Columbia University Marching Band
Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB), also known as The Cleverest Band the World (tm) was formed in 1904 and was one of the oldest student groups on campus, and the perpetrator of one of Columbia's only traditions, Orgo Night. During games, they tend to please the crowd by playing songs and cheers. During halftime, when everyone is attentively engaged, they perform the witty scripts that they write. They also like to make ridiculous Youtube videos and get into trouble.
We used to have a real "rah-rah-let's-go-team" band. That broke up sometime around the early 60s, when fascism became decidedly uncool, and now we have a scramble band, which prides itself upon its witty scripts, edgy humor, and a definite lack of marching. As fascism grows more popular, some fear that we'll develop a lamer, more traditional marching band. This new band will destroy the environment and offer no-bid contracts to multinational corporations.
In 2011, the Band was performed during a marriage proposal on College Walk. It was as adorable as you'd expect. Later that year, they played at an exclusive party for LeBron James. But they also brought their unique brand of humor to the masses, performing for Occupy Wall Street.
In September 2020, over a few short weeks, the CUMB suffered what appeared to be a fatal publicity blow. After the first anonymous confession, a slew of submissions on the Facebook page Columbia Confessions accused the band of promoting stealing, sexual misconduct, binge drinking, and other storied sins. This resulted in the band ultimately announcing its dissolution.
- The Cleverest Band in the World™
- If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the band.
Lisa Birnbach's College Book named the CUMB's Orgo Night performances as the University's most popular campus tradition. Since at least the mid-1970s, the Band has performed at 11:59 p.m. on the night before each Organic Chemistry final exam. The course is notorious as one of the most challenging undergraduate subjects. In an effort to relieve pre-exam jitters and lower the exam's curve in general, the CUMB interrupts studies at the main reading room of Butler Library. Several hundred students gather for the show, often standing on desks and bookshelves. Orgo Night performances are presented in a style similar to their halftime shows, and have sometimes included comedy banned from those shows by the university's censors.
Every year (since the mid 1980s on the final due date for filing income tax returns with the IRS (usually April 15th unless it falls on a weekend), the Band plays on the steps of the James Farley Post Office, which stays open until midnight on Tax Day, until closing time to entertain last-minute tax filers.
Fittingly, the Farley building was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the same firm that designed the original plan for Columbia's Morningside Heights campus. Its architects adorned the building with the now-famous inscription "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds", which is often mistakenly assumed to be the USPS motto (it has none.) Good Columbia students know it's actually an adaptation from Herodotus' "Histories" because they read it in Lit Hum.
During Orientation Week the Band takes recently-arrived freshmen on a tour of what it calls "the side of Columbia that the admissions office never dared nor cared to tell you about." The tour also may or may not involve actually taking tour groups underground.
Days on Campus
During Days on Campus, the Band plays "Roar Lion Roar" for prospies as they return to campus from their nighttime bus tour of the city.
Due to its irreverent humor, some of the band's halftime shows have caused controversy. The CUMB prides itself on evading university censorship:
- In 1964, the band performed a "Salute to Moral Decay," featuring a formation of "the upper part of a topless bathing suit" (all marchers left the field except for two sousaphones, while the band played "My Favorite Things") and a typically heavy-handed reference to Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, who had been caught in flagrante delicto in a men's room. Columbia's president had to fend off angry letters from several notables, including conductor Leonard Bernstein.
- In 1966, the band was suspended for several games for the infamous "birth control" show where they formed a Combined oral contraceptive pill, a calendar (for the Rhythm Method), and a chastity belt.
- In 1968, at West Point, the band formed what it called a "burning Cambodian village" on the field. CUMB has yet to be invited back to West Point. The football team hasn't actually played any games at West Point in recent years, but the band feels it should be invited to perform at the occasional halftime show anyway.
- In 1973, a brawl broke out between the CUMB and the Harvard University Band over the alleged attempted theft of the giant Harvard Bass Drum.
- The band's theme for a 1981 halftime show at Holy Cross was "The Lions vs. The Christians". Holy Cross administrators subsequently dis-invited the band from any future games played in Worcester, much to the band's relief. Columbia's next road game against Holy Cross, in 1983, marked the beginning of what became an NCAA-record winless streak.
- The band's script for the 1982 season-opening road game against Harvard mysteriously turned out to be identical to the script the Harvard band was set to use moments later. The Columbia band subsequently denied that this astonishing and inexplicable coincidence had anything to do with the fact that two of its members had spent the previous week posing as new freshmen at Harvard's undergraduate orientation. Faculty of Columbia's statistics department refused to support the band's claim.
- In 1990, the band received a bomb threat over its symbolic formation of a burning American Flag accompanied by The Doors' "Light My Fire". This performance happened shortly after a controversial United States Supreme Court ruling that actual flag burnings are legal.
- In 1992, at the Halloween show, the band performed in costume or drag, including one member dressed as Jesus, with cross. This was also the homecoming game. Two alumni took the field and attempted to charge Jesus, but were thwarted by drummers clad in snare drums. Quoth the alumni: "Don't you know that's fucking sacrilegious?!?"
