What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cow Bell 101

This site has cataloged my antics at my school's basketball games before, but this post centers on the behavior of another ardent fan, this one in the pep band. If you've ever been to a collegiate sporting event, you have undoubtedly been treated to the rousing notes of the pep band, rising up over the raucous cheers of the crowd with a volume that does little to disguise its own discord.

A friend who plays a very loud (and thus very important) instrument for the group once confided in me that the band practiced only two times outside of games all semester. For such little preparation, it is astounding that they are able to get so many people to play the right note at the same time, or at least a tone that is within a half step of the right note.

This is higher education: Who's to say what is or isn't the "right" note?

Our pep band has one clear standout. He is the Kobe Bryant of the court, the Bill Gates of the computer world and the Tim Berners-Lee (the guy who invented the internet) of packet sharing. No, I am not talking about any trumpet, trombone, tuba or timpani player, although, for what it's worth, all of those instruments do start with the letter "t." Rather the clear standout is the band's cow bell player.

Yes, the cow bell. You might have heard it on an Amish farm in Lancaster County or in the background at a Nordic skiing event. In these venues, the bell is wrung randomly and with no thought to intensity, rhythm or tonality, all very important qualities for the cow bell instrumentaliste.

When our cow bell player strikes stick to bell, the retort can be heard throughout the 6,000 seat stadium and the winces of the other band members are visible from across the court. You see, our cow bell player is very skilled.

But not only does he keep rhythm, he dances like the white guy he is.

As he strikes, the cow bell player moves his feet back and forth, bobbing his head to the beat he creates. He sways, bobs and weaves like Kevin James in Hitch, Dane Cook after a bad joke or our President in Africa. It's as if he has seen too many showings of Step Up or that Cowbell skit on SNL. During the timeouts, he skedaddles out to center court and continues his gyrations in full view of all.

In the middle of one of these impromptu performances, a friend of mine asked how a cow bell specialist got to study at our school's highly ranked music department. Were there even enough classes, my friend wondered, to allow a major in Cowbell Studies or Fine Cowbell Arts?

After a brief visit with our school's catalog confirmed that, yes, cowbell was an offered degree. We have classes in Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Cowbell Strikeage, Cowbell theory (including a upper division course in where best to strike a cowbell), History of Cowbell (divided up into pre and post modern Olympic games and a specialty class in cowbells of the Western United States), Cowbell Form and Motion, a cowbell capstone class and even a course in how to dance while playing the cowbell.

Too ensure a well-rounded graduate, majors have to take at least three electives from another percussion instrument including pots and pans, the serrated stick and car dashboards.

I am going tonight to watch my school's last home game of the season and a I guarantee that during the timeouts, I will be watching the cowbell player - the cowbell artist, excuse me - very closely.


Big Bob said...

First comment!

Anonymous said...

I have a very unmusical friend who recently told moi that he plays the cowbell in a band. I told him he should get a "more cowbell" t-shirt. As for me, I want to know why cow bell isn't one word!
Or not.