By Michael J. ARVIZU
Tandy Culpepper still gets a little teary eyed whenever he talks about his beloved Auburn Tigers.
The Auburn University alum was just a “scrawny” (he said) 18-year-old when he walked onto campus for the first time. Culpepper was one of about 30 fans that gathered at Glendale Community College’s Sartoris Field on Saturday afternoon to watch a rehearsal by the Auburn marching band. The band was preparing to perform at this year’s BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl that was played on Monday and pitted No. 2 Auburn against undefeated No. 1 Florida State. Florida State defeated Auburn, 34-31, in Monday’s game.
“It’s a high-pressure stage, but it gives us the opportunity to really stand up and show what we can do to support the Auburn team,” said Paige Lenssen, Auburn marching band’s drum major. “We really consider it part of our duty to support them to the end, win or lose.”
Since about 2008, GCC, in collaboration with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, has opened its football field to college marching bands, mostly bands rehearsing for the Tournament of Roses Parade. In recent years, the college has hosted the Ohio State, Stanford, Alabama, Wisconsin and Oregon marching bands. This is the second time GCC has hosted a BCS championship band. It hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide’s “Million Dollar” marching band in 2010.
“This is such a cosmopolitan group,” said Culpepper of the band as they rehearsed the “War Eagle” fanfare. “They are a very talented group of individuals who do it for the love of Auburn University and for music. It hasn’t changed in half a century.”
Culpepper played trombone for the band and attended the university at a time when some of the pieces in the band’s songbook were being written. For Culpepper, seeing the band perform 40 years after he graduated makes him feel young again.
“I listen to the band now and I’m impressed not because it’s different, it’s just bigger,” Culpepper said. “But the music is still what impresses me the most. It’s the same Auburn spirit. It’s the same enthusiasm.”
The band was scheduled to begin rehearsals at 3:30 p.m., but was delayed for about two hours due to unforeseen travel delays, said Dr. Corey Spurlin, Auburn University associate professor of music and marching band director.
But that did not faze the Auburn fans who nevertheless waited in the Sartoris Field bleachers for the band as the sun set over the Verdugo Mountains and the temperature began to fall, forcing some to go back to their cars to fetch a sweater or jacket.
“When the band arrives, I want to be there,” said Don Hicks, a member of the Auburn class of 1975. “The band makes you feel a part of Auburn today. It’s as if you were still a student. It’s just a real amazing experience.”
Saturday’s rehearsal saw the band go through a final polish of its halftime performance, dubbed “From Stage to Screen,” featuring award-winning music from both mediums including selections from “The Sound of Music,” “Grease” and “Le Misérables.” The Auburn band previously played for a BCS championship game in 2010.
“It’s college football’s premier event,” Spurlin said of the BCS game. “We’re thrilled to be a part of it. For the game we provide atmosphere. We give the fans an experience they don’t get at an NFL game. What we really take to heart is being great ambassadors for our university.”
The band’s trip to the BCS game marked the first time in California for many of the Auburn students who describe their group as a close-knit family.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” said sophomore and band alto saxophone player Kristin Dobbs, an environmental design pre-landscape architecture major. “It’s awe striking to be here. I’m at a loss for words. We’ve been running all over, but it’s been great so far.”
And the contrast in weather conditions was not lost on the Auburn students: The entire band was dressed in shorts throughout the entire rehearsal, something inconceivable back home in Alabama where the temperature was in the 30s on Saturday.
“I love it. It reminds me a little bit of home,” said Lenssen. “I’m from Florida, so coming into the nice warm weather and getting to rehearse in shorts again is a real treat for us.”