The Blue Thunder Marching Band prepares for return to The Blue

Boise State marching band, Blue Thunder, practicing in Albertsons Stadium.
Photo by Claire Keener

The stadium lights shine bright on the blue turf of the football field. Albertsons Stadium has an electric feel as Bronco Nation anticipates the start of the game. 

Dressed in their orange and blue, the crowd hurries to their seats as the game clock ticks down. With 17 minutes before kickoff, a wall of sound begins to fill the stadium. 

As the Blue Thunder Marching Band takes the field, the crowd goes wild for the pregame performance. Fans stand and clap as they sing the Boise State Fight Song.  

However, this symphony doesn’t choreograph itself. Countless hours of planning, preparation and practice go into the performance seen on game day.

Dr. Joseph Tornello is the man behind the curtain. Tornello is the director of the athletic bands, as well as the director of the all-campus concert band. This season will be his 11th year as director and, to this day, the anticipation of the first home football game makes him emotional.

“It’s not something that you can put your finger on,” Tornello said. “Putting all the components together and the energy and enthusiasm. When it happens, it’s just awe-inspiring — the culmination of all of it [all] as one composite thing.”

Band season typically starts in January. Tornello refers to this time as “show storming” sessions where ideas are shared between directors and members of the band. Songs, themes and memorable anniversaries or events are brainstormed for the upcoming football season. 

Tornello and assistant director of athletic bands, Dr. Bill Waterman, then finalize tunes and submit for copyright authorizations in order to access arrangements and get approval to perform them. 

Boise State marching band, Blue Thunder, practicing in Albertsons Stadium.
[Boise State marching band, Blue Thunder, practicing in Albertsons Stadium]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

After sending band members the music to learn, combining the different components of the color guard and adding in “the drill” (formations made on the field), it’s time to tie it all together and add finishing touches. 

Between Tornello’s background of growing up in band and earning his doctorate degree from the University of Kentucky, he says everything he’s learned and taught throughout his life has given him additional skills and knowledge that he tries to apply at Boise State.

“There’s a lot of things that help us try to elevate what we’re doing and do it to the best of our ability,” Tornell said. 

Each halftime performance has a theme or meaning tied into the production. For their first halftime performance, which was meant to be performed during the 2020 football season, the Blue Thunder Marching Band will be paying tribute to the 75th Commemoration of WWII.

Halftime performances also allow opportunities for students within leadership positions to create choreography or added movement to the show. These students work alongside Waterman and Color Guard Director Amy Burden to help fill those gaps.

In August 2021, the entire band got together for band camp before the start of the school year.

For nine days straight from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Blue Thunder practiced and prepared for their debut at the first home football game on Sept. 10. 

This year, due to wildfires in and around Idaho, the Air Quality Index (AQI) rose as high as 170 during camp. But this obstacle didn’t stop Blue Thunder from preparing for game day. 

Leaders of the band scrambled to find indoor places for their members to practice away from the hazardous smoke, such as the Morrison Center or the Student Union Building. 

During football season, rehearsals occur three times a week for about two hours. On these days, the performances get finalized and perfected. 

Once game day approaches, band members can expect a 12-14 hour performance day. 

However, football isn’t their only event of the year. Many students also audition for the “Pep Band” which performs in rotating groups at volleyball games as well as men’s and women’s basketball games. 

On top of that, Blue Thunder also performs at different events throughout the year. 

Boise State marching band, Blue Thunder, practicing in Albertsons Stadium.
[Boise State marching band, Blue Thunder, practicing in Albertsons Stadium]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

According to fourth-year band council president Logan Dominguez, the look on people’s faces and engaging with fans makes all of the time, practice and effort worth it when game day rolls around. 

“[That] initial feeling when you come out of the tunnel and everything opens up,” Dominguez said. “You just see however many fans are there early. It’s amazing. That’s probably what gets me going.”

Along with being band council president, Dominguez is the visual section leader for the trombones and is working towards a degree in music education with a minor in history. 

For second-year drum major Amy Johnson, her anticipation of game day looks a little different.

 After being a college freshman during the pandemic, Johnson will be putting on a drum major uniform and walking onto The Blue for the first time on Sept. 10.

“I think I’m just looking forward to the magnitude of it all,” Johnson said. “Just being in the middle of The Blue and surrounded by the amount of people— It’s a little overwhelming to think about [how] that’s where we’re gonna be. But now that the whole stadium’s gonna be filled up, that’s gonna be really cool.”

Whether they’re performing “Hey Song” at a volleyball game or a full halftime show during football season, Tornello says Blue Thunder’s mission is to provide an outlet for students to be musicians, support both the university and Boise State athletics and provide entertainment, music and energy to Bronco Nation and fans.

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