is from, or some clearly identifying feature or characteristic of the person, like “chorus” (in reference to the location of the song, but pertaining to choral people) or “sexy” (anyone who thinks they’re sexy takes a lap). There was one time, the informant shared, where the band was playing “Play That Funky Music” and the director starting singing the main line: “Play that funky music, white boy…” and all of the white males in the band had to take a lap. That kept the band pacified and laughing enough to finish playing the song without outbursts.
Another purpose for taking a lap is to condition the band. A lot of stamina is required to survive a game day, where a band member may be on their feet for up to 12 hours at a time with little to no sitting down. Taking laps periodically during practice keeps band members in shape and more able to stand for such an extended period of time. Also, as the informant mentions, laps just point out that you have an association to that trait or name. It is possible to see who else in the band is Irish by seeing who takes and Irish lap (in the case of “Beat the irish” for notre dame [opposing teams and their mascots do not earn the respect of having capital letters]) with you. It is a way to bring people, who might never have met in the more than three-hundred person band, closer together and encourages connections with other sections.
There are also particular ways to take a lap. Under normal circumstances—mostly during music practice but under other instances, as well—the person whose name, characteristic, or home state was mentioned takes a lap around the entire band, including directors, silks, and all of the instruments, but not including twirlers or prop crew (if they are far away). This is always done in a counter-clockwise rotation. If the band is working on drill for a show, or during a gig when it would not be prudent to run around to the confusion of the audience, then a lap is taken in place, still counter-clockwise. If the band is at attention, then no laps are taken until after the band is put at ease. Then people can do make-up laps for the time when they were at attention. If a band member is sitting down or it is physically impossible to take a lap, but the band is not at attention, the they will do a “finger lap” and point their right index finger to the sky and move their hand in a counter-clockwise direction. There are also more local instances for taking a lap. The informant had a section leader, for example, who would encourage “Galen Center laps” during basketball and volleyball games. The band member would then have to run around the inside of the Galen Center. This is not a band-wide occurrence, just a section-wide one. Other sections have their own special lap circumstances. The flutes, for example, take laps whenever the first letter of their name is called. Since the marching band divides its music into sections with “A,B,C, etc.” letters get mentioned a lot.