1977 - PRESENT
Researched and Written by Jacob McCormick
The Modern Era: 1977-Present
With the structural changes in the Music Department, the band had a new directorial structure for the fall of 1977. Former assistant director of bands Thad Hegerberg became the associate director of bands and director of the Spartan Marching Band. The new position of assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band was filled by new faculty member Carl Chevallard. Though the director of bands no longer had formal duties with the SMB, Kenneth Bloomquist still frequently joined Hegerberg and Chevallard during rehearsals and gamedays.
On February 19, 1977, the Zeta Epsilon chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, the national honorary band sorority, was chartered at Michigan State University.
Carl Chevallard, Thad Hegerberg, and Kenneth Bloomquist, 1977
The band’s directorship looked very different by the fall of 1978. Kenneth Bloomquist had become chairman of the Music Department and was no longer director of bands. Thad Hegerberg left MSU in 1978, leaving Carl Chevallard as associate director of bands and director of the Spartan Marching Band. The assistant director of bands and associate director of the SMB was a vacant position in 1978.
1978 Spartan Marching Band
The Catron Years: 1979-1988
In 1979, Carl Chevallard left MSU, necessitating the hire of a new Spartan Marching Band director. The Music Department returned former faculty member David Catron, who had been assistant director of bands from 1970 through 1974. Among Catron’s paramount changes to the SMB was increasing its size to 300 members and fixing the “block” at 300 for consistency in charting the pregame show.
Early on, Catron made some personnel and instrumentation changes to the band. In 1979, the color guard was made all-female from its original coed makeup. New white satin skirted uniforms were also implemented for the color guard. In 1981, peck horns were replaced with mellophones in the SMB.
In 1982, Catron welcomed SMB alumnus William Wiedrich as the first assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band in several years.
In 1984, the 36-member color guard received new bright yellow uniforms and were under the direction of Carol Ebenhoeh.
Also in 1984, the MSU Department of Music became the School of Music.
In 1984, the Detroit Tigers invited the Spartan Marching Band to open Game 3 of the World Series in Detroit with a pregame concert appearance on the outfield of Tiger Stadium. The band gave a 30-minute stationary concert following the teams’ warm ups. Band members were also given complimentary tickets to attend the game.
1984 World’s Fair
In the summer of 1984, a delegation from the Spartan Marching Band was invited to perform at the New Orleans World’s Fair. The 25-member uniformed delegation was sponsored by the Chrysler Corporation and presented three concerts at the Fair.
1984 Cherry Bowl
At the end of the 1984 football season, the Spartans made their first bowl game since the 1966 Rose Bowl. The 1984 Cherry Bowl was held at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan on December 22, 1984. The band’s halftime show was shown in its entirety on television.
1985 All-American Bowl
At the end of the 1985 football season, the Spartans again earned a bowl game appearance. The 1985 All-American Bowl was held in Birmingham, Alabama on December 31, 1985. The band’s halftime show was again shown in its entirety on national television. At this game, the band debuted new uniforms.
1984 World Series
The Loss of a Legend
The fall of 1984 was the Spartan Marching Band’s final season in the lifetime of Leonard Falcone, who had become known as the “Dean of Big Ten Band Directors.” While he had participated in alumni activities less in his later years, his presence was always felt around the SMB. On September 29, 1984, the Purdue Boilermakers came to Spartan Stadium. With the Purdue football team came the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band, directed by former MSU assistant director of bands Bill Moffit. During their visit to MSU, Moffit marched the AAMB into downtown East Lansing down Charles Street onto Leonard Falcone’s front lawn. In a display of Moffit’s utmost respect and admiration of Leonard Falcone, the AAMB played a concert for Falcone on his doorstep.
At the end of his life, Falcone resided in a Dimondale nursing home. In the days leading up to his death, family, friends, colleagues, students, alumni, and others visited with the beloved bandmaster a final time. The evening before his passing, a group of Spartan Marching Band members visited him, serenading him with the “MSU Fight Song” and the “MSU Shadows.” Leonard Falcone died on May 2, 1985. His mountainous legacy remains palpable among members and alumni of the Spartan Marching Band and across the campus of Michigan State University.
