Inside the spirit of The Mustang Band

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The Mustang Band hall located under Dedman is the hub go the band's spirit. Photo credit: Rachel Gorgol

You know them from their candy-striped suits and big band music, The Mustang Band represents one of SMU’s oldest traditions.

It may be small, but the mighty group shatters the usual marching band stereotypes, according to Band Director Don Hopkins.

“We are different than most bands,” he said.

The band marches 70 people with the style of a Big 10 school, according to Hopkins. They don’t march flutes or clarinets. One baton twirler takes the field instead of a full color guard. The group focuses on their brass instruments and drums to perform big band type music, in addition to a broad repertoire of songs like Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

Other Texas schools, such as UNT and Baylor, march large, traditional, militaristic bands. Baylor has a band more than three times the size of SMU’s band. They play more classic music and stick to traditional attire and marching patterns.

“SMU Band does things differently. Like we wear suits and play jazz,” said junior trumpeter Jared Fowler. “We are much more casual about it.”

The Mustang Band first started in 1917 as an all male group. While women were encouraged to join during war times when men went away to fight, the first woman to join as a regular member came in 1977.

The band’s reputation as “The Best-Dressed Band in the Land,” according to their website, is not something the group takes lightly. They have over 29 different uniform combinations. The unique uniforms have been a tradition since 1959, according to Hopkins.

“If you catch their eye, their ear will follow,” Hopkins said, quoting Dr. Irving Dreibrodt, the Mustang Band Director from 1958 until 1983.

Dreibrodt started the tradition of the candy striped band uniforms that SMU students and fans recognize today as a symbol of good music and SMU spirit.

While chatting about the band’s unique outfits one day recently in the new Mustang Band Hall, Hopkins points to restored photos and display cases showing the history of the uniforms.

Dreibrodt added personality when he introduced The Mustang Band to different costumes in 1959, Hopkins said. He added an entire collection of costumes including accessories to the classic uniform to spice it up, as well as starting the familiar candy striped costumes that we still see today. Dreibrodt even went as far as a uniform of nightshirts and bare feet for late games and season closers to say goodnight to the season. There also was a wooden mustang costumes to make it appear as though the band were riding on horses. Needless to say, the 40-pound horse costumes did not stick around long, according to Hopkins.

“We definitely have our own personality,” said Jake Moon, a trumpet player. “They don’t call us the hub of SMU spirit for no reason.”

The tradition continues far beyond campus. Alumni play a huge role in the program. You may have seen the band perform with more than 100 band alumni during the homecoming game.

“Something kind of cool about the band that is different from other organizations is that the alumni are still really involved,” said euphonium player Courtney Kent. “We are one of the oldest groups on campus.”

The band is like a club or giant family to its members. Moon, a junior majoring in advertising and fashion media, says his favorite part about being in the band is the camaraderie.

Each of the 70 band members practice about five hours per week. Three of the hours are all together as a full band, according to Hopkins. The team plays as a whole group at all SMU football games. In the past they have even traveled with the football team to bowl games. You can catch a smaller version of the band at SMU basketball games.

“What people don’t realize is how much work they put in,” said Hopkins.

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