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Spirit & Sports

TBDBITL: It takes a team to light up halftime

Marching Band Director Christopher Hoch shares each step of the creative process, from idea to execution, behind those rousing football shows.

As members of the band practices behind him in their street clothes, marching band director Chris Hoch sits on a stool on the practice field. His hair’s a bit messy, his clothes are casual, and his expression is happy.

(Photo by Jodi Miller) 

Too many degrees to list

In this story, if we were to introduce Chris Hoch as we usually do, his name would be followed by: ’00, ’00, ’02 MM, ’02 MA, ’12 PhD. That’s right, Hoch has five Ohio State degrees, including two bachelor’s degrees — one in music education and the other in math. 

“Sometimes you ponder things for hours on end before an idea comes to you,” he says. “It might be trying five or six variations before it looks good. The key is a willingness to be picky. You have to be willing to say, ‘That’s not the best we can do. Let’s try something else.’”

Once the school year begins, rehearsals start. The band has 192 musicians and 36 alternates — about 85% aren’t music majors. 

Phillip Day ’14 MM, associate director of the band, says Hoch takes time each year to make sure the student musicians appreciate that the band’s history is critical to its success.

“There’s a lot that’s happened before us and a lot that’s going to happen after us,” Day says. “We’re a step along the path of growth in this organization. Knowing it helps students see the bigger picture.”

The band practices 20 to 30 hours per week during football season. The game schedule dictates which shows will be presented when; more complex ones follow longer breaks between games so students have more time to learn those routines. 

Hoch compares the learning process to the memory game Simon. “We set one page of drill, then move on to the second and then the third. You keep adding until you have the whole drill learned.”

As TBDBITL fans know, the routines can be incredibly complex. If students need help, staff and student leaders work together to provide it. “That’s part of the culture of the band: Students really want to help each other,” Day says. “Everyone is working toward the same thing.”

Hoch’s goal is for the band to know the entire routine by the end of Thursday’s rehearsal, so that Friday can be spent in what he calls “cleaning mode,” ironing out any last details. On Saturday before the game performance, the entire band practices footwork two more times. Percussionists play their portion each time, but the brass musicians do not. Resting their chops is important before the big event, Hoch says. 

And then, finally, it’s showtime. 

“There’s a common mindset across the band: We know what it takes to get there,” says mellophone player Crosbee Lisser, a senior and dual major hoping to become a music teacher herself. “We’re all willing to put that extra effort in.”

She’s learning a lot from Hoch. 

“As a high school student, I never had to think about what it’s like to be in charge of 200 kids and make sure everything goes correctly,” she says. “I really respect him. It has to be a stressful job, and he stays really positive.”

Watch the band

Even if you can’t make it to Columbus, you can catch a Skull Session, the band’s way of firing up fans before home football games. 

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