I am hesitant to write this article. Distaste for the Princeton University Band is already so widespread a feeling on campus that writing against them feels neither constructive nor beneficial. There is little observational worth in pointing out the kids with the orange blazers and bass drums in the dining hall for the sake of saying “don’t you just hate that?” as if unearthing a new and unnoticed vexation. Worse yet, to call the army of brass and drums annoying is less of an insult than an indulgence. The band is not simply aware of their role as campus pest, but have made it into something of an identity. They celebrate their role as traveling burden; they revel in the nuisance. But this is precisely what motivates me to write this piece—the element which I struggle to understand: the appeal of membership in a group so hungry to be despised, so loud in its aims to bother.
Just a few nights ago, I was eating at Whitman when the band came to play during dinner. Their entrance was met with the usual palpable dread. Aside from a few clapping friends, the reaction of the dining hall was mostly a muffled groan, rolling eyes and petulant, commiserative stares at nearby friends. As always, a few in the dining hall took it upon themselves to shout “Leave!” and “You suck!” to the members. Nonetheless, the band played through three songs. The first, a brassy “What is Love,” served as a Valentine’s Day Band-Gram. They followed this up with an instrumental “Gangnam Style” which they deemed a sensible token of appreciation to the dining hall staff. Upon finishing the second song, the band loitered in silence. Before cutting into a muddled “I’m a Believer,” they lingered for a full five minutes to soak in Whitman’s disdain. They waited for conversations to reignite, only to take pleasure in drowning them. Every set of angry, clenched teeth provided fuel to their lungs. I seethed as I devoured a taco. “To Wilson!” they cried as they exited, only able to leave with the pleasant thoughts of future annoyance.
After stewing in my contempt for the band, I realized there remained only a slim chance that the band genuinely did not know how intrusive it was. Of course they must know, I thought I had to appraise the awareness of my adversary before launching an attack. Looking for answers, I consulted the band’s own website. Of course, the “About Us” section proved useless; all it offered was a welcome and some crap about maintaining campus traditions. Their blog, however, revealed flickers of their true nature. Under “A Year in Review” I came across the following passage:
“The year starts off as always with thrilling Dean’s Date Eve and Dean’s Date gigs where the band made its way across campus, into various dining halls and libraries, disturbing the peace aiding stress relief across campus. We gave out candy, okay? And we all know how much students like free food.”
Okay, so disturbing the peace is something of a joke to them. They understand it’s a part of their ethos, and they accept it. But coming to terms with an undesired consequence is far different than existing for its very sake. The former is a parasite; the latter is sinister.
But maybe there’s another explanation for their being. An idea I’ve heard is that they serve as a statement against the achievement-centric activities culture at Princeton. Most student groups on campus—arts groups in particular—pride themselves in high selectivity, and often commit to excellence over enjoyment. The band is the notable exception: no audition process, no experience necessary, and hardly any time spent building skill. Foremost, the band aspires to provide fun for its members, and I do not doubt that it succeeds in doing as much. If it were not enjoyable, it would not maintain a membership. That said, I cannot believe its motivations are so pure. If it were a club devoted to the joy of playing instruments, it would exist independently of campus life; it wouldn’t weave among it. That is, an organization centered around the intrinsic satisfaction of making music, no matter how disagreeable, would not run through public spaces simply to elicit disapproval. Their overwhelming annoyance is not incidental to the group; it is the lifeblood. The band has an active thirst for burdening others, and it is this twisted joy in being a bother that keeps the band wandering around Princeton. They are a bug that keeps buzzing just to be swatted at. They find pleasure in polluting public air. There is minimal difference between their role on campus and that of the child on a family road trip that laughs as he keeps farting in the back of the car.
Of course, it is unlikely that disdain—even popular disdain—would ever cause the band to disintegrate. For better or for worse, they’re rooted in over ninety years of tradition, and when discussed in the lineup of Princeton traditions worth dissolving (the rumored raw oyster eaten at Ivy Club to stave off Jewish members, or more obnoxious yet—the closing of every dining hall for Cane Spree) suddenly the band seems a little less menacing than before. And besides, whether you’re a University Band member or enemy (can you really be anything else?) there’s something about bad music—be it generation or commiseration—that creates a shared understanding. The band has inspired more than a few supportive threads on Princeton FML, and in addition to a century of band alums, there’s an even stronger century of band-averse. But then again, they don’t set out to foster commiserative friendship; they aim to pester, and any bonding that takes place is entirely incidental.
As strange as it may seem, judging by sound alone, the band doesn’t even bother me that much. I can deal with a few minutes of bad music, even if they do practice something close to guerilla warfare on the ears. What I can’t deal with is a society of people who gets off on being an annoyance—a group who finds satisfaction in provoking hatred. I understand this article has in fact validated their success, and in a way, I feed their cause. I have made peace with the fact that they will celebrate this. As such, I have come to rationalize this rant as a gift.
13 thoughts on “The Band”
Your article is written from the uninformed, diametric perspective that the band exists for either purely musical or purely mischievous intentions, when neither is true. Functionally, the band exists principally to entertain at athletic events. All the rest of its activities are traditions built on 90 years of performing at football games.
