To say that the Bulldog Marching Band at Fresno State is just a college marching band or that it is all just friends is an insult. They are a family, said Katie Ardizzone, a sign language interpreting major from Santa Clara, who has played the piccolo since eighth grade.
“We have each other’s backs,” she said.
The band, known as “BMB,” consists of more than 200 students from different majors, including music, nursing, mathematics and kinesiology. They come together three times a week for several hours to practice synchronized steps, tighten formations, play instruments and spin flags and batons.
They can often be seen outside next to the Science II building off Woodrow and Barstow avenues, on a field marked much like the football stadium in which they perform.
From a distance, they could almost be mistaken for a military group with the discipline and synchronization in their movements and formations. Shoulders are squared and hands are held high and tight in front of their faces, almost as though they are holding invisible instruments.
A tall, outspoken blond man named Tyler Halderman wears a headset that allows his voice to boom through the loudspeaker that sits on the makeshift sideline as he talks members through their drills.
Halderman could easily double as a motivational speaker with his confident and energetic mannerisms, encouraging members to get pumped up and treat each practice like a performance.
Ardizzone said their steps are practiced to the sound of a metronome, or met, a machine that is hooked up to the loudspeaker on the field, and the tempo can be increased or decreased when the dial on the back is turned a certain way.
The sound itself can be annoying, Ardizzone said, but it does serve a purpose: keeping everyone on the same beat.
“As you march forward, your heel hits the ground on the tick,” she said, “and backwards, it’s the ball of your foot that hits.”
Feature twirler Kayleigh Spencer, a graphic design major, has been a competitive baton twirler since she was 8 years old. When Spencer initially decided to attend Fresno State, she had not planned on being a part of the marching band until she received an email from a band assistant inviting her to join them at camp a week later.
“I’d never gotten to twirl for my school before, so I was really excited,” Spencer said. “I fell in love.”
Spencer, who hopes to pass on her love of twirling through coaching after she graduates, said that she and the other twirlers practice with the band about seven or eight hours a week. For routines requiring a little extra work, she and the others practice on their own time as much as possible.
Such discipline comes in handy in every aspect of life, said Sindi McGuire, the marching band’s administrative assistant of 15 years.
McGuire is affectionately known as the “band mom” and has seen the impact that being a part of the band can have on the students’ lives.
“They come in at 18 years old and, all of a sudden they’ve got freedom, but they have responsibilities too,” McGuire said.
Not only is the band a musical ensemble, McGuire said, it’s also a part of leadership and teaches students how to organize and plan things.
These hands-on lessons in discipline, time management and leadership are not the only things that members walk away from the band with, but they also leave with strong and unforgettable connections—both platonic and romantic.
McGuire said these connections are a highlight of overseeing the band she never tires of.
“I’ve seen marriages come out of the band, where they met in band and then got married and had children after graduation,” she said with a smile.
Ardizzone echoes the positivity of McGuire and Spencer.
“Band is a huge part of my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”