1988 Rose Bowl
At the end of the 1987 season, the Spartans made an epic return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1966, twenty-two years earlier. The Spartan Marching Band accompanied the football team to California for the 1988 Rose Bowl on chartered American Airlines flights. The SMB’s trip included a week of intense rehearsals and appearances at Universal Studios, Disneyland, Sea World, and the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, in addition to the 1988 Tournament of Roses Parade and at the Rose Bowl Game.
During the Tournament of Roses Parade, the Spartan Marching Band broke tradition. Traditionally, uniformed band members carried the Big Ten banner at the front of the block. During the 1988 Rose Parade, the SMB selected two major supporters, professors Walter Adams and James Costar to carry the banner. Costar is the founder of the Band Fan Club. Both Adams and Costar were the first non-band members given “honorary” status to wear a Michigan State Band Jacket.
Following the Spartan’s victory over USC, the game ball was presented to the Spartan Marching Band by head coach George Perles.
The Wiedrich Season, 1988-1989
In July 1988, David Catron resigned as associate director of bands and director of the Spartan Marching Band to take up administrative duties in the MSU School of Music. William Wiedrich was promoted to associate director of bands and director of the SMB. Wiedrich’s single season as director ended with Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida on January 1, 1989.
On September 14, 1988, the Spartan Marching Band was the seventh recipient of the prestigious Sudler Trophy, administered by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The Sudler Trophy is presented to “collegiate marching bands of particular excellence that have made outstanding contributions to the American way of life.” Those present during the ceremony were (as shown in photo, left to right): Bill Moffit, William Wiedrich, David Catron, Kenneth Bloomquist, MSU President John DiBiaggio, Leonard Falcone’s widow Beryl Falcone, Sousa Foundation chairperson Al Wright, and Virginia and Louis Sudler.
In 1988, Spartan Marching Band alumnus Glen Brough began his longtime role as visual coordinator of the SMB. He taught all visual aspects, such as the highly technical kickstep, to the band and sustained the high visual standards of the Spartan Marching Band for three decades. Brough retired from MSU, including his role as the SMB’s visual coordinator, in 2018 after 30 years.
The Madden Era, 1989-2017
In 1989, William Wiedrich resigned as associate director of bands and director of the Spartan Marching Band. On August 1, 1989, John T. Madden was selected to fill the position. As an alumnus of the SMB, Madden sustained all of the band’s beloved traditions and continued to ingrain the rich history of the ensemble into its members.
During Madden’s first two seasons, the Spartan football team played their way into bowl games. At the end of the 1989 season, the team made it to the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii. Bands were not permitted to perform on the field at the Aloha Bowl, so the SMB did not travel to the game. A year later, following the 1990 season, the SMB followed the team to the John Hancock Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
In the early 1990s, Michigan State University and the Spartan Marching Band cracked down on hazing and any negative traditions that had developed over the years. It was then that the longstanding “Midnight March” evolved into the “Freshman Dress Rehearsal,” which maintained a similar structure but came under far greater rigidity and direction.
In 1992, the Spartan Marching Band elected its first female band president, Janet Murray.
The Voice of the Band: Jerry Marshal
In 1993, Tim Skubick left his longtime role as the voice of the Spartan Marching Band, a role he had held since 1968. He was replaced by prolific MSU athletics announcer Jerry Marshal, who is known as the longtime voice of Spartan hockey, in addition to basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, and gymnastics. Marshal, who was also a Spartan Marching Band alumnus, continued as the voice of the band through 1997.
On December 6, 1993, the Michigan State football team played the Wisconsin Badgers in Tokyo, Japan in the Coca-Cola Classic. The Coca-Cola Classic was a sponsored regular season game played abroad and not a post-season bowl game. Both bands were able to attend and perform. Due to the student-incurred cost to attend, only a small group of SMB members went on the trip. It was, nevertheless, a uniformed delegation which performed in Tokyo representing Michigan State University.
While inconsistent, the Spartan football team regularly made bowl games in the 1990s. At the conclusion of the 1993 season, the team played in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of the 1995 season, the team traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana for the Independence Bowl. Following the 1996 season, the team played in El Paso, Texas in the Sun Bowl. The Spartan Marching Band attended and performed at each of these bowl games, though all losses, the trips made for exciting conclusions to each season.
