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Marching Illini

Marching Illini
School University of Illinois
Location Urbana-Champaign, IL
Conference Big Ten
Founded 1867
Director Barry L. Houser
Members 360
Fight song "Illinois Loyalty (school) and Oskee Wow Wow (fight)"
Uniform Navy blue pants and jacket, a white and navy shako hat with a navy plume and an orange "UI" logo in front, one orange and white baldric crossing the torso, an orange cape bearing the name "Illini" in white, white gloves and gauntlets, white spats, and black shoes

The Marching Illini (MI) is the

  • Official Site
  • Illini Drumline Official Site

External links

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  • Birthplace of the college concert band - first formal concert given in 1890, with performances as early as 1872
  • First school song - Illinois Loyalty was first performed March 3, 1906
  • First college to use Sousaphones - upright bell model sousaphones were purchased in 1906–1907
  • First halftime show - in 1907 for the University of Chicago game
  • First to form school letters (Block I in parade)
  • First Homecoming - first celebrated in October, 1910
  • First Dad's Day - first celebrated in November, 1920
  • First Mom's Day - first celebrated in 1921
  • Performed at first football game broadcast on radio (band was heard on WGN experimental play-by-play broadcast, probably in 1924)
  • First to sing a cappella on the field - in the Quad Cities during a trip to Iowa in 1920
  • Chief Illiniwek made his first appearance in 1926
  • First student card section (Block I)
  • Referred to by John Phillip Sousa as "World's Greatest College Band" in the 1920s
  • First band to have its own band building (in the 1930s)
  • First to have a giant school flag
  • First to march mallets at the college level
  • First college marching band to release a compact disc ("The Marching Illini" in 1986)
  • First college band to march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland in 1992
  • First Band with a website – first advertised in April, 1994.
  • Performed at the first televised football game and the first football game televised in color.
  • First band to use field bugles in a field show (1913–14), thus making the Marching Illini the first drum and bugle corps
  • Debbie Soumar became the first female Drum Major of the Big Ten in 1977

The Marching Illini can also lay claim to several firsts, which are listed on the band's official website. These include:[4]

In addition to its performances, the University of Illinois Bands could claim the honor of holding the largest collection of original works and papers by John Philip Sousa, until 1994 when these items were transferred from the possession of the band to the university's archives, under the control of the University Library. These archives remain housed on the upper level of the Harding Band Building.

The Marching Illini was the second band to ever be awarded the prestigious Louis Sudler Intercollegiate Marching Band Trophy in 1983, after only the Michigan Marching Band. In addition to Rose Bowl appearances, the Marching Illini has performed at the All-American, Peach, Liberty, Citrus, Hall of Fame, John Hancock, Holiday,, Texas, Sugar, Kraft Fight Hunger and Heart of Dallas Bowl games.

The Marching Illini at the 2004 Marching Festival

Facts and figures

The Illinois Alma Mater, Hail to the Orange is performed as part of Three in One at the end of each halftime performance. It is also sung a cappella in 4-part harmony by the Marching Illini before the band is dismissed at the end of the post-game concert following each home game. This song is based on the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity song "Hail to the Purple."

Hail to the Orange

Oskee Wow-Wow is used as the Illinois fight song since Illinois Loyalty is not well-suited for rousing a crowd during a game. The University is somewhat unique in this regard, as it is uncommon for a school to have a separate fight song and school song.

Oskee Wow Wow

Illinois Loyalty is the Illinois school song and was written by Thacher Howland Guild specifically for the university and was first performed by the Marching Illini on March 3, 1906.

