Immediately after a performance before thousands of spectators at Bulldog Stadium for the Sierra Cup Classic on Saturday, Oct. 30, Bulldog Marching Band director Steve McKeithen delivered exciting news to the band.
“Before [the band] left the field, the announcer said, ‘Hey, Bulldog Marching Band, check out the video board for a special announcement,’” McKeithen said. “And that’s when they literally found out – in front of all these people.”
That’s the moment the 253-member Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band (BMB) found out it had been chosen to perform in the 2023 Rose Parade on Jan. 2, 2023, in Pasadena.
“It was really amazing honestly. I’m on the Student Band Council who helps run the BMB – even we didn’t know. It was a great opportunity to show high school bands the future of the BMB and how exciting the future truly will be for our program,” said Kaitlyn Jones, a sousaphone player for the BMB.
“It was definitely a wild and emotional moment. [Sierra Club Classic] is our biggest show of the season and I couldn’t imagine any better way of being told that our hard work was recognized,” said Judit Sanchez, a color guard member who came to Fresno State primarily to join the BMB.
McKeithen, who was hired in 2014 as the director of the band, kept the news secret for a month, but he had applied two years before. McKeithen said the inspiration to apply came from Honora Chapman, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.
“In early 2020, I encouraged Professor McKeithen to submit an application for the [BMB] to participate in the Rose Parade because I was born and raised in Pasadena and I’ve watched this amazing parade either in person or on television every year… Considering how beautiful and famous the Rose Parade is, I knew that our Bulldog Marching Band would be honored and thrilled to march in it,” Chapman said.
McKeithen submitted the application only weeks after the pandemic had shut down the campus. Chapman attributes some of his students’ success to this dedication from McKeithen.
Over a year later, McKeithen got an unexpected call at his office with the good news: the BMB would be one of the chosen performers at the Rose Parade in 2023.
“It’s a huge honor. The selection process is very rigorous. There are a lot of bands that apply and there’s a lot of them that never ever ever get selected. Ever. And you know, I was also not really thinking that we were going to get it the first time around, but you know this is a nationally ranked program as far as the marching bands [are] concerned,” McKeithen said.
The BMB has had years of acknowledged success, including the selection of the band as an “Ensemble of Excellence” in 2017 by the College Band Directors National Association. This selection came after a juried process with only eight college bands chosen throughout the country.
The band has also performed for two NFL games: the San Diego Chargers in 2015 and the then Oakland Raiders halftime show in 2016. They have also performed at five bowl games and been featured in the 2018 E3 Expo and the launch of video game “Just Dance 2019.”
Joshua Bell, a sousaphone player in the BMB who rose from member at large to current president, is confident that the band is deserving of the opportunity.
“I think our performance [at the Sierra Club Classic] cemented why we were selected, if I will be honest,” Bell said. “I absolutely love the opportunity that’s being offered to the BMB. I’m from Los Angeles, so I grew up watching the Rose Parade every year and it has been a dream of mine to perform in it, and now it feels like it’s coming true.”
Every participating 2022 BMB member who is able to keep up with the intensive preparation as well as coursework will have the opportunity to participate in the Rose Parade.
“It’s a daunting thing. It’s gonna have six-and-a-half miles and a lot of TV and a lot of people and a very confusing environment, and a tough environment, like, it’s not easy. It’s not just walking down the street playing. We’re going to have to do a lot of preparation to do that at a high level. It’s going to be challenging,” McKeithen said.
“I’ve heard we will be working a bit more on endurance for the six-plus mile parade. It’s the longest parade I believe the band has ever done so it’s important for us to be prepared in a way we have never been before,” Jones said.
“Practice your instrument, learn your scales and make sure you can move (in terms of marching). The standards of the BMB have been raised and we definitely want to put our best foot forward for the Rose Parade, which will be heavily attended and heavily televised. However, if you work hard, what I just described will be a cakewalk,” Bell said.
Members encourage student musicians to audition regardless of any possible reservations, from being a non-music major to lacking the confidence or experience they perceive necessary to be in the band..
About 64% of the 253 BMB members are actually non-music majors, instead being spread across over 45 different majors. 12 members are currently pursuing their bachelor’s in psychology, and with 13 members without declared majors.
When it comes to social anxiety, members have found confidence in their interactions with the band.
“Don’t be scared! No one is perfect and the BMB is all about progression and being the best you can be. It’s a great way to make friends, become a better player and also truly get a Fresno State Bulldog experience,” Jones said.
Other members shared Jones’ sentiments, sharing the dedication developed to Fresno State through their time in the band.
“Coming to Fresno State was definitely overwhelming, and it was hard to make connections and friends,” Sanchez said. “Once I joined the marching band everything changed. We are truly one big family, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“I want the students to know that even if they think they’re not ‘good enough,’ we still want them to try to audition. Audition[ing] will only give you the experience and confidence you need for the next time you audition for anything in life,” Bell said.