Marching Through History

Now the largest military band in the nation, the Aggie Band started with just 13 volunteers

By Samantha Mahler @mahlersamantha

One iconic phrase has long been associated with the precision-style marching that can only be found in Aggieland:

Ladies and gentlemen, now forming at the north end of Kyle Field, the nationally famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band!

With around 400 band members, the Aggie Band is the largest military band in the nation. As a distinct part of the Corps of Cadets, the band members live in close community with one another, making it a marching band unlike any other.

Around 1894, Joseph Holick travelled by train to College Station looking for work. A skilled leatherworker, Holick wound up repairing and making boots for cadets, eventually creating Holick Manufacturing Company, which makes boots for senior members of the Corps.

During the Fall semester, the Aggie Band wakes up around 5am each morning to practice halftime drills.  Photos by Meredith Seaver

During the Fall semester, the Aggie Band wakes up around 5am each morning to practice halftime drills. Photos by Meredith Seaver

As the story goes, Holick also shared his musical talents with the Cadets. Word of this eventually got to then-A&M president Lawrence Sullivan Ross, who asked Holick if he would be interested in forming a band. Holick found 13 volunteers, borrowed militia uniforms and spent $100 on instruments, thus creating the Aggie Band.

The other collegiate marching bands went away from military marching style which ultimately made the Aggie Band unique. Col. Jay Brewer, senior associate director of the Aggie Band, said this style and the fact that the band lives together as a unit, is what makes the Aggie Band exceptional. Brewer serves as the familiar voice of the band during its performances.

“I think it’s popularity is pretty evident if you’ve ever been to Kyle Field and you hear the student crowd and others echo my introduction to the band,” Brewer said. “They stand the whole time these young people are on the field. It’s a testament that this is something special; this is something unique. And wherever we go, we get that and then some.”

Within the Corps, there are six band-specific units  to which members can be assigned. These cadets have similar schedules to non-band Corps members but with the added obligation of band practice five days a week, Aggie Band members have a different level of responsibility.

“They’re very good and very dedicated at what they do, and it takes a great deal of time and energy and sweat and some tears along the way,” Brewer said. “There’s a lot more to it to be in the Texas Aggie Band than preparing halftime drills and preparing march music.”

The Aggie Band resides in two halls at the Corps Quad. There are three floors to each building, and each of the six units is assigned its own floor.

Civil engineering junior and 2019 Band Commander Nick Rossi said although everyone in the band may look uniform on the field, it really is a melting pot of cadets from a wide variety of backgrounds. Still, one thing is the same for each member: the band spends the majority of its time in close proximity with one another.

There’s a lot more to it to be in the Texas Aggie Band than preparing halftime drills and preparing march music.
— Col. Jay Brewer, senior associate director of the Aggie Band

“It’s really neat because at the end of the day, we’re all going to come back here to these two dorms, and we’re all going to lay down in the same relative vicinity, and we’re all going to get up and go do the same thing the next morning,” Rossi said. “That’s really special — something bringing us into some kind of common ground to do something that’s not just for us.”

Ross Beazley, industrial distribution sophomore and current alto saxophone, said the relationships within the Corps are unparalleled  but a little more so within the Aggie Band.

“Not every major unit outside the band gets the opportunity to intermingle nearly as often as we do,” Beazley said. “I think that’s super, super cool because I get to go see other people from five other outfits that I don’t get to see on a regular basis and make connections and make relationships with them.”

Rossi said he is confident the friendships he’s made within the Aggie Band will be relationships he’ll have for life. He credits these connections to living together and being able to see his buddies at their best and worst.

“We all see each other at the 5 a.m. wakeup call whenever your hair is a mess, all half an inch of it,” Rossi said. “Whenever you’ve got bags under your eyes and whenever you’ve got that exam the next morning.”

In 2001, the Aggie Band received the Sudler Trophy which is awarded to a collegiate-level marching band that demonstrates the highest level of excellence. However, for many members of the band, the honor of playing as George H.W. Bush’s casket was carried off the Union Pacific train before his burial in College Station is the highest award they will ever receive.

“The fact that he wanted specifically us to be there — that I think trumps any award that we could possibly be a part of,” Beazley said. “Just being part of something so special and characteristic and important to our country.”

Cadets in the Aggie Band earn a one-hour kinesiology credit each semester they are active. Brewer, who has been announcing the band at halftime since 1981, said he believes members should earn at least a six-hour credit because of their dedication to both each other and the band itself.

“It’s about who you are and what you’re made of, but more importantly, what you’re passionate about,” Brewer said. “And more importantly than that, this is about not so much what we do, but whom we do it with.”