The Mighty Marching Hornets: More than a Marching Band
The Mighty Marching Hornets of Alabama State University in Montgomery is more than a marching band. This has not only been recognized by other historically black colleges but by the state and the city. This year, Governor Ivey proclaimed May 11th Mighty Marching Hornet Day. In 2014, Montgomery mayor Todd Strange named September 25th Dr. James Oliver Day in honor of its band director. I am in the office of Dr. Oliver, who has the award on his wall. In fact, the wall is so covered with awards, that he has had to take some of them home.
“…This movie here, we did the halftime show. It was directed by Ang Lee. That’s him on the end, he, and his wife, and that’s a picture we took together,” said Oliver.
Dr Oliver has spent 42 years in education this year. He started at ASU marching and came back to serve as band director after teaching for 20 years in the state of Ohio.
“So, I came in with a plan to rebuild this particular band, even though I marched in this band, so I understood the tradition of this band. But what I needed to do was to fine tune everything that that they were doing to bring it back to that tradition.” Dr Oliver explains his method, “You got to know how to communicate with the students. When you learn to communicate with the students, then they learn to gravitate to you…so I began to build…and the students started seeing a lot of things happening. We started to be invited to these battles of the bands, and started being invited to these other little shows that they were doing around the state, so one thing led to another…”
…and it has led to many things including a reality show on the band on the Lifetime channel as well as a part in a movie, NFL halftime performances, a Netflix special from Beyonce, and even a visit from Ozzy Osbourne. But first, to understand the context, for historically black colleges in the South, you must understand the importance of the marching band and what is known as fifth quarter.
“We’re not even thinking about football, we are only thinking about that band on that side, and their thinking about this band on…it's a battle.” Oliver said, “and the battle starts, what we now call the fifth quarter. That's the battle. The fifth quarter belongs to the band, and we play back and forth. So, I would say Southern University we work hard for, Jackson State University that’s another rival, and of course our biggest rival is Alabama A&M just this up the road,”
Dr Oliver mentions an important ingredient to success: discipline. “That's the first thing I talk about, when my freshmens come in for orientation is if you are not disciplined, then I prefer you to go on back home with your parents, because there are policies in this band, there are standards, and we have worked our tail off to get to this level, and the respect that we have…”
Matthew Long is from Atlanta and plays trombone. He is in this fourth year. His band director marched with Alabama State and had a big influence on his life. Another influence on his life is Dr. Oliver and this program. “If you don't come, you're gonna get left,” Long said. “If you’re late, you know, that's all on you. Everybody is an adult here so, the discipline that we're learning here can be applied in all types of jobs and careers moving forward.”
Allison Jackson is from Dothan and performs in the percussion section. “The way we play, the way we maneuver ourselves, I call ourselves like little army robots because it's always about snap and it's all about drive so you have to implement both of those.” Jackson said, “Here you're practicing for five hours, six hours, you know, you never know how long you're gonna be practicing. You just gotta make sure that we get the show right; get our music right for the fans.”
But the Mighty Marching Hornets is about more than music. It is also known for its dance teams, the Stingettes and the plus size dance team called the Honey Beez. Dr. Oliver created the Honey Beez in 2004 based on a lack of opportunity for plus sized students to participate on the dance team. This has proved extremely successful and even led to a spot on the Steve Harvey show. Dr. Oliver has found this an opportunity to help those in need.
“I started calling high schools and I wanted to talk because the self-esteem of these girls and the confident that they have that is what I wanted to share with everybody so that all these young ladies that’s being bullied sometime and being talked about, you don't have to feel that way anymore.” Oliver said. “They about self-esteem, our little model that we use is Be bold, be beautiful, be you. They're about self-esteem. Our little model that we use is: be bold, be beautiful, be you.”
As you can see, the Mighty Marching Hornets is more than a marching band. It teaches discipline and builds confidence. One only has to listen to the students to know this is true. Matthew Long says, “The price of glory is high. Just always have that standard of being the best. And that's what we live and pride ourselves on is the price of glory is high. It’s hard to reach. But when you reach it, you reach it.” Allison Jackson reflects, “I think you never stop paying the price. As long as you have the mindset of the price of glory is high, it can take you anywhere. That's one thing that we learn in this band that you can't take out of us, and it turns us into people who know exactly what we want, and we're going to go after it regardless of the task.”