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There’s a reason schools bring out their marching bands to perform fight songs in militaristic garb. Before the UW Marching Band and other groups like it were riling up stadium crowds and gridiron competitors, these bands were rallying the troops — literally. The UW Marching Band was originally an ROTC marching band formed in 1885. A year later, the band broke out of its strictly military role for the first time and played at a university-sponsored debate. In these early years, the band had as few as 11 members, and its record of performances is spotty. From 1889 to 1890, it seems the band was simply a small bugle corps that played for ROTC drills and exercises. By 1894, general-purpose marching bands became more popular at American universities for events like football games. The UW was no exception, though the band did maintain its military duties and performances. Early names for the marching band include the University of Wisconsin Battalion Band, the University Regimental Band, and beginning in 1914, the First and Second Regiment Bands. By 1934, Ray Dvorak was at the helm of the Wisconsin band program and began ushering in the modern marching band era at the UW — one of airplane-shaped formations and the mass singing of “Varsity” (complete with arm-swinging). Today’s UW Marching Band now aims to entertain rather than help soldiers train, but their performances still inspire a sense of honor, regimen, and camaraderie for Badgers (as well as spark an intense desire to defeat our rivals on the field of play, of course).

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