Set up a couple of goals on either side, and members of the LSU Tiger Marching Band will be able to play a full court basketball game.
Which, of course, wasn’t the point when Roy King gave the architect dimensions for a basketball court. That was three years ago, when he, former Director of Bands Frank B. Wickes and former Associate Director of Bands Linda Moorhouse gathered to talk about the design for what was still a dream.
It had been a dream, at least, for Wickes, who set a goal for a new band hall when he walked into the old one nearly 30 years earlier.
King was a member of the Tiger Band’s drumline at that time. He later became section leader.
He’ll be the first to admit that he never dreamed that he’d be the Tiger Band’s director when the band finally moved into its new home. That should be some time in October; the original date for moving in had been Saturday, Oct. 1.
Yes, that would have been just in time for the SEC match-up between the LSU Tigers and the University of Kentucky Wildcats in Tiger Stadium.
Would have been.
The date for moving has been moved back, but only a little.
“Right now, we think it’ll be mid-October,” Barry Michel said.
Michel is superintendent for Percy J. Matherne Contractor, Inc., which is the general contractor for this project. Howard Performance Architecture of New Orleans is the architect firm that designed the complex, which will be completed in two phases.
The band hall is the first phase. The second will be a building adjacent to the band hall called the Conductors’ Suite, which will house faculty office-studios and a visitor’s center. A physical plant, complete with air-conditioning and heating units, stands ready to facilitate the future second phase.
“We’re just about finished,” Michel said of phase one.
He stands near the center inside of what is the main part of this band hall, the massive band room whose dimensions are exactly that of a basketball court - big enough to hold all 325 members of the Tiger Marching Band without much room to spare.
It will be the first time the band will be able to go inside since, well, longer than anyone affiliated with the program can remember. Ask any Tiger Band alumni, and the story is the same. The current band room was always too small.
“It was even too small to accommodate the band when it was built,” King said.
That was in 1959. The structure was built to accommodate a band of 140, and the Tiger Band’s membership already was at 180.
What now will be known as the old band hall is an appendage to the LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, occupying a space next to the Greek Theater. It houses band directors’ offices, as well as a library big enough to hold only part of the band’s collection of music, an instrument repair room and a uniform room that spills into the sewer pump room called “the hell hole,” which also is used for storage.
“We have to store things in here, because there just isn’t anywhere else,” Wickes said in a 2007 interview.
The hell hole is dim, lit by a single bulb. It’s clean but cave-like, archaic for a major college band program.
“Frank said that kids coming here to audition often left commenting to their parents about how their high school band rooms were bigger than this one,” King said.
So, space has always been limited, not only for band members but their instruments, which has become what is probably the most poignant symbol of the Tiger Band’s virtual homelessness in recent years.
All the instruments are housed in three 18-wheeler trailers on the edge of the band’s practice field. That includes the band’s trademark silver Conn tubas, whose bells reflect Tiger Stadium’s mass of lights on Saturday nights.
That glare bouncing off the tubas is a part of the Tiger Stadium tradition. It adds to the sparkle, the pageantry. Tiger football fans expect it to be there at pre-game, at halftime, in the stands.
And the 90,000-plus see only this sparkle while on their feet, anticipating the frenzy spurred by those first four pre-game notes. They see only the results of a major college marching band program but nothing behind the scenes, certainly not the sewer pump room, where all storage will be ruined if a pipe happens to break.
Which has happened.
So, the band lives outside. It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or pouring rain, the band is always outside with no true place, except the practice field, to call its home.
“We had nowhere to go before,” King said. “But now, we can just walk inside the band hall until the rain passes, then go back outside.”
King stands outside the new band hall on this particular September morning. The hall stands on the Tiger Band’s former practice field on Aster Street, cater-cornered to the commuter parking lot near Kirby Smith dormitory.
The band, meantime, claimed the neighboring field previously used by the LSU Rugby team, where it’s been rehearsing since the 2010 season. That’s when ground was broken for construction for the new band hall.
“It was on June 14, 2010,” Michel said.
Wickes’ retirement became official that month. Moorhouse would depart LSU for a job at the University of Illinois shortly afterward. So, King is the only one left of the three planners who is working with the band.
“And I didn’t know they had broken the ground,” King said. “I was just driving by one day when I saw the bulldozer pushing dirt in the middle of the field. So, I stopped and took a picture.”
This photo marks the beginning of something, the witnessing of a dream becoming reality. A dream that Wickes put in place in 1980, and when the dream seemed a possibility in 2007, it was still in the talking stages. Money had to be raised for it to come true. That’s always the most difficult part, especially in times when state money is tight.
Still, the band was able to start moving forward in 2007 after a visit from the LSU Board of Supervisors in 2006. State Sen. Robert Adley of Benton was among those who toured the band room. He later helped move $5 million for band hall planning and construction into House Bill 2, the state’s construction budget.
But there was a catch. The band had to raise a matching $5 million by Aug. 30, 2008, or lose the state money.
The project was divided into the two phases, the first being the band hall at $10 million.