President Bill Clinton has visited Michigan State University numerous times. Through his visits, the MSU Bands have performed for him on two occasions. In 1995, Clinton was a commencement speaker for Michigan State University. The MSU Wind Symphony played before Clinton in that instance. Again in 2000, President Clinton visited East Lansing following the Michigan State men’s basketball team’s National Championship win, which coincided with his farewell tour at the end of his presidency. The Spartan Brass performed during that visit. In neither instance did the Spartan Marching Band perform, but Clinton has long-been regarded as the fifth president for whom the University Bands as a whole have performed. In addition, there is a great number of students in both the Wind Symphony and Spartan Brass who are also SMB members.
First Female Drum Major
In the fall of 1995, Mary Houhanisin was selected as the first female drum major of the Spartan Marching Band. She served as the SMB’s drum major for three season, 1995, 1996, and 1997. Including Mary, the SMB has had six female drum majors to date.
Aloha Bowl, 1997
The Spartan football team again played its way to an Aloha Bowl appearance at the end of the 1997 season. Bands were not permitted to perform a halftime show at the Bowl, but schools were still required to bring a band. As a result, a delegation of 85 members was selected by seniority to travel to Hawaii for the game. The uniformed delegation played two pep rallies in Hawaii and in the stands throughout the game.
The Voice of the Band: Peter Clay and Tim Kiesling
After Jerry Marshal departed as the voice of the band, Spartan Marching Band member Peter Clay was tapped as his replacement. Clay held the position for one season, 1998, then, upon graduation, left the role to pursue career opportunities elsewhere. As a result, Tim Kiesling, a local radio personality, became the new voice of the band in 1999. Kiesling continued in the role through 2008, when Peter Clay resumed the position. Clay remains as the voice of the SMB today.
The Loss of a Band Fan
In 1998, Michigan State University suffered the loss of longtime economics professor and former president Walter Adams. Adams was a longtime band fan and supporter. As MSU president in 1969-1970, Adams would listen to the band rehearse on Landon Field from the president’s residence at Cowles House. On gamedays, he started walking with the band from Landon Field to Spartan Stadium. Even after his brief tenure as interim president was through, Adams continued his support of the band and sustained his gameday tradition for the next two decades. Adams was the first non-band member granted “honorary” status, which comes with the privilege of wearing a Michigan State Band Jacket. He could be seen escorting the band nearly everywhere they went with his trademark hat, plume, and cigar.
Following Adams’ death in 1998, Landon Field, the longtime home to the Spartan Marching Band, was renamed for Walter Adams. Since moving off of Adams Field for regular rehearsals, the SMB still spends every gameday on Adams Field for its warm-ups prior to marching to Spartan Stadium. Following the final game of each season, the band circles Sparty, crosses the Kalamazoo Street Bridge, and returns to Adams Field to revisit the historic home of the Spartan Marching Band as seniors are sent off for the final time.
2000 Citrus Bowl
At the conclusion of the 1999 football season, the team earned a trip to Orlando, Florida to play in the Citrus Bowl. The Spartan Marching Band accompanied the team to Orlando. The band enjoyed the New Year’s Day televised spotlight on ABC as well as parades at Disney World, MGM Studios, Universal Studios, and the Magic Kingdom parade into the new millennium on New Year’s Day. The Spartans beat the Florida Gators by a field goal on the last play of the game!
In 2001, the Spartan Marching Band first began its long-running tradition of “Everybody’s Everything” postgame performance. The classic Carlos Santana tune was arranged for the SMB in the 1970s by alumnus and arranger Jeff Kressler. It was first played for an SMB halftime performance in the 1970s, then migrated into the Spartan Brass songbook. By 2001, the SMB was graced with a new drumline instructor, Dr. Jon Weber, who arranged percussion parts for the song. Ever since, the Spartan Marching Band has played “Everybody’s Everything” after every game in addition to samples from that day’s halftime show. In 2005, the “Everybody’s Everything” drum rack was built and introduced, resulting in a modified drumline arrangement, still played today.
“Amazing Grace” post-September 11, 2001
On September 22, 2001, the Michigan State Spartans and Notre Dame Fighting Irish played one of the first college football games following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. United as one, the Spartan Marching Band and the Band of the Fighting Irish gave an emotional and powerful performance of “Amazing Grace.” This was the first time any visiting band joined the Notre Dame Band for a joint halftime performance. This moment still stands among the most notable marching band moments in the history of college bands.