Illinois Loyalty

"Revised Entrance #3", the pregame opener and calling card of the Marching Illini, combines an opening fanfare with a march version of the Illinois state song. The band moves into dual U of I logos, and then transform into four arcs – two arcs facing each sideline. Sousaphones and percussion are centered between the arches, while the auxiliaries flank both sides of the band.“Patriotic Medley” follows, and the winds adjust to an outline of the United States, while the percussion form the state of Illinois with one cymbal player strategically placed in Champaign. At the climatic point of “God Bless America,” a dramatic high chair 4-count turn to the home stands accompanies a downward cascade in the music, and the crowd invariably applauds. After a short mark-time, the formation changes to a large rectangle. During “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the rectangle compresses into a circle, pentagon, and finally a star, where the band halts and finishes the medley with the closing phrases of “America The Beautiful.”

Revised Entrance #3 and Patriotic Medley

"Developed in 1926 by the Marching Illini, there is no more stirring and dignified tradition on any college campus than the “THREE IN ONE,” which embodies the true Tradition, Excellence, Pride, and Loyalty to this great University in the most exciting four minutes of college athletics. A medley of March of the Illini, Pride of the Illini, and Hail to the Orange, it has stirred the hearts of Illini fans for is the incomparable... THREE IN ONE!"

The musical portion of the Three-In-One consists of three distinct Illinois pieces: “Pride of the Illini,” “March of the Illini,” and “Hail to the Orange.” “Pride of the Illini,” written by Karl King expressly for the Illinois Bands, was published in 1928. Harry Alford’s “March of the Illini” was also published in 1928, but was used during Chief Illinwek’s performance from the beginning in 1926. The three pieces were eventually combined into a medley and given the title, “Three-In-One.” The “Three-In-One” drill and music are an important part of the University’s heritage.

Another important piece of the Three-In-One, Chief Illiniwek was a part of the tradition since 1926. The Chief appeared at the home football game against Pennsylvania that year, dancing to the newly-written “March of the Illini” before going to midfield to meet a Pennsylvania band member dressed up as a Quaker, and smoke a peace pipe. Chief Illiniwek’s dance is loosely patterned after Native American ceremonial fancy dance. The dance consists of two main parts, the downfield dance and the solo dance. The regalia worn by the Chief was purchased from Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow in 1983; it is topped by a headdress of turkey feathers (in place of endangered eagle feathers). There have been 34 men who have portrayed the Chief, and one woman who appeared as Princess Illiniwek.

The Three-In-One is a tradition forged in the early years of the band’s history from three distinct pieces of the University’s heritage. The Marching “ILLINI” formation was created by A.A. Harding and his assistants in the early 1920s, making it the oldest part of the Three-In-One. The marching drill for this formation originally consisted of a march down the field in a “Block I” formation, and a marching into the ILLINI formation once the band had marched back downfield. The present-day version of the Marching ILLINI is similar to the original, but is highlighted by an intricate countermarch that allows the band to form the ILLINI letter by letter as it marches back down the field.


The traditional Marching Illini pregame show showcases many varieties of marching styles, and is designed to showcase the band's pride in the school, state, and country. The entire show, performed 17–24 minutes before the start of every home football game, consists of seven songs and is nearly 12 minutes in length. Designed for viewing from both sides of Memorial Stadium, the east side serves as the ‘home side’ of the two-sided pregame show. This is somewhat unusual since the press box and TV cameras are on the west side. With the move of the student section and the "Block-I" to the north end of the stadium, the Marching Illini have reoriented their final set for William Tell to face north at the end of the show to play directly to the new student section.

Pregame Show

The Marching Illini in USA Formation during Patriotic Medley from the traditional pregame show


Some positions, such as Illinettes, Illini Drumline, Marching Illini Colorguard, and drum majors, have earlier auditions. These positions are generally more competitive and may have a series of camps and auditions starting as early as January.

High school seniors planning to attend UI, transfer students, and current UI students are allowed to audition for the Marching Illini. Students must be accepted into the University before setting up an audition time. Since audition results are announced in early May, students must complete their audition by April 28. Auditions continue through the summer for open positions only. If a student desires to audition on multiple instruments (for instance, alto and tenor saxophone) they may sign up for multiple time slots.


