Every member of the Golden Buffalo Marching Band knows the band’s motto by heart. Tradition, heartbeat, spirit and pride.
It’s a rallying call for the College of Music ensemble most known for reaching across campus and bridging the gap between musicians and future engineers, journalists, marketing professionals, scientists and teachers. It’s everything a university marching band should represent, whether at Folsom Field on Saturdays, Pearl Street on Fridays or Farrand Field fall afternoons.
What every member of the band may not know, though, is where those four words came from.
For the answer, look no further than 1989 alum and sousaphone player Walt Blankenship (right, second from right). “It seems that certain bands in the country use a motto to describe them. The best example is Ohio State, which calls itself ‘The best damn band in the land!’ They are just another college marching band with its own traditions and history. So, I decided that CU should have a phrase or words to describe it as well.”
Ask the Thornton resident anything about the band’s founding, big moments throughout its 111 official years or some of the unforgettable names that led the group, and he’ll give you a thoughtful historical account rooted in loyalty and love.
And it all starts with tradition.
“New students have a finite understanding of the band that only goes back a couple of decades, to the beginning of their lives at most. So I decided that they should know the history of the band and that they belong to a large university family that has a love for music.”
Blankenship made it his mission, as the band’s defacto historian for many years after his own graduation, to educate students on the traditions of the Golden Buffalo Marching Band. From the fight song to its history at Folsom Field, he tries to pass along every piece of the band’s puzzle.
“I make sure they know about how the Sky Blue band is still important, how the Alma Mater matters and why they must remove their hats during rehearsal when it is played,” Blankenship says.
Tradition also stretches to the role the band has played in some big moments on the CU Boulder campus. In 1909, when ground was broken on Macky Auditorium, the marching band was there for the festivities—just like the 2019 groundbreaking on the Imig Music Building expansion, which culminated in a performance by the Buff Basketball Band.
When the University of Colorado turned 100 years old in 1976, the band was in the thick of the pageantry.
“The marching band was busy that year and participated in several events. The football team also did well that year and made it to the Orange Bowl, which the band also attended.”
Then in 1991, the CU Band department celebrated 100 years since its unofficial first appearance. Blankenship recalls the event—and those who were there—fondly. “[Former band director] Hugh MacMillan was getting near the end of his life so it was a way to honor him and the bands. Although not technically a marching band in 1891, that’s when the first band formed and played at various athletic football events. So, the bands at CU date their existence from 1891.”
“The marching band is the heartbeat in the stadium—from the time it steps onto the field for pre-game until it leaves at the end of the game.”
When he landed on “heartbeat” as the second word in the Golden Buffalo Marching Band’s motto, Blankenship thought back to one particular football game against Oklahoma State in 2005.
“Other than family members of the team and a few die-hard fans, the band was the largest contingent attending the game. It was OSU homecoming, and CU defeated Oklahoma State 34 to 0.
“The best part was at the end. The team came over to where the marching band was sitting to sing the Fight Song while the band played. Then one of the CU football players handed the game ball to one of our drum majors.”
He says that was a big day for the band, one in which its unwavering support was honored in a way it hadn’t been before. To be given the game ball, he says, was fitting.
“The marching band keeps the students and alumni in the games by inspiring and pushing the team on and keeping the crowd engaged.”
“The members of the band are student ambassadors representing the university. We uphold the honor and position of the school.”
Blankenship says whether it’s a home game or an away game—whether the Buffs are 2 and 8 or 10 and 0—the band wears its spirit on its sleeve. For proof, look no further than a contentious moment at a game against Texas A&M in 1997.
“The teams of the late 90's were not that exciting and were lackluster at best but the marching band put its heart into the games and played right up until the snap of the football. This got us into trouble at the Texas A&M game in 1997. The crowd was bored to tears and not into the game. The band played into a couple of snaps and the A&M coach complained to the referee. A flag was thrown on the CU band!
“Many of us thought the crowd was going to kill us because everyone was just staring us down. But instead they erupted with anger, not towards us but towards the A&M coaches and team. How dare they tell our band to stop playing in our own stadium! The stadium came to our defense.”
“We just go out and give our all. It can be hard when the team is losing, but we do it for the love and respect of the university.”
Blankenship chose to close out the motto with the one word he says captures band members’ sentiments toward their alma mater: Pride. Come rain or shine, when they put on that silver, gold, black and white uniform, the marching Buffs are proud to be there.
“We aren't Ohio State or Alabama. We don’t get to attend bowl games every year. Our football team struggles, but we always hope for the best because the marching band’s fortunes depend upon the success of the team.”
He says alumni have told him that the only reason they attend games sometimes is to hear the band play, no matter what the game’s outcome.
“The CU marching band was present for Big 12 Championship game in 2005, in which Colorado was destroyed by Texas 70 to 3. The band never gave up playing and trying to support the team.”
As the College of Music enters its second century on the heels of the Golden Buffalo Marching Band, the 200-plus ambassadors for tradition, heartbeat, spirit and pride have bore the standard for staying power and impact on the CU Boulder campus. It’s an example the college follows with pride of its own, shoulder to shoulder.