Silicon Valley Classic & Alamo Bowl
Following the 2001 football season, the Spartans played in the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, California. After the 2003 season, the team played in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. On both occasions, the Spartan Marching Band accompanied the team and gave outstanding performances.
Spartan Brass & the Yankees
The Spartan Brass, typically made up of a similar body of students as the Spartan Marching Band, performed at the 2003 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. At the game, they caught the attention of Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner. Band director John Madden introduced himself to Steinbrenner and offered the band to perform the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the Yankee’s spring training the following day. The 30-member Spartan Brass delegation then played before ten thousand people at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida, during the spring training game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. This is a fine example of Madden’s longtime commitment to extending the reach of the MSU Bands in new and exciting directions. The athletic bands, Spartan Brass and Spartan Marching Band, had especially thrilling opportunities during his tenure.
SMB for Kids Concerts
The first annual Sparrow Hospital Spartan Marching Band for Kids concert was held in 2003. Tim Staudt, dean of sports journalism in mid-Michigan, has been a longtime supporter and the concert remains an annual tradition today. The highest chairs in each section participate in this event, usually held on Sundays and featuring patriotic favorites along with school songs and traditional band routines.
The SMB debuted new uniforms in 2003. For the first time, the uniforms came with two interchangeable jackets.
Madden and Odajima
In 2006, the Spartan Marching Band got its first associate director since the 1980s. Isaiah Odajima, a recent graduate student in the School of Music, was named assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band. In this period, in 2007, the Michigan State University School of Music became the College of Music.
Following the 2007 football season, the Spartan team played in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The SMB had a wonderful trip to Orlando to support the team in their game versus Boston College.
In Dr. Odajima’s final season with the SMB, 2008, the band returned to Orlando, Florida with the Spartan football team to attend the Capitol One Bowl.
Madden and Cannon
In 2009, Dr. Cormac Cannon was named assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band. At the end of their first season together, Madden and Cannon’s band traveled to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
To conclude the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons, the Spartan Marching Band traveled to the Capitol One Bowl (Orlando, Florida), Outback Bowl (Tampa, Florida), and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Tempe, Arizona), respectively.
The 2011 season marked the first time that the Spartan Marching Band provided all silver gameday instruments for every section in the band. Also in 2011, the Spartan Marching Band’s traditional seats in Spartan Stadium, located at the southeast 20 yard line, were shifted into the southeast corner of the Stadium. The new seats were intended to project the band’s sound to more of the Stadium and have remained the same ever since.
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Spartan football team played in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game. The Spartan Marching Band joined the team in Indianapolis, IN for the game. The Spartan Band and Wisconsin Badger Band joined forces for a combined pre-game performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The script used to introduce the combined band performance, used in every game since, was written by SMB director John Madden.
The SMB was featured in Rolling Stone magazine in a 2013 article titled “10 Mind-Blowing Marching Band Cover Songs.” The band’s 2012 rendition of “Cinema” by Skrillex, including choreography, caught the attention of the famous music magazine.
In 2013, the SMB debuted new uniforms, maintaining the consistent look that had been sustained for decades.
2014 Rose Bowl
At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the Spartan football team won the Big Ten Championship game and headed to Pasadena, California for the school’s triumphant return to the Rose Bowl, its first appearance since 1988, 26 years earlier. This marked the 100th Rose Bowl Game and 125th Tournament of Roses Parade.
The Spartan Marching Band departed for California on December 29, 2013 and went through an extensive and rigorous rehearsal schedule at Occidental College leading up to the parade and game. The band participated in a parade and concert at Disneyland and participated in a pep rally at L.A. Live outside the Staples Center, the largest pep rally in MSU history. For the fifth time in the school’s history, the SMB marched in the Tournament of Roses parade and played a pregame and postgame show at the Rose Bowl game. The postgame show was unplanned and occurred in the moment of celebration with the band returning to the field. The SMB returned to East Lansing on January 2, 2014.
Forest Akers Trust Practice Complex
Historically, the Spartan Marching Band has rehearsed on Adams Field (formerly Landon Field), then Demonstration Hall Field. In the fall of 2014, the Spartan Marching Band moved its rehearsals to the new Forest Akers Trust Practice Complex and Ed and Wanda Eichler Family Teaching Tower and Gallery, located at the corner of Shaw Lane and Chestnut Road on Munn Field. For the first time in its history, the SMB received a dedicated turf practice field on which daily rehearsals and gameday morning rehearsals are held.
