Under the gentle, sunlit sky of mid-October, the University marching band gathered in the football field-sized lot across from the Dole Institute.

This was day two of Homecoming Week rehearsal. Closing in on the 3:45 p.m. start time, the last few band members from the group of about 270 poured in and began to unpack their instruments.

In unison, the band dispersed and formed pockets bordering the inside of the lot, and each section began to quickly run through their halftime music.

This week included a special Earth, Wind & Fire medley. The medley will be part of a tribute performance which will feature the returning alumni band, who will be practicing with the Marching Jayhawks the Saturday morning of the game.

"We have to design and select music, and write drills that we’re able to learn and master in however much time we have from game to game," Director Matthew Smith said. "That’s an important equation to figure out."

For Homecoming Week, this meant the band had exactly six rehearsals — including an abbreviated one the day of the parade — until the game against Oklahoma State on Saturday.

For last home game against TCU, the band had four weeks of preparation for its space-themed routine. 

But this week's cluttered schedule didn't seem a pressing issue for anyone there. Most of them could be seen laughing, laid back, enjoying each other's company.

"This is my mace," Tristan Bartley, one of three drum majors for the band, said with a laugh as he pointed to the baton-like tool he uses for his commands.

As bits and pieces of "Boogie Wonderland" and "Let's Groove" continued to flow through the crowd of students, assistant director of the Marching Jayhawks, Sharon Toulouse, assumed her position atop  the blue podium situated at about the 50-yard line.

"OK, guys," she said as she got the band's attention.

Marching Jayhawks

Drum major Jamie Venzian strikes a pose at practice.

Like a battle-tested army of ants, the band assumed its marks at center swiftly, with about thirty rows divided by type of instrument.

Behind them, their instruments and cases — ranging anywhere from piccolos and trumpets to trombones and baritones — now laid together in the grass.

"Sing and count," Toulouse said. "Check your diagonals and Ws."

Toulouse, a 1998 alumna, read from her formation notes as she made sure bows in the pass-throughs and small mistakes were being smoothed in the process.

Once in the marching band herself, Toulouse can remember when she was in the same position as the band members she directs.

"I loved Homecoming weekend," she said. "Getting to see the people that come back and those who might’ve just graduated that I got to see again was great."

From Corpus Christi, Texas, Toulouse made her way through the music education program at the University while performing as a trumpet player for the Marching Jayhawks. By her senior year she had become a drum major and collected a variety of fond memories from her Homecoming weekends.

"One of the things I remember the most is the hot cider," Toulouse said. "There were only two times a year that we got donuts and cider. It’s that chilly fall feeling. I just loved that. I don’t know why that sticks in my head, but it does."

An important figure for the Marching Jayhawks during her time with the band was former Associate Director of Bands James Barnes.

Barnes, who retired last May after 40 years with the University's bands, once taught and composed for the music department in a variety of roles. 

Now, Barnes will be commemorated during the halftime performance. In addition to the halftime honor, the band rehearsal room in Murphy Hall will be named after him during a celebration later that night. 

"He’s such as prolific part of the marching band on the music side of things," Toulouse said. "He was even at the rehearsals and barking orders at us, which was great." 

At the rehearsal, Toulouse's own amplified instruction began to take form through the band members' performance. The tribute show was rounding into form.

Before the end of rehearsal, the band ran through the show a few times with its instruments. 

Atop one of the drum major ladders during this final run-through was Jamie Venzian, a former clarinet player in her senior year. She said she's indebted to the band for reasons other than a title on a resume.

Nearly two weeks before the rehearsal, Venzian arrived to Centennial Park believing to have been going to breakfast with her roommate. It was October first, what she remembers as the same day as Late Night in the Phog.

Instead, her long-time boyfriend and 2015 alumnus Kenneth Rifkin was standing right outside the park gazebo ready to propose. The couple had met on the first day of band practice her freshman year.

"I ended up sitting next to him because the section leaders needed to sit next to a freshman," she said. "So we randomly ended up being the two next to each other for that rehearsal."

Now facing the final Homecoming weekend of her college career, Venzian hopes she can return in the future to perform with the alumni band and show an appreciation for how much the experience has meant to her.

As the rehearsal drew to a close, the sun began to hide behind the afternoon clouds and band members started wiping off the sweat that ran down their face from the hours of drill work.

Smith quickly called everyone in for a final word, a traditional send-off before they leave after every game and rehearsal.

“What kind of day is it?” Smith said. “It’s a great day to be a Jayhawk.” 

— Edited by Christian Hardy