Also, if you’d ever been to a Reunions, you’d know that there is not a “century of band-averse” alumni. Regardless of how one feels about the band as a student, almost everyone seems to love it after graduating.
It’s not that we, the band, are trying to be annoying, we’re spreading lightheartedness and fun. Lighten up a little. Princeton is full of people who need to let loose and release all of their fucks into the air. We’re not hurting anyone. People find fun in various ways. Some people are able to look past the snooty Princeton bullshit better than others.
Wow. You’re so bitter! And so wrong about what everyone else thinks about the band. I love the band, and lots of my friends do too. During my four years at Princeton, there were about a billion times when I felt so miserable I wanted to just give up and transfer to the university of hawaii or any place warmer and less miserable, and then as if by magic, the band would cavort through the library and I would think, “Hey, this place isn’t so bad after all.” Every time they came through Frist or Firestone or stood outside on dean’s date to play for me while I rushed my papers to dropboxes, I thought, “These people have papers too, and they handed theirs in hours before me so that they could play a soundtrack for me while I run.” Have you ever thought about what an awesome sacrifice that is? I love the band. Chill out. Try smiling when you’re not required to. I know you might not have time for it, what with all the time you spend making yourself miserable, but give it try — maybe your face won’t hurt as much if you take a break from your perpetual frown.
In case you didn’t notice, the Band was delivering Band-O-Grams for Valentine’s Day that were requested by students for other students. In fact, the 5-minute “loitering in silence” in Whitman was just waiting for a Band-O-Gram recipient to show up so that the Band could deliver their gift. And even though the Band does disrupt normal dining hall activity by playing, that little bit of spontaneity always brightens my day!
Unsurprisingly, my article has provoked both valid and strong objections, and I’d like to take a moment to address them. I understand that my article represents an extreme perspective – one that I did not mean to represent as universal. As it was, I had written this article in a highly sleep-deprived, stress-ridden state. I admit that the band had probably caught me at the wrong place in the wrong time: namely, already incensed and hoping to sit to a relaxing dinner with friends. Prior to this article, I did not have strong feelings about the band, and as I write this comment, I find that my feelings have since dissolved; however, by the next morning the article had already been submitted and my bitterness was set to circulate across campus, irrespective of my change of heart. That said, I think it’s fair to say that band has a knack for catching many students in similarly sleep-deprived, stress-ridden states. One can go weeks without seeming to find peace on campus, and when found, it’s easy to feel annoyed when it is disrupted. While it would be nice if everyone on campus could feel so festive and welcoming of the band’s arrival, it is unrealistic to hold this as an expectation. If the band plans to catch audiences unawares, it must realize that it will encounter students in all sorts of moods. I understand and appreciate the band members’ willingness to complete Dean’s Date assignments early in order to play for the university, and it’s great if that gives them satisfaction, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are making a sacrifice for the campus at large. Many arts groups on campus rehearse exhaustively and perform shows during reading period (I am in one, in fact) but none of their members consider their rehearsal or performance a “sacrifice.” Rather, members of such groups complete assignments early without expecting gratitude in return. I’m really glad to hear that the band has positively impacted many students over time, and I’m sure that when I hear them next, I probably won’t mind. But the bottom line is that in any given moment in a public space on campus, one will find students in a wide variety of mental and physical states. Because the band makes no effort to select its listeners, it can only expect reactions as varied as the audiences for which it plays.
It sounds like you were pretty exhausted and stressed when you wrote the article, and I definitely get that. It also makes total sense to me that not everybody likes the band — not everybody likes anything! And I think that’s a fair and legitimate viewpoint to express. I think what threw us all off was the assumption that the band is just doing it to piss people off, and the assumption that either you’re in the band or you hate it. If you had written an article like this comment, I think it might have been better received. Lesson learned: don’t write articles when your’e exhausted and stressed! Or, write them, and then leave them overnight to look at again once you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Good luck with all your work, and I hope you can find that peace and quiet you’re looking for. 🙂
p.s. to clarify what I mean by “this comment,” an article like your comment above.
Are you admitting to writing a last minute article and not even proofreading it before submitting? Shame on you.
Also, people love the band — when they played in Firestone lobby on Dean’s Date, a lot of us went out to the lobby to cheer and take videos. Just saying.
“And besides, whether you’re a University Band member or enemy (can you really be anything else?)”
Are you fucking kidding me? Don’t speak for me, and don’t speak for everyone else.
Band, please don’t think everybody feels this way.
The band’s a thing people can feel more than one way about. They shouldn’t expect to be able to play loudly and poorly for twenty minutes straight at Whitman without some people hating them. But they must be used to it.
The band did not perform for “twenty minutes straight,” nor did they perform “poorly.” They performed three well-known and popular songs, the total playtime of which could only have been 6 to 7 minutes. Yes, people are welcome to have their own opinions, but uninformed facts (the root of this entire problem) are not valid.
I’m surprised at a lot of these comments – where are these people that “love the band”? If their purpose is to spread “lightheartedness,” perhaps the time to do so is not at one of the most stressful points of the entire year in a quiet space where people have chosen to isolate themselves from this sort of incessant nonsense. The band is frankly disrespectful.
Great article. The band is, without question, the single worst thing about Princeton.