Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I join the Spirit of the West?

As a student at Montana State University, we want you to have experiences beyond attending classes and taking exams. Joining the "Spirit of the West" Marching Band will provide you the opportunity to perform at all of the biggest events on campus while giving you access to 190 potential friends. Our goal is provide our members with an outstanding musical experience while they pursing their degree. Not only will you get to continue playing your instrument, but you will become a member of one of the oldest and most respected student groups on campus. 

How much does it cost?

Our goal is to keep the cost low for our student performers. Having that said, there are some unavoidable expenses associated with playing in the marching band. Members should expect to pay for camp registration ($35-50 depending on year) and a  course fee of approximately $25 (tacked onto your semester tuition bill. All members are responsible for providing their own footwear (marching shoes available from the band) and cold-weather gear (to be worn underneath your uniform).

Are their scholarships available?

All members of the SotW who complete the season in good standing will automatically receive a tuition reduction of $1000 in the spring semester following participation in the band. In the case where a member is not eligible for a tuition waiver, the band does offer "cash" awards. In addition, all returning members also receive a $300 "longevity bonus." While we are very pleased to offer these awards, we always encourage perspective members to consider their commitment to the band as voluntary. You don't earn your scholarship at the beautiful football games in September, you earn your scholarship at the freezing games in November. 

Do I have to be a music major to be in the band?

Nope. In fact, the vast majority of band members are NOT music majors. We are proud to represent well over 40 different academic majors within the band. This is one of the things that makes the SotW so great--the opportunity to meet friends from all over campus.

What if I have never marched before?

One quarter of our incoming students come from schools with no marching band program. Another quarter come to us with very limited marching experience. Prior marching experience is not required. We will spend the first few days of camp teaching basic marching fundamentals. By the end of camp, pretty much everyone is in the same place. Marching is actually quite a bit easier than playing an instrument (although doing both at the same time can certainly be challenging). We teach marching very methodically giving everyone the opportunity to learn and/or adapt to our style.

What if I don't play a marching band instrument?

All prospective members of the SotW are required to pass tryouts before becoming members. If you don't play a marching band instrument, we will be as accommodating as we can, but ultimately you must possess sufficient skills to be a contributing member of the band. If you have solid high school band experience, know how to read music, and show enthusiasm, we believe you can be successful. However, you should not plan to learn a new instrument at band camp. Plan to start working on your instrument in the summer so that you are as prepared as possible for the fall. If you are looking for an instrument, we would suggest that you consider cymbals or colorguard. These are traditionally sections that have less competition due to their relative rarity in our region.

Does the band perform in competitions?

No. It is unusual for college bands to compete with one another. Our role is very different than competitive high school programs or drum corps. While many of us have been members of such programs in our pasts, the majority of college bands have the supremely difficult task of performing for huge audiences that have no affiliation with our schools other than wanting to see a football game. We have found that when performing to such audiences that competitive-style marching band is not well understood or appreciated. In addition, due to the quick change-over of our shows, we rarely have the time to reach the level of perfection expected of a competitive program. Having this said, our challenge--which is just as difficult--is to learn music and drill quickly. 

What is "band camp," and Why Does it Exist?

Band camp is a week of rehearsals for the SotW that happen the week prior to the start of classes in the fall semester. This time is crucial for teaching marching fundamentals, music, and the drill for the football pregame and halftime shows. Attendance and band camp is required of all members. The first three days of camp are exclusively for new members. During this time we hold tryouts for the band. Remember, this is your opportunity to try us out as well.

Where Do I Live and What Do I Eat During Band Camp?

All SotW members that are planning on living in the residence halls during the year will be allowed to move into their dorms early. Not only does this get the band together for camp, but also has the added benefit of avoiding traditional move-in day (which is usually very crowded). Since the dining halls do not open until mid-week, the band provides meals for the band during the first few days of camp.

What Do I Need to Be in the Band?

Any MSU student with high school band playing or color guard experience is welcome to join the SotW. In addition to attending band camp, the weekly rehearsals, and the performances, all members are asked to buy their own marching shoes and warm-weather clothes. We also ask that members have khaki pants for occasional informal gigs around campus. We provide specialized marching instruments (drumline, colorguard, sousaphones, baritones, mellophones), but otherwise generally expect members to use their own instruments.

What Are the Requirements?

All members are expected to register for MUSI 155 (Spirit of the West) as an official MSU course. Members are expected to attend band camp, regular rehearsals, and ALL performances. Most importantly, SotW members are expected to be enthusiastic about the marching band experience at MSU. In other words: faithfully adhering to the policies of the band, accepting instruction from the director, staff, and student leaders, diligently working to improve one's performance, and upholding the MSU student code of conduct.

What Can the SotW Do for Me?

The SotW is one of the largest organized student groups on campus. We have members from nearly every major and freshmen through seniors. Joining the band provides an automatic connection with many other students and an instant network of friends—which can be very important when coming to college for the first time. The band also provides some amazing life experiences. We routinely perform for crowds of up to 18,000 in the newly expanded Bobcat Stadium. Band members attend all the home football games for free (with great seats). Lastly, the band is an academic class (providing either one or two credits) that seeks to improve the musical and kinesthetic aptitude of our members. The joy of playing an instrument (or spinning a flag) in a group of like-minded people is often a welcome release from the daily grind of studying and attending classes. This is why the SotW retains a lively and positive attitude ...oh, and we provide a partial tuition waiver to all members.

Is There an Audition for the Spirit of the West Marching Band?

Yes, but these are largely informal. Members are expected to have sufficient playing ability to perform the music to a university standard. We also spend a good deal of time during camp teaching marching and expect our members to demonstrate appropriate technique. With the exception of the drumline and color guard, it is unusual that students with high school playing experience are cut from the band. 

The drumline and color guard do hold competitive performance auditions. Specific information will be emailed to perspective members using the address provided on the pre-registration form.

Why Don't We Have a Pit?

The climate in Montana makes it difficult to ensure that the pit/front ensemble will be successful game by game. Cold temperatures cause intonation problems, and snow can restrict access to the sideline. In addition, a good deal of our performances occurs in parades and in the streets outside of the stadium - where having a pit is not logistically possible.

Do we have a Guard?

Yes! We happily invite all students guard experience to audition. Our color guard is unique because we do not have a "set" way of doing things every year. This is because the makeup of the guard is so different from year-to-year (especially in terms of background). For guard-related questions, please email, and we will put you in touch with our guard captains.

If I am in the Marching Band, Can I Borrow an Instrument to Play?

Yes, especially if you play a specialized marching instrument (sousaphone, baritone, mellophone, piccolo, drumline, colorguard). We also have a limited number of other instruments available for student use.

Can I be in the Band if I Don't Play an Instrument?

No. The marching band is not a good place for someone who is just learning to play. The exception would be for someone with dance experience that is interested in learning to spin a flag (joining the colorguard).