Rugby Columbia Silences Its Marching Band

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Rugby Billy Witz

In the rich history of marching band transgressions, this was not Stanford’s halftime routine against Brigham Young that poked fun at polygamy and exalted the bond between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman and a woman. Nor was it Rice’s “IX” formation, for Title IX, to mock a sexual assault investigation at Baylor. It was not even Yale’s pants-dropping incident.

No, the sin that caused the banishment of the Columbia University marching band for the entire 2019 football season was … late paperwork.

It had nothing to do, the Columbia administration explained, with the band’s tradition of bursting into the library, trumpets blaring, on the eve of the organic chemistry final. It wasn’t on account of bawdy routines and occasionally crude chants at football games, or fears of what might be in store when Robert K. Kraft, the New England Patriots owner and a Columbia football benefactor, turned up at a game.

No, the university said, the hammer had to come down because the band had failed to submit its application for funding on time. And if these impressionable young people are not held to account, then a deadline becomes nothing more than a two-syllable word, creating a loose thread that threatens to unravel the social fabric.

“They were reminded repeatedly of deadlines during the 2019 spring semester for applying for recognition,” the university said in a statement. “Nevertheless, CUMB failed to meet the application deadlines of our student governing boards, bringing us to the current situation.”

And here was the situation on Saturday at Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Athletics Complex at the northern tip of Manhattan: Columbia band members in the stands, instrument-less, for the home opener, while their replacement, a high school band from Staten Island, dutifully played “Roar, Lion, Roar.”

Sam Losee, a sophomore English major, said it was sad and held up a sign that read, “Ask me where my trombone is?” (This was a metaphor; she plays the xylophone.)

“It’s like being Roar-ee without a costume,” she said, referring to the team mascot.

The band was notified last Wednesday by Peter Pilling, the athletic director, that it would be prohibited from performing this season and that any member who tried to play an instrument at a game or to disrupt activities would be subject to discipline.

This was no joke. One student had a flute confiscated upon entering the stadium, and another had drumsticks taken away. Security did allow a cardboard trombone.

“This is part of a broader move at Columbia to make the band more sanitized, more corporate,” Samantha Rowan, the president of the Columbia University Band Alumni Association, said of the ban, w

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