Published: Oct. 31, 2023 By ,


When students living in dorms on campus hear the festive sounds of horns and percussion coming from Farrand Field, they know it’s game day at CU Boulder. 

For the last 115 years, through rain, shine and snow, the College of Music’s Golden Buffalo Marching Band has served as an enduring rallying point, uniting the campus community in support of its beloved football team. 

A student organization of more than 230 members, the marching band performs at all home football games, at the Pearl Street Stampede on the evening before home games and at various events off campus. 

“We pride ourselves on being the tradition, heartbeat, spirit and pride of the university,“ said Matthew Dockendorf, director of the Golden Buffalo Marching Band. “We are the group on campus that announces a game day has arrived.” 

Since the hiring of Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, game days have taken on a new meaning for the Boulder community...and the band is feeling the love.

“It's heightening our presence on campus and in the community,” said Dockendorf. “You can feel the energy even 15–20 minutes before we get ready to perform—there are more people, they're more excited, they're wearing Buffs gear and wanting to interact with the band.” 

During his inaugural year, Coach Prime has swiftly emerged as the pulse of campus culture, making regular appearances at local eateries, bolstering local businesses and drawing large crowds to Boulder.

His passion and dedication to excellence has spread like wildfire across campus, spearheading significant transformation not only in the football program but throughout student life, including the marching band. 

In February, Sanders held a meeting with Dockendorf and other band leaders in hopes of establishing a joint relationship between the football team and the band, mirroring the practices seen at historically black colleges and universities such as Jackson State University, where Sanders previously served as head coach. 

“At HBCUs, it’s kind of traditional that the bands kind of coincides,” Sanders said in a YouTube video posted by Well Off Media. “I know it’s a difference, but it don’t have to be. We like one big happy family.” 

In their meeting, Sanders and the band discussed ways to incorporate his vision for the team and his own personal brand in the traditions of CU Boulder game days. Now, the marching band plays Sanders’ theme song titled “Halftime” by the Ying Yang Twins at every game. 

John Davis, dean of the College of Music, believes Sanders has set a precedent not only for the marching band but the overall campus community. 

“I really admire [Sanders] and I think he's setting a fine example for the public, for his team and for campus leaders, including myself and others,” said Davis. “I think he's inspiring us to believe we can be better than we thought we could before, and that's an amazing message.”

The band always wins

Only around 20% of marching band members are majoring in music-related fields. The majority are non-music majors who join the band to incorporate their passion into their college experience. 

“The marching band impacts the lives of students from across campus and that's part of our mission to develop universal, multifaceted, multi-skilled graduates,” said Davis. “Whether students are majoring in music, or another field, the integration of music into their lives and potentially into parts of their careers is what we're all about.” 

Similar to the football team, the band's success hinges on the collective efforts of its members. They've dedicated themselves to early morning rehearsals at 5 a.m. for morning games and have persevered through late-night performances that extend until 1 a.m. 

Among the many extracurricular programs within the College of Music, Davis believes the marching band creates the most long-lasting sense of camaraderie, collaboration and community for students.  

“There's something very special about being an individual who becomes part of a collective, and knows the resulting product is greater than the sum of those parts,” said Davis. “All the work they do, the long hours they spend rehearsing, and then to realize that in the end what they have created together is impactful...that's a beautiful thing.” 

According to Davis, many supporters of the College of Music for years have said, despite the successes or challenges of the football team, the band always shows up. 

“Even in past years when the football team wasn't projected to be great and the stands were almost empty, fans knew that Ralphie was gonna run, the cheerleaders were going to cheer, and the band was going to be in full throttle from beginning to end.” 

As we look forward to welcoming alumni, friends and families back to Boulder for Homecoming weekend, there’s one thing to keep in mind: No matter the hype, no matter the score—the band always wins.