- In 1992, at the Yale Bowl the band pantomimed the consummation of a same-sex marriage on the field, while the couple was held aloft on a CAVA stretcher while the band did the hora and played Hava Nagila. The occasion was Youth Day and hundreds of local children from community groups were in attendance. The first words of the halftime show: "We swear, we didn't know it was youth day."
- In 1993, the band drew parallels between the Holocaust and policies for management of New York City's homeless population proposed by newly-elected mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The Anti-Defamation League demanded an apology.
- In 1993, at Princeton, the band recreated the Magic Bullet Theory as put forth by the Warren Commission on the John F. Kennedy assassination, complete with band members as scattering skull fragments.
- Not really a controversy, but on October 7, 1994 the Marching Band showed up outside of David Letterman's Late Show with David Letterman. They were soon invited for an impromptu performance.
- In 1998, at the Yale Bowl, the band performed a show featuring a homosexual, pot-smoking Jesus Christ in a homage to the Terrence McNally play Corpus Christi. Angry Yale fans demanded their money back.
- During a game against Fordham University in 2002, soon after the Catholic church was rocked by disclosures about pedophile priests, the band claimed that Fordham tuition was "going down like an altar boy" in a joke improvised minutes before the start of the pre-game show. In the ensuing media frenzy, band Poet Laureate Andy Hao was featured on MSNBC's Phil Donahue Show in a debate with Catholic League President William Donohue. The New York Times profiled the CUMB. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger ended the controversy in one of his first official acts as University President when he apologized to Fordham president, the Reverend Joseph O'Hare. They were banned from playing at Fordham for ten years.
- In 2011, Athletics administrators banned the band from performing at the final football game of the season, following an incident in which the "banned" sang a modified rendition of Roar, Lion, Roar with the lyrics "We always lose" during the football team's ninth straight defeat of the season. Two days later, the ban was reversed.
- After being allowed to play at Fordham in 2012 following their ten-year ban, the band made posters referencing the death of Christians at the hands of lions in the Bible. For this they were banned again for an unspecified period of time.
- In December 2012, one of CUMB's Orgo Night posters featured a pun on "Gaza Strip", i.e. "Everyone Wants a Piece". This provoked a scolding from Kevin Shollenberger via a student-wide email. There were lots of Bwog comments about it, some against the band, most in favor of the band. Some students protested Orgo Night, where the band made fun of the protesters and Shollenberger.
- After Butler Library Administrator Ann Thornton banned CUMB from performing in 209 in 2016, using extremely facile arguments such as "it bothers the students who work in that room" and "safety issues," (despite no student in 50 years being in Butler 209 for anything except Orgo Night during a single hour period on one night in the entire semester) CUMB acquiesced and performed directly outside the front doors of Butler. They hoped internal alumni pressure and their own forms of protest would eventually come to bear on Thornton and convince her that her machinations were wrong. Of course, no administrator thought about having 100s of students outside in the extreme cold (during Fall) instead of inside. And shockingly, the noise outside the front of the library actually traveled to more rooms within Butler than it would have if CUMB performed inside 209. Big. Surprise. In Fall of 2017, fed up with the intractability of the university, CUMB organized a covert operation to hide instruments throughout 209 and lead an impromptu and against-the-rules performance back in their ancestral homeland. The response of the university is still yet to have come down, although rumors of suppressed involvement of CUMB with activities such as Days on Campus have filtered down.
- In fall of 2019, the band was banned from performing at Columbia Athletics events due to failure to register as an official Undergraduate campus club . After rallying cries from alumni, and the story being picked up by national news, the university held meetings to resolve the conflict, and re-instated the band.
- In fall of 2020, a flood of anonymous confessions on the popular confessional Facebook page Columbia Confessions surfaced, exposing racism, antisemitism, theft, rampant sexual misconduct, and other problematic traditions. On September 2nd, CUMB issued a statement they were aware of the allegations and were discussing possible solutions. Two weeks later, on September 14th, CUMB issued another statement stating "The Band has unanimously and enthusiastically decided to dissolve". This decision sparked campus-wide debate over accountability within campus clubs, and was even picked up by national news.
- "Storybook Romance in London—and Morningside Heights, Bwog 4/29/11
- Occupy Wall Street performance
- Amusingly, this led to an absolute torrent of news coverage: ESPN; DeadSpin; Spec; New York Times; Rivals.com (Yahoo!); Bloomberg; Boston Barstool Sports; FTR Sports; Larry Brown Sports; SafetySign.com; Village Voice; Newsday; Hawkeye Nation; ESPN; Daily Mail (UK); SportingNews (AOL); New York Magazine; NPR; New York Observer; New York Post; DeadSpin; New York Daily News; Slate
- CUMB's pre-2005 news and media appearances
- Editor and Publisher criticizes censored New York Times and Associated Press coverage of the Fordham halftime show. 2002
- New York Times CUMB profile Sunday Styles section, The New York Times, 2002.
- Student Coalition Calls for Systematic Changes to Address Issues of Racism, Discrimination; Fed, CCCC, CUMB Offer Apologies, Columbia Daily Spectator, February 25, 2004
- Athletics bans marching band from football finale, Columbia Daily Spectator, November 16, 2011
- Athletics reverses band ban, Columbia Daily Spectator, November 18, 2011
Lisa Birnbach's New and Improved College Book, by Lisa Birnbach (1992) ISBN 0-671-79289-X