The team meeting room at Trienens Hall isn’t only a place for the Northwestern Wildcat Football team to get their pre-game adrenaline pumping. On the otherwise quiet Thursday evenings during fall quarter, you can expect to find an entirely different group of students at work inside. And although this group may not be donning helmets and shoulder pads on Saturday afternoons, their mission isn’t too far from that of their fellow ball-carrying Wildcats.
They claim to love bacon, the numbers four and nine, and know that the answer to the trivia questions during games is always “C.” Their behavior borders on cultish but has the air of a friendship woven through and through with the thread of a common commitment. The fact that they spend the majority of their time playing instruments and wearing purple seems to be beside the point. And although they don’t come right out and say it, it’s clear that whatever it is they’re actually doing, they’re not doing it only for themselves.
The Northwestern University Marching Band is more than just a “band.” It’s a piece of university history — an artifact that evolves with each football season, no matter how good or bad the ‘Cats prove to be. And at the center of the group are two students, filled to the brim with school spirit and knowledge of all things Northwestern. They are the “SpiriTeam” (and yes, it’s with one “t”) – Juniors Jed Feder and Zack Moy as the “Spirit leader” and “Grynder” respectively.
“Hear Ye, Hear Ye. This band’s in session.”
It’s the opening cry that brings the band to order in Trienens Hall. And delivered by Feder, it’s also what sets the tone for the “spirit session” — a pep rally for the band, by the band — which follows.
Since the creation of the roles that now make up the SpiriTeam in the 1960s, the “Hear Ye” has been an important responsibility of the Spirit Leader. It began as a way to introduce band personnel and instrumental sections to the opposing team’s band. Over time it has become increasingly dependent on the creativity of the current Spirit Leader. With Feder, it’s a forum for social commentary, inside jokes and other humorous anecdotes.
“The great thing about Jed is that he’s a really good performer,” says Moy. “His lines are really great too but his delivery makes the performance for him, no matter what.”
Pete Friedmann has had a front seat in the role’s transition. Friedmann spent the fall of 1978, his senior year, as the Spirit Leader. He returned to Northwestern two years after graduating and has been the band’s announcer ever since. Despite the growing complexity of the role he once had, he has enjoyed watching it change.
“It’s been a gradual and very natural evolution and just a lot of fun to be a fly on the wall and watch it happen,” he says.
Friedmann often attends the “spirit sessions” and knows first-hand the amount of work Feder and Moy put into their roles. After all, he was once in their shoes making up cheers, rewriting opponents’ fight songs, and giving his own “Hear Ye” all in the name of, as he says, “getting the band psyched up.”
“These guys are great,” he said. “I think they’re under a lot of pressure because every year, every spirit team … wants to outdo what the previous spirit team did.”
But can they Growl?
Together the two bookend the session, Feder with his “Hear Ye” and Moy with what in band lore is known as “The Grynd” — a two or so minute slam poetry reading that also invokes the upcoming game and jokes pertaining to the band.
From the start, Moy knew that he wanted to be the Grynder. Unlike the Spirit Leader, which requires an audition process, this position is passed down. As a sophomore, Moy asked the Grynder, then a senior, what he would need to do to secure his spot. Although he knew that the position had a history of staying within his instrumental section, the mellophones, he felt that would make things too easy. He wanted to deserve the position.
“I basically did as many spirited, crazy, ridiculous things as I possibly could. Whether it was the most extreme dress-up day or just being really quirky and loud and like being a presence in the band during rehearsals,” says Moy.
Moy eventually got the position and quickly went to work.
If it’s Feder that gets the group laughing, it’s Moy that gets them, well, growling. At the end of every Grynd, the Grynder asks for a little help. He starts off asking, “Wildcat Band, can you growl?” They do, but not loud enough to satisfy him. There’s a woman on his mind and she must hear it too. “That was pretty good,” he’ll say. “But there’s one person who couldn’t hear you, it was my mother.” The two groups banter back and forth a little more before Moy’s final call, “She couldn’t hear you, so Wildcat band, can you growl?”
And they growl, in the fashion of the “claw” done at football games. This satisfies Moy and the session ends with a performance by the drum line.
How do you like your Badger meat?
But their respective roles in the spirit sessions are only a small part of their leadership within the band. From standing on the ladders in front of the band during football games to preparing “spirit sheets” complete with jokes and football team reviews for the rest of the band to leading specific cheers, the roles are both a symbolic honor and a time consuming task.
It all converges into one idea: P & G, or “pride and guts.”
“It’s one of our mantras,” says Moy, “meaning pride in the school and the football team, [and] guts as [in] you will do everything perfect for the team.”
This means hitting the right notes, marching in the right step and being the loudest and proudest Wildcat supporters in the stands. Aside from leading the post-touchdown fight song both Moy and Feder have their own cheers or chants that they lead with band with.
“Even if it’s like for 20 seconds, we’re doing some dumb cheer,” says Moy.
Listen hard enough on Saturday and you might hear something like this: “Badger meat! Badger meat! How do we like it? How do we like it? Raw! Raw! Raw!”
Mark Woodsum, a 5th year member of the Wildcat football team, understands the band’s commitment in their support of the ‘Cats. He is often a guest at the spirit sessions, keeping up the recent practice by members of the football team.
“They’re great guys,” he says of Feder and Moy. “They’ve obviously got a lot of passion not only for Northwestern, the band and football but they generate and incredible amount of time.”
“The greatest band in the whole damn land”
And just as their commitment is recognized outside the band, neither does it go unnoticed within.
In his tenth year as the band’s director, Dan Farris has experienced the efforts of a number of different spirit teams.
“It’s an interesting history and what it’s kind of evolved to,” he says. “When I first came here, I was like ‘who are these people and what are they doing?’”
He quickly found out. Now, it’s not the band without them. Although this is the first year in their role for both of them, Farris is impressed with their leadership ability.
“I think it’s a really unique team and this is essential to bring spirit and unity to the band in the stands and during rehearsals … ” he says.
While Feder, Moy and the rest of the Wildcat marching band don’t seem to have any trouble generating school spirit, they keep their sessions closed to non-members.
“I suppose if tons of students were like ‘we want to see this’ then Jed and I might do things a little differently, I don’t know,” Moy says. “But the thing is you’ll think we’re a cult. And in some aspects we are.”
So maybe they are a little selfish. Still, you can’t deny that their blood runs purple.
“You can join it for any reason,” he said. “Everyone’s different in there, but everyone’s also the same [in] that they just love that organization for what it does for the school and the community.”
He continues, “the fact [is] that we are the best fans for the Northwestern football team and for Northwestern in general.”
As Feder notes at the conclusion of his “Hear Ye,” they just might be “the greatest band in the whole damn land.”