Directors of the Marching Illini:
Barry L. Houser 2011–Present
Dr. Peter J. Griffin 2006-2011
Dr. Thomas E. Caneva 1998-2005
Gary E. Smith 1976-1997, Sabbatical replacement 2004
Everitt Kisinger 1949-1975
Mark Hindsley 1931-1948
Ray Dvorak 1924-1930
Albert Austin Harding 1907-1923

Houser's immediate predecessor was Dr. Peter J. Griffin. He became the Assistant Director of Bands in 1994. During his tenure at Illinois, he served as Coordinator of Band Festivals and Assistant Director of the Marching Illini. Upon the resignation of Director Tom Caneva in 2006, Griffin was chosen as an interim replacement. Griffin was named as the permanent director in December 2006 and served in that position until May 2011, when he took the position of Chair of the Music Department at Elmhurst College.[3]

Professor Barry L. Houser was named as Visiting Assistant Director of Bands and Conductor of Athletics Bands (including Director of the Marching Illini and Basketball Band) in July 2011. Professor Houser served as Director of the Marching Panthers and Basketball Band at Eastern Illinois University while also serving as Acting Director of Bands at EIU from 2008 to 2011 after receiving a graduate degree from the University of Illinois. As a graduate student, Houser instructed with the Marching Illini as a Graduate Assistant, frequently conducting from the backfield podium during performances. Houser attended the University of Florida as an undergraduate and has been involved with the nationally renowned Smith-Walbridge Clinics for drum majors and marching bands with Director Emeritus of the Marching Illini Gary E. Smith. Houser now serves as Director and Head Clinician with Smith-Walbridge.[2]



The band performs in a style common to other marching bands of the Big Ten collegiate athletic conference. While the band prides itself on developing innovations in marching, its style is somewhat conservative when compared to other marching bands. The band move among precise drill formations (unlike East Coast scramble bands) and typically remain in a symmetric arrangement about the 50-yard line in abstract patterns (contrast with drum and bugle corps, who ordinarily feature a much greater breadth of formations). The drill style of the band is a necessity since the band performs an entirely new show for every home football game; thus the formations, while considerably complex, must be efficiently memorized by the ensemble.


Instrumentation of the Marching Illini is based upon the composition of a typical concert band, but modified in several ways to support outdoor performance. Piccolos are used instead of flutes. Mellophones replace the [horns]. A larger-than-usual section of metal sousaphones adds a deeper low brass sound, not to mention visual interest. The band has a higher-than-usual proportion of low- and mid-range brass instruments (baritone, trombone, sousaphone, and mellophone) and the complete woodwind section that allows the band to play traditional concert band repertoire (unlike all-brass marching bands). An auxiliary color guard and female dance squad (dubbed the "Illinettes") contribute another visual element to the band's performances.

The Marching Illini Drumline at the postgame Concert


The band primarily performs before, during, and after University of Illinois home football games. The band also performs an indoor concert at the Assembly Hall featuring special lighting effects, performances by individual sections, and slightly pithy comic routines. Other performances include a drill for the Illini Marching Festival, halftime performance for the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, halftime performances at postseason bowl games, and an annual away performance at the home football game of another Big Ten school. The MI does not typically perform for parades other than marching to and from the stadium for home games, the annual Homecoming parade, and when marching to and from Foellinger Auditorium where they play several outdoor concerts for University events. The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois houses a collection of University Band recordings. The audio recordings consists of reel-to-reel tapes of performances and recording sessions from 1940-1987.[1]


  • Performances 1
  • Instrumentation 2
  • Style 3
  • Organization 4
    • Director 4.1
  • Auditions 5
  • Traditions 6
    • Pregame Show 6.1
    • Three-In-One 6.2
    • Revised Entrance #3 and Patriotic Medley 6.3
    • Illinois Loyalty 6.4
    • Oskee Wow Wow 6.5
    • Hail to the Orange 6.6
  • Facts and figures 7
  • Notes 8
  • External links 9


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