YOU MUST WORK HARDER THAN US: The Small Bands That Accepted The Challenge…

Stop for a second and think about your favorite college marching bands. Now choose which of those bands you would rank as your “top 3”. Then, which of those three are considered to be small bands (80 wind instruments or less)? If you are like most people, then none of your “top” ranked bands are considered “small bands”. No matter how great a small band is, in our minds, they will always be a step below the “elite” programs. Subconsciously, we seperate them from the bands we consider to be “better”… the bigger bands.

A few months ago I did an article entitled IS BIGGER BETTER?: Can A Small Band Ever Really Be The “Best Band”? In that article I explored the belief that most people, naturally, prefer bigger marching bands and smaller bands must work 10 times harder to overcome that disposition. Luckily, this year there were a few bands that did just that…


Since Marques Graham took control of “The Power House Of The South” just 4 short years ago the Savannah State University Band has undergone more than just a name change. The program has excelled from regional prominence to national dominance as it has faced formidable MEAC competition from the likes of Florida A&M, South Carolina State, and North Carolina A&T. The secret to SSU’s success is undoubtedly their sound. With less than 50 winds The Power House manages to produce a sound that is full, clear, and consistent.


With a new look, and a refined sound, the Stillman College Band has muscled its way up through the ranks to be a formidable band in the state of Alabama and beyond. Under the direction of Mr. Monsieur-Pejay Howard, the Pride Of The South has had another standout year on and off the field. Utilizing a drum corp approach with an all brass instrumentation, similar to Ohio State, Stillman manages to stand out amongst HBCU bands with its unique sound. Don’t be fooled by the size, this is a band full of surprises.


Under the leadership of Jorim Reid, former director of bands at NCCU, The Bronco Express has quietly become a program to be reckoned with in the state of North Carolina and throughout the nation. With a strong emphasis on the total program, the FSU band has taken the time to first strengthen its wind ensemble, which has provided a strong foundation for its marching band to grow upon. Utilizing marching techniques that combines the best from both the corp and traditional styles, flanked with unique arrangements tailored to its size and instrumentation, The Bronco Express will undoubtedly continue to wow crowds throughout the nation.


Under the direction of Mr. Alvin Level, the phrase “Small band with a big sound” sums up the Marching Thorobred Express perfectly. I was very impressed with the volume and depth of the band’s sound considering its size. This is the type of band that makes you forget that they are a “small band”. The KSU band’s field presentations have been visually stimulating as well, with well designed drills and exciting routines from their very talented flag and dance teams. The KSU Marching Thorobred band is definitely a program to watch out for, whether its on the field or in the stands.

Some say music is music and if it sounds and looks good, then it just does… no matter what size. But those same individuals will never name one of these bands as their “top 3” and it comes down to this… Marching band is both visual and auditory. Naturally it’s more appealing to see formations with 200 musicians as opposed to 80. And of course 200 musicians will, in most cases, produce a bigger (I didn’t say louder) sound than 80.

So yes, if we’re honest, the deck is stacked against the small bands from the get-go. Our lofty expectations, unfairly, require them to sound just as good, look just as good, and perform just as good as their larger counterparts… But with less resources, in some cases less talent, and always in the shadow of our preconceived bias for larger bands. However, there are rare instances when a small band, under the right director and with the proper administrative support, is able to do amazing things impervious to our bias. And it is in those instances that perception and bias is changed.

Published by Ernest Stackhouse

-Music Educator -Marching Band Show Design -Musical Arranger -Adjudicator -Fine Arts Administrator -Band Director -Writer

4 thoughts on “YOU MUST WORK HARDER THAN US: The Small Bands That Accepted The Challenge…

  1. Those bands listed are awesome programs but I would not neccessarily consider them small. Of course they started small but are growing and developing. In our HBCU band scene there are a lot of small programs like Saint Augustine, Central State, Clark Atlanta, Lincoln, Texas College and a few others. I personally enjoy some of those programs, especially when they put a great product out there. It takes a lot of guts to start from the ground up and put out a product that is expected to be on the same level of Southern, FAMU and others who have been around for decades. This is a great article

  2. Marques has made it work in spite of the lack of full support at SSU.

    Alvin is a seasoned vet who knows what it takes to get it done in any situation.

    ….and Jorim is and has always been a master of creating a top notch musical program…
    You are on point again Nupe!

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