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Making the Band

Making the Band
USC freshman Krishesh Shroff experienced a “new level of intensity” with the USC Trojan Marching band.

USC freshman and Trojan Marching Band percussionist Krishesh Shroff taught himself how to play with a drumline on the Internet. He’d been drumming since he was 10, but his Dubai high school didn’t have a marching band.

Shroff took a diligent, albeit alternative, approach to learning the fundamentals of marching percussion. He studied online videos and, for added inspiration, practiced drum patterns that hung on his bedroom wall alongside pictures of percussion legends such as Jeff Queen. As he mastered drumline technique and “rudiments” (the basic patterns of drumming), Shroff’s pastime became his ambition.

“I love to drum, but this was a whole new level of intensity,” he said of marching percussion. “It really challenged me.”

So when it was time to apply to college, the possibility of playing on the drumline with the USC Trojan Marching Band weighed heavily in his decision to say no thanks to east coast universities such as Brandeis and New York University and instead pack his sticks for Southern California, where he planned to audition for the band.

“I had Googled the band and was blown away,” said Shroff, a business major. “This was what I wanted to do.”

It’s no surprise that the USC Trojan Marching Band’s reach is felt in far-flung regions like the Middle East. The 315-member juggernaut represents “The Spirit of Troy” for the USC Trojan football team and entertains hundreds of thousands of fans in stadiums across the country, and millions more on national television.

Under the direction of Arthur Bartner, who has reigned over the band for 40 years, the USC band plays approximately 350 events a year.

But the band’s accomplishments don’t end on the field. Most recently, it marched for U.S. President Barack Obama when he spoke on campus in October. In addition, its performances on shows such as Hawaii 5-0, Dancing With the Stars, American Idol, the Academy Awards and the Grammys has earned it the moniker of “Hollywood’s Band.”

In the entertainment arena, the band is perhaps best known for its performance on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk!, becoming the first collegiate marching band to be awarded a platinum album. The accompanying MTV video, shot at Dodger Stadium in 1979, became an instant international phenomenon.

Making a band that has reached such lofty heights takes more than instrumental skills, Bartner said. “You gotta be a Trojan, buy into our culture and live and die for the Trojans. Most importantly, you gotta have spirit.”

This year, 100 freshmen auditioned for the chance to join the band; 90 made the cut. Hopefuls attend a week of mandatory band camp that helps separate the wheat from the chaff.

When Shroff arrived on campus for auditions in August, he admitted it was “pretty scary.”

“I didn’t know what kind of musicality they expected,” he said. “I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for. I just wanted to play on the line.”

To his surprise, Shroff was assigned to bass drum 6, one of eight basses on the drumline, which includes six snares, three tenors and 11 cymbals.

“They asked me if that was alright, and I said, ‘Are you kidding? I would love to.’ I made the line!”

As a novice to marching, Shroff continued his autodidactic approach to learning the complexities of drumming on the line. For example, ”dutting,” or verbally marking time with the other drummers, was something he’d never had to consider in his high school concert band experience. He also had to decipher “drill charts,” or marching target spots, which create the formations the band makes on the field.

“I just threw myself into it and practiced like crazy,” he said.

Bartner is pleased with Shroff’s progress. “He’s really terrific,” Bartner said. “He has a great work ethic, and he fits in well with the eight-person bassline very well. He’s very consistent in coming to practice.”

While only some of the band members play during the pregame show, the entire ensemble takes the field at halftime. Freshmen are required to learn three or four songs for each home-game halftime show. They also must know 25 or so fight songs/rock charts that are part of the band’s “book” plus 15 or so “cheers” that are played during the game.

Shroff said he was “really nervous” the first time he put on the uniform and walked onto the field. Being surrounded by 92,000 cheering fans in cardinal and gold, he said, was “mind-blowing.”

“I looked up and thought: That’s a lot of people who want to hear us play!”

To prepare for games, the USC band practices for two hours, three times a week, plus Saturday mornings for as long as needed. Drumline has an additional three-hour practice one night a week.

“The schedule may be tough, but it’s good for them because they have to organize their time,” Bartner said. “The busier you are, the better prepared you’ll be for life after USC. I think the band helps you prepare for that.”

The magnitude of being a part of the USC Trojan Marching Band is not lost on Shroff.

“I found it amazing that people are so dedicated to this band,” he said. “I love the intensity and commitment to being a part of something that’s way bigger than yourself.”

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