The new complex was dedicated on August 29, 2014 with speeches by MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon, College of Music dean James Forger, members of the MSU Board of Trustees, and MSU men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo. The 2014 Spartan Marching Band was also present and performed at the dedication.
The 2014 football season ended with the Spartans playing at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Spartan Marching Band accompanied the team to Dallas, witnessing the remarkable fourth quarter comeback versus Baylor.
Madden and Thornton
In 2015, Dr. Cormac Cannon departed Michigan State University. College of Music graduate student David Thornton was selected to fill the position of assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band. Thornton had been a graduate assistant with the SMB for several seasons.
College Football Playoffs
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, the Spartan football team became just the second Big Ten team to make the newly-established College Football Playoffs. The Spartan Marching Band is just one of two Big Ten marching bands to perform in the CFP to date. The Spartan team played Alabama in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Among the SMB’s activities surrounding the game, was a Michigan State pep rally held inside Globe Life Park, then home to the MLB’s Texas Rangers.
Since 1954, the Rose Bowl patch has been the most coveted bowl game patch worn on the Michigan State Band Jacket. It traditionally replaces the standard SMB patch on the jacket’s left breast. In 2015, given the significance of the CFP, the Band Jacket protocols were modified to make way for a new patch tradition. A College Football Playoffs patch was designed to be worn on the jacket’s right breast.
The End of an Era
In the summer of 2017, John Madden retired from Michigan State University and as director of the Spartan Marching Band after 28 years in the position.
The Thornton Years, 2017-Present
On June 14, 2017, Dr. David Thornton was named associate director of bands and director of the Spartan Marching Band. Thornton has maintained the high standards and tradition of the Spartan Marching Band during his tenure. Among the changes made in Thornton’s first year was the retirement of the traditional director’s uniform and officer’s hat.
For the fall of 2017, the assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band position was filled on an interim basis by Simon Holoweiko, College of Music graduate student and former SMB drum major.
Dr. Thornton introduced new technology to the Spartan Marching Band in the fall of 2017. The band began using the Ultimate Drill Book app for distributing drill charts and for blocking the drill for the pregame show and each halftime show. This reduced the band’s paper use and increased the preparedness of band members through expedited distribution of drill sheets and coordinates, as well as animated visualizations of the drill offered in the app.
On October 7, 2017, the Spartan Marching Band presented a combined halftime performance with the Michigan Marching Band. Each ensemble learned music and drill separately, combining for a single gameday rehearsal before putting on the joint halftime show. The show culminated with Dr. Kevin Sedatole, MSU director of bands and former MMB director, conducting the combined bands in Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and concluding with the two bands interspersed in a formation of the State of Michigan. The great coordination, leadership, and talented members of both bands made this special performance possible.
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, the Spartan Marching Band accompanied the football team to San Diego, California for the Holiday Bowl.
Thornton and Golden
On July 1, 2018, Dr. Arris Golden was named assistant director of bands and associate director of the Spartan Marching Band. Golden is the first woman to hold any directorial role with the band. Like Thornton, Golden earned her doctorate degree from the MSU College of Music and had been a graduate assistant with the SMB for several seasons.
Following the 2018 regular season, the Spartan football team played in the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, California. The SMB stayed in San Francisco and spent one rehearsal at California Memorial Stadium at USC Berkeley.
The Spartan Marching Band performed in Yankee Stadium in New York on December 27, 2019 for the Pinstripe Bowl, at which the Spartan football team defeated Wake Forest. This marked MSU football coach, and honorary SMB member, Mark Dantonio’s final game with the Spartans.
Spartan Marching Band Sesquicentennial
During the 2019-2020 academic year, the College of Music celebrated the sesquicentennial of the MSU Bands. In the fall of 2019, the MSU Alumni Band and Spartan Marching Band held the largest Alumni Band reunion in school history with 899 alumni attending. Combined with the SMB, 1144 Spartan Band members and alumni marched on the field of Spartan Stadium during the celebration. A 150th Anniversary concert event was scheduled for April 2020, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.