As the summer sun set, the nearly 330 members of USF’s Herd of Thunder (HOT) marching band converged on Fowler Fields. The members approached the 50-yard line in their coordinated routine playing “Malaguena,” a melody with Spanish flare that evoked the imagery of a matador.
After the piece, HOT Director Matthew McCutchen addressed the band members with a few notes about their upcoming performances.
In preparation for HOT’s performances at Round-Up 2014 and the football season opener, the band has endured day after day of 10-hour rehearsals.
What gets students through the grueling practices, McCutchen said, is the sense of duty he tries to instill in the students.
“The Herd of Thunder really has three purposes,” he said. “We want to support our university, we want to support our athletics program and we want to be ambassadors for everything that we believe is good about the University of South Florida.”
As ambassadors, the ensemble has traveled across the Tampa Bay area and even across the Atlantic, marching in London’s New Year’s Day Parade last year.
McCutchen said the most challenging part of HOT is the ensemble’s high value as a commodity at the university.
“So many people want us and want the band to come for so many things that we have to say ‘no’ sometimes,” he said. “They are students, first and foremost, and I have to protect their time.”
McCutchen said the main reason many students join HOT is that they were in marching band in high school and what seems to keep most of them in the group, despite the long days, is the sense of community and family that has developed within the ensemble.
Observing rehearsals is John Carmichael, a conducting professor starting his eighth year as director of bands at USF, who said providing oversight and coordinating activities for the various musical ensembles at USF is a big job.
“If they weren’t as good as they are, my job would be more difficult,” Carmichael said. “It’s the most visible part of the School of Music, so when people see the Herd of Thunder they also assess the quality of the School of Music.”
There’s one thing often overlooked about the ensemble, he said, and it is that 70 percent of the performers are non-music majors.
Ernie Carr, a senior majoring in engineering, serves as captain of the drum line. He did marching band throughout high school and said he joined because of all the friendships being in a marching band has allowed him to make.
“You learn so much outside of being an engineering major,” Carr said. “Here you learn skills outside of the classroom that are definitely applicable to life.”
One of those skills, he said, is time management. Carr also said HOT is a source of pride for him.
“I feel school spirit as I play on game day and I feel it even just walking around campus, knowing that I’m a member of the band,” he said. “People just go to class and may not have a sense of this school’s spirit, but if you’re in the band you play the fight song, you sing the songs, you know what it means to be a Bull.”
HOT will perform during Round-Up at 7 p.m. Thursday,in the Sun Dome. They will also perform during the pregame for the Bulls’ first football game of the season at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, and again at the halftime show.