LSU System President John Lombardi, in conjunction with then-Athletic Director Skip Bertman, announced a $4.5 million commitment to the project from football ticket sales. Meanwhile, nearly $2 million had been pledged by alumni and fans, which was a part of the university’s $750 million Forever LSU campaign.
The scope of the complete project, including the Conductors’ Suite building in the second phase, is estimated at $14 million.
“So, the band will be in the new band hall, but the directors’ offices will still be in the old band hall,” King said. “We’ll be split until work begins on the second phase.”
But King isn’t complaining. He’s excited about the new building, as well the new directors’ tower overlooking the practice field.
A tower that King calls the best of its kind in the nation.
“I really think it is,” King said. “I love it.”
Best of all for King, he’ll no longer have to stand in the hot sun during rehearsals, as he did on the old lift tower, which also threatened to topple in hard winds.
“There’s also a nice, cool breeze up there,” King said. “I felt guilty about that at first, but it passed quickly. It’s nice up there.”
The tower is built in the same architectural style as the band hall, which matches that in the university’s Quadrangle. The walkways are covered by arches, and roof tiles are Italian in style.
“When Frank, Linda and I began discussing the building’s design, we agreed that we definitely wanted it to match the university’s architecture in the Quadrangle,” King said.
This architecture is as much a trademark of the university as are its live oaks, Memorial Tower and Tiger Stadium.
“We wanted to capture this style,” King said. “And we had ideas of what we wanted to do with the space.
King enters the building through its back double doors, turns left and walks into the band room. It’s here where the tour begins, where he opens doors to two large storage rooms bordering the band room, one for the tubas and the other for percussion.
Again, both the tubas and drums are stored in the 18-wheeler trailers, which means they’re already baking before Louisiana’s summer temperatures top 100 degrees. And they’re moisture magnets when humidity is at its highest.
In other words, the trailers aren’t climate controlled.
“And it’s murder on our instruments,” King said. “Especially the drums. These rooms are designed to be big enough to hold the tubas and percussion, and they have two sets of double doors - one set leading into the band room, and the other set leading to the outside. That way, the tubas and drummers don’t have to walk into the band room to get their instruments. They’ll have slide cards that will let them into these rooms, and they can walk in and walk straight out to the field.”
Which also helps in the traffic flow when band members in other sections are making their way in and out of the building.
“We also have a grand piano room on the side of the band room, but there’s no door leading to the outside,” King said. “We don’t expect having to take the grand piano on the field.”
A lobby area separates the band room from the other half of the building, where a room for instrument storage is found, as well as uniform storage.
The instrument room already is equipped with wooden shelves, some of which can be adjusted to accommodate instruments of different sizes. The uniform room stands empty - for now.
We’ll have racks in here that will hold the uniforms,” King said. “Our goal for the uniforms will actually happen after phase two is complete. We have more than 325 uniforms. We’ll store the uniforms in the other building, and we’ll keep the uniforms actually worn by the band in here.”
That way, band members will be able to leave their uniforms at the band hall after performances. The band then will have the uniforms cleaned and ready for the next performance, with each uniform on a hanger labeled with the band member’s name.
“Right now, they have to get their own uniforms cleaned,” King said. “But that’s our plan.”
Then there’s the lobby. It will be equipped with flat screen televisions for yet another Tiger Band tradition - watching the country’s college football games during game day.
“We’ll have DirecTV, so they’ll be able to watch the games,” King said. “We already have the satellite disks on the roof. We always have a nice meal for them before the game, and watching the games is one of their favorite things to do while they’re eating and getting ready.”
The band room also will have a screen mounted in the ceiling that will reflect projection from video cameras mounted around the room. The screen will be used for and during classes and, well, to watch football games on game day Saturdays.
“Yeah,” he said. “They’ll have a really big screen to watch the games.”
There are some details that have yet to be completed, especially when it comes to the landscaping directly outside the entrance. A fountain will be installed there, and band alumni will be able to purchase engraved bricks, which will make up the foundation of a courtyard.
But the real star of this show is where King is now standing. The band room.
It’s been equipped with motorized curtains that can be opened and closed with the turn of a switch. The curtains affect the room’s acoustics, as do the curved sections called clouds in the ceiling.
Large windows - the tops of which King originally requested to be curved - allow in plenty of sunlight.
“But I guess the architect saw it differently,” King said. “I guess he thought they would work better if they were rectangular.”
And then there’s the floor space, which stretches to the exact dimensions of a basketball court.
“I gave the architect the dimensions,” King said. “The band usually plays at the chancellor’s welcome in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center each year. It’s probably the only time we sit down to play, and one year they left out the basketball court, and I noticed that the band fit perfectly on the court.”
The architect was a little skeptical when King handed him the dimensions.
“He wanted to know how I came up with those numbers, and I told him,” King said. “He started doing his calculations and measurements, then he looked up at me and said, ?You know, you’re exactly right.’”
There really is something right about it. More than right.
Walk into this room, and you definitely won’t feel as if you’re in a gym, but you know you’ve entered something that’s bigger-than-life.
You’ve entered the home of the LSU Tiger Marching Band.