Skip to Main Content

MSU They've Got The Beat The Spartan Marching Band Celebrates 150

MSU They've Got The Beat The Spartan Marching Band Celebrates 150
Nov. 20, 2019

On a beautiful fall day in September, with football fans’ cheers filling the air, nearly 1,200 current and alumni marching band members took the field at halftime in Spartan Stadium during the MSU vs. Indiana football game.

A sea of green and white in melodic lockstep, for the Spartan Marching Band, it was a Homecoming all would remember. In fact, Sept. 28 was the largest halftime show to date of one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious marching bands, and a major part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of bands at MSU.

Nearly 1,200 current and alumni marching band members take the field to celebrate 150 years of the Spartan Marching Band.

The Spartan Marching Band stands strong at 300 members. What is now recognized as a powerhouse of sound and spirit was born from modest roots.

In 1870, when the university was still Michigan Agricultural College, student and Civil War veteran, Ransom McDonough Brooks, started the MAC Band, a 10-member student brass band.

In the earliest days, the band played for President Theodore Roosevelt and in 1907 began performing at school events, when they were then known as the “MAC Touch-down Band.”

1984 college cadet band
The 1884 College Cadet Band poses in front of the campus greenhouses with the original Wells Hall in the background.
1920 MAC Marching Band
The 1920 Michigan Agricultural College marching band heads to the M.A.C. vs. Albion game.

In 1927, the Spartan Marching Band really found its legs when Leonard Falcone, the world’s leading euphonium horn soloist at the time, was appointed director. He served as director for 40 years, growing the band to 144 members and performing for three U.S. presidents; at the New York World’s Fair; and at the 1954, 1956 and 1966 Rose Bowl games.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the band was part of the ROTC program, donning military khaki and olive uniforms. Based in the MSC Armory Building, they performed year-round at ROTC weekly parades and drills.

1947 falcone
Leonard Falcone (center) discusses marching band formations for the first half-time show of the year in 1947. Pictured with Falcone are Major W. F. Latarge, drill master; James Dye, drum major (second from left); Sgt. C. Loylie, assistant drill master.
1964 rockefeller center1966 rose bowl parade
The marching band performs in Rockefeller Center (left), during their trip to perform at the World’s Fair in New York City in 1964. (Right) The marching band participates in the 1966 Tournament of Roses Parade.

Fast forward 20 years: The “Patterns in Motion” was born. The marching style, which the band still performs today, features constantly-changing kaleidoscopic patterns, based on a four-person squad system. It quickly became the definitive marching style among collegiate and high school marching bands. That’s also the time the band trademarked the “spinning of the block S,” which the band still performs during every pregame show.

1949 block s1953 angular smodern block s
The simple, single-line block S formation in 1949. The more angular S formation of 1953. The outlined block S formation of today.

The year 1972 marked a milestone for the group. With the passing of the federal civil rights law known as Title IX, women could join the band. Beth Mlynarek was the first female twirler and Lynne Charbonneau was the first female saxophonist. Now, women comprise 44% of the Spartan Marching Band.

Four years later, the band started its first flag corps, a 24-member, coed team.

lynne charbonneaubeth mlynarek
The first female members of the Spartan Marching Band, Alto Saxophonist Lynne Charbonneau (left) and Twirler Beth Mlynarek, joined the band after the summer of 1972 when the federal civil rights law, Title IX, went into effect.

1972 – The first women were permanently admitted into the ranks of the Spartan Marching Band. The first female members were a twirler and a saxophonist.
1995 – The band welcomed its first female drum major.
2018 – Arris Golden was hired as associate director of the Spartan Marching Band and the assistant director of bands, the first woman to hold the title.
2019 – Forty-four percent of the band is female.

The following years were defined by bowl-game and first-of-their-kind performances. In 2010, the band traveled extensively, including, for the first time, to the “bowl” of bands – the Bands of America Grand National Championships.

As the band has grown in size and scope, it’s taken on more elaborate halftime shows, including those that focused on African and Chinese cultures, an initiative that’s core to MSU’s mission of combining the arts and academics.

The Art of the March
“The Art of the March: Cues from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War,’” featured more than 600 performers (300 of them were band members), as well as smoke, a dragon and Chinese instruments.

Under the direction of David Thornton, the 2019 marching season is coming to an end and, with it, comes a deep appreciation for the grit, commitment and talent that has impressed and inspired generations of Spartan fans for 150 years.


By 1965, the Spartan Marching Band had performed for four U.S. presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All archival images are courtesy of Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.

Explore more MSU features