They bring the power.
From the drum line to the brass, bands at Historically Black Colleges and Universities have developed a tradition of ankle-knee, high-stepping choreography that’s steeped in influences by the latest in Hip-Hop, R&B, and classic music. To them, it’s all about delivering the often talked about “wow” or “house” factor to the crowd. That high energy is its own craft.
“It’s a natural thing, and I just love that about people of color,” explains the band’s dance coordinator, Tyrone Jackson. “We express ourselves in so many ways like that. It’s always socially embraced in time to the point after a while, it’s old to us. Now, the rest of the world is embracing it.
“Our crowd likes to participate in the show, so if they can sing the words to the song, or dance and know the dance to it and they can participate, that’s when they really get into us,” continues Jackson. “Like, they really wanna be part of the show and connect with us, so we try to find those songs where everybody knows, especially from that older age.”
In the end, the game on the field and the energy of a crowd in the stands, dictates the mood of what the band plays. What the average crowd member fails to see? Confidence. A feeling, that in many instances can seem as if it flows easily, is at the heart of what allows The Marching Crimson Pipers to “bring it” each time.
Compared to most other HBCU bands, Tuskegee’s Marching Crimson Pipers are small, yet the quiet benefit remains, the everyone-knows-everybody bond that is the common thread felt across all HBCU campuses’
“We’re all very close as a family. Us being small, makes us closer,” says Terrence Mixon , who plays the snare drum. “Everyone knows everybody, from the Piperettes, to the tubas, even to the band staff. It’s like a huge family.”
Drum Majors have established themselves as leaders, both on and off the field. Most are there to pick up tassels when they fall, while those in the percussion and brass section share tips on finding a barber to shape them up before a big game.
“These people in the band gonna become their best friends, their family, because they won’t have time to meet and greet the rest of the campus, other than going to class with people in their major” says their band director. “Practice starts at 5pm and ends at 7pm most weekends, they’re here with these people; so that’s who they start to bond with, the people in their sections.”
“I want to leave behind a legacy,” says Terrence. “Like a hardworking legacy. Hard working with a good attitude and a good spirit,”
Film by James Bland // Photography by Elton Anderson // Words by Chatel Theagene