Informant: Every time before a performance, our band teacher will pass out licorice or some form of candy, usually licorice, then raises up the licorice and says, “this goes to a sweet performance”. Then we all raise up our licorice and then we eat it.
Interviewer: And why does he do it?
Informant: Because that’s what his college band director did.
Interviewer: and what college did he go to?
Informant: I’m not sure if it was his high school or college, but I’m pretty sure its his college . . . U Mass? It’s U Mass.
Interviewer: Typically what setting does this take place in?
Informant: It happens before a performance so usually in the band room or on a bus in the parking lot.
The eating of food, has come to be a sort of protection ritual for the performance of the band. As a folk metaphor, the actual “sweet” of the candy can be transferred to a metaphorically “sweet” performance, possibly as a type of contagious magic. Additionally, the proliferation of the ritual is evident as it moves from Massachusetts to Southern California, with the band director who has chosen to share this particular tradition with the kids.
One USC marching band tradition that occurs basketball games is that the band will start to scream 57 when the score reaches that number. Additionally they will taunt any player on the opposing team who has a 22 as the number on their jersey jeering “tweeeenneey twoooo, tweeennneey twoooo”
The informant explained to me that this is a tradition that plays a role in inducting new members into the band. New members learn this tradition at the first basketball game of the season when the rest of the band starts jeering and screaming they join in.
This is a good example of a tradition based around the liminal period. The new members are in a place where they are physically in the band, in that they are preforming with them, but they don’t yet know the traditions, so they are not yet psychologically a member of the band. After the first game however they learn the unofficial rules of being in band and leave the game feeling more a part of the band community.
One of the traditions amongst the USC marching band is to go to the Notre Dame game naked under their uniforms. Notre Dame is located in Ohio and most of the time it’s about 40 degrees outside during the game. The marching band does not get cold however because the body heat from everyone around them keeps them warm.
A friend in band told me this tradition. It is a secret tradition so he is technically not supposed to tell it as he claims the uniforms are considered a valuable item and this tradition is degrading to them
This tradition seems to be making commentary on the lines of decency. The participants in this tradition are technically within the realm of what would be considered acceptable in terms of exposing themselves but they are still playing with the confines of this rule while also making a statement in regards to disgracing a shared enemy, the Notre Dame team.
My informant does some work in the sports media field, which basically means he gets to interview players after the game in the locker room. On of the teams he has interviewed is the Chicago Blackhawks, and he says that in their locker room, there is a big Blackhawk head on the middle of the floor. It’s the team emblem. You are not allowed to step on it, and the players ask all the media people not to step on it either. Anyone who steps on it “gets a major razz from the players.” During the playoffs, there are a lot of media people in the locker room, and some of these people don’t know the tradition because they don’t regularly come for interviews. During these busy weeks, the team goes so far as to rope off the Blackhawk emblem to make sure that no one steps on it. It’s not necessarily bad luck, but it’s just something you aren’t supposed to do.
A similar tradition is observed in the USC Trojan Marching Band. There is a big emblem of the band trojan head on the floor in the band office by the front door, and you are not supposed to step on it. If someone (usually a freshman) steps on it, everyone in the band office will turn to that person and yell at them, and say stuff like “Don’t step on the trojan!” and yell obscenities at the offender. Like with the Blackhawks, it isn’t really bad luck, it’s just something you aren’t supposed to do.
My high school back home had a similar tradition but with a twist. In the front entrance to Lake Forest High School, there is a big Compass-Rose-like star in the main hallway, right by the front doors. I’m not entirely sure, but I think this was a gift from a graduating senior class. When new freshmen come to the school, all the older kids tell the freshmen that this is the Senior Star, and that no one except seniors are allowed to walk across it. And they say that any non-senior who violates this rule will get beaten up. The reality is that nobody gives a shit about walking across the senior star. In fact, given how big the star is compared to the rest of the hallway and the given the amount of students who walk through it in between classes, it would be pretty hard for everyone to avoid it. But the reason they tell this to freshmen is just to see how long it takes them to figure out that indeed nobody gives a shit who walks across it. Nevertheless, the fact that this faux rule exists proves that “Don’t Step on the Symbol” is a somewhat universal concept.
My informant attended the University of Chicago during the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and was a member of the Zeta Beta Tau, or ZBT, fraternity. While fraternity life was different than it was at other universities and certainly is different now, they had one initiation ritual in particular that my informant remembers. After they had become fully admitted into the fraternity, the pledges had to put on a play where they got to parody the older members of the fraternity. Each older member had to be represented at least once during this play. Also instead of hazing rituals, the pledges had to do tasks around the house like cleaning and other chores.
Personally, I find it amazing that the USC Trojan Marching Band, or at least the alto saxophone section of the TMB, has this very same ritual. At the end of the Weekender trip, which is the away game against either Cal or Standford depending on the year, the freshman are tasked with putting on sketches about the older members of the band. Every older member must be represented at some point, which often means that some freshman must pull double duty and do two skits. The fact that a tradition so similar is still being practiced 60 years later tells me that this tradition is at least somewhat universal.