The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Marching Illini return to State Farm Center for first time in 10 years

James Hoeck
Marching Illini’s trumpet section plays during the Marching Illini concert at the State Farm Center on Sunday.

After a 10-year hiatus, the Marching Illini appeared at the State Farm Center on Oct. 8 and resumed a tradition that began in 1991. 

For the first time since 2019, the Marching Illini performed in concert. Their annual concerts came to a halt in 2013 due to past renovations of the State Farm Center, previously known as Assembly Hall.

Three hundred seventy-five members of the Marching Illini filed onto the floor of the State Farm Center, which was comprised of musicians, the Marching Illini Color Guard, the Illinettes Dance Team, drum majors, and undergraduate and graduate staff members. Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini, directed the concert.

The band performed traditional Fighting Illini gameday tunes and music from various 2023 season halftime shows. Some new compositions were showcased, with most being arranged by current and former Marching Illini students in three-section features throughout the performance. 

“It’s a long, long-lasting tradition here … We’re so glad that we’re back here at the State Farm Center — a 10-year hiatus with the renovation of the State Farm Center,” Houser announced to the audience at the beginning of the concert. “We’re really excited for this great afternoon of music that we have. The students have worked really, really hard on all of this.”

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The audience sang and danced along to “Illinois March,” “Just A Gigolo” and “Illinois Loyalty” — a few of the gameday staple songs.

Other songs were by famous artists, such as the ’70s Canadian rock band Rush, songs from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” a variety of Taylor Swift favorites, Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Meghan Trainor’s “Made You Look” and Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby.”

Limited space in the State Farm Center prevented the Marching Illini from performing their usual choreography, as the band would have during halftime at Memorial Stadium. 

However, the band continued to do smaller choreography throughout the performance, which encouraged audience members to dance along. The audience participation made the concert an opportunity to be more than a listening experience. 

Although the smaller space could be limiting, there were perks to performing at the State Farm Center for Marching Illini members, as there were for Maia Eames, junior in LAS and third-year Marching Illini clarinet.

“I am so excited because I love being in a setting where I feel like we can connect with the audience,” Eames said. “I think it will be really exciting to perform for people who bought tickets specifically to see us and it’s a great opportunity to perform for people who are just excited about the Marching Illini.”

Eames said the distance between the Marching Illini and football-goers at Memorial Stadium could be difficult, as the audience would be farther away from the band, but the State Farm Center created a connection between the two. 

A large portion of the audience consisted of Marching Illini parents, Illinois students and staff and Champaign-Urbana community members. Many of the audience may have never seen the Marching Illini at the State Farm Center, or in concert at all — as COVID-19 put a hold on Marching Illini concerts from 2020 to 2022. 

“It’s just fun to see how the students take the time to do this and the amount of effort they put in,” said Franci Miller, Champaign-Urbana resident and audience member. “The time commitment that these students have to be in for the Marching Illini is very impressive.”

The Marching Illini perform during the halftime show at every home football game and has participated in a few smaller events this year. The band played at CU Pride Fest on Sept. 30, gave a performance for students at International Prep Academy on Sept. 29 and took multiple trips to high schools and colleges throughout Illinois.

However, this performance was particularly special to many members of the Marching Illini.

Cameron Hejny, freshman in FAA and first-year Marching Illini clarinet, explained how this event will give the Marching Illini the opportunity to perform for the school and community in an event solely focused on the band, rather than the performance being an addition to the football game experience.  

“I think it’s gonna be a great event because yes, we love the football team and yes, we love all the stuff that happens at football games, but this event is just Marching Illini,” Hejny said. “I’m excited to show our loved ones, family, friends and people in the community how much we’ve progressed this season.”

In between pieces performed by the entire band, the trumpet, clarinet and saxophone sections gave solo performances. 

The trumpets performed “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie,” arranged by section leader Eric Verplaetse.

The saxophone section feature, arranged by Marching Illini alum and former saxophone section leader Kyle Kreutzer, included several themes from “Mario Kart.”

“I’m proud of my section cause we spent so many rehearsals working on the section feature,” Hejny said. “All of us put so much time into rehearsals and the hard work definitely paid off.”

The clarinet section feature, titled “Gershwin’s Orange And Blue Rhapsody” and arranged by section leader Kevin Valois, included melodies from George Gershwin’s classics in combination with traditional Marching Illini tunes. 

Leah O’Dekirk, senior in FAA and ACES,  has been playing clarinet in the Marching Illini for five years and explained why the performance was significant to band members.

“It’s a great opportunity to show off how hard we can work together as a section, and it’s really cool to see it all come to fruition,” O’Dekirk said. 

The concert concluded with the audience standing, clapping and singing along to songs that have been long-time traditions of the Marching Illini, such as “Oskee Wow-Wow” and one of the most recognizable songs of the Marching Illini: the medley of “March of The Illini,” “Pride of The Illini” and “Hail To The Orange,” known as the “Three In One.”

“Coming from a high school that wasn’t really particularly fond of marching band culture, here it’s a completely different energy,” O’Dekirk said. “The people just love it and it’s been such a great experience having the crowd be so supportive.”


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About the Contributor
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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