Cats Corner: The instrumental part of the Northwestern community

Mika Ellison and Margot Amouyal



Northwestern’s Marching Band plays at every football game and provides some much-needed school spirit during the season. The Daily’s podcast Cats Corner takes a look at what it’s like to be in the finest band in the land, including traditions, favorite memories, and the calculus chant.

BAND MEMBER: And one, two, ready, go.


MARGOT AMOUYAL: Does that music sound familiar to you? If so, you may have recently attended a Northwestern football game.

MIKA ELLISON: And while you were there, you may have heard the Northwestern University Marching Band energetically playing songs from the stands, like the one you just heard.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: The Marching Band, known as NUMB, undoubtedly plays a huge role in promoting spirit on campus and getting students excited for games.

MIKA ELLISON: However, for much of the student body, the inner workings of NUMB — its traditions, anecdotes and practices — remain a mystery.


MARGOT AMOUYAL: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Margot Amouyal.

MIKA ELLISON: And I’m Mika Ellison. This is Cats Corner, a podcast that gives you the inside look into Northwestern sports, both on the field and in the locker room. Today, we’re giving you the inside look at one of Northwestern’s oldest and most mysterious organizations: NUMB.


SIDNEY BERGERON: It’s the foundation of all my college friendships and all of the identity that I have at Northwestern. It’s all centered around the marching band. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: That’s Sidney Bergeron, a McCormick senior from Wisconsin and trumpet player in NUMB.

MIKA ELLISON: Sidney’s experience of finding identity, friendships and passion within NUMB echoes the sentiments of the band members we interviewed for this podcast.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: NUMB may only last for a season, but its purpose and commitment to the school and the football team makes it more than just a regular band.

MIKA ELLISON: Daniel Farris is the director of athletic bands at NU. For the past 22 years, he’s been responsible for conducting NUMB throughout its season, which actually starts before fall classes.

DANIEL FARRIS: Marching band I think just by its very nature, has more of a social aspect to it. We have to communicate verbally by supporting and being really enthusiastic to the football team with our marching band. That sort of gets a bond and a connection to the University and to the ensemble like no other group.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: The wonders of NUMB kick off with band camp, a two-week intensive training program that brings musicians up to speed on important game day tunes, dances, coordination, traditions and spirit.

SIDNEY BERGERON: It’s my favorite time of the year. It’s really special to be able to come to campus and move in and meet your friends without the rest of the community here and without having to deal with classes. It’s nice to be able to only focus on doing something you love.

MIKA ELLISON: Prior to band camp, many students already have marching experience. However, not all do. The band will find you regardless — whether you like it or not.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: Aidan Klinges, a Communication freshman, submitted a video of him playing the flute for his Northwestern theatre supplement. This made him a prime target for NUMB recruitment.

AIDAN KLINGES: I joined completely on a whim. I got not one, not two, not three but four emails, personalized emails to me saying, “join the marching band.” Well, I can go to college three weeks early if I join this band, so I did, and I joined.

MIKA ELLISON: On the first day of band camp, all new members meet with the band director to go through a bunch of information about NUMB. When that meeting is over, the upperclassmen members of NUMB burst through the door and then play some of their favorite spirit tunes like “Downfield,” “Push On,” “Go U” and the alma mater.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: Rebecca Siems, a Weinberg senior, alto saxophone player and section leader said this is her favorite tradition.

REBECCA SIEMS: It was really fun to be on the opposite end but as a freshman, I was like “Whoa, this is a lot right now. These people are very eager.”

MIKA ELLISON: Other traditions include making raps about competitor teams before games, meme presentations, creating quirky nicknames for bandmates and embracing the spirit of P and G — which stands for pride and guts — at all times possible.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: One of the band’s popular traditions involves inviting the entire freshman class to Henry Crown Sports Pavilion.

MIKA ELLISON: It happens the night before the NU homecoming football game. The freshmen class is encouraged to meet outside of Crown Sports Pavilion by marching members but are not told why.

SIDNEY BERGERON: Just going there and seeing the drumline come out in their warmers and like looking all spooky with their sticks and being all silent. It’s almost kind of a culty experience but in the best way possible.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: The band proceeds to play tunes across campus and accumulate audience members as more and more students hear the music and join the band on its journey.


MIKA ELLISON: The band also has holiday traditions.

REBECCA SIEMS: Every Halloween, we have a tradition where our director dresses up as his alter ego in a very wacky costume, and then stands from the balcony and throws candy and other assorted goods like mac and cheese boxes, or Capri Suns, at everyone. And it’s really fun. And we have to do this chant beforehand. It’s super culty. And if anyone were to observe it, they might be kind of concerned, but it’s very fun.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: But NUMB’s close-knit community doesn’t just maintain long-held traditions — they’re also constantly creating new ones. This year, the band created Coop Day, a day to honor one of the Band Spirit Leaders, Coop Daley.

MIKA ELLISON: Spirit leaders are tasked with the responsibility of getting students and band members energized for games, leading chants, making jokes, throwing the chicken when a flag is thrown, doing pushups on the field after a touchdown and so much more.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: And at the end of practice one day this season, Coop celebrated his new holiday with a spontaneous dip in Lake Michigan.

AIDAN KLINGES: We all just left the spirit session at 10:30 p.m. He stripped and he ran into the lake and we watched him on the beach.

MIKA ELLISON: The team prepared for Coop’s foray into the lake by getting him blankets and making him tea for when he reached land. Afterward, Coop even showered in Mudd Library.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: And Coop Day included more than just a swim in the lake. The team also all dressed up as Coop for practice.

MIKA ELLISON: Zoey Hall, a Weinberg freshman and clarinet player, said Coop Day reflects the culture she’s experienced in NUMB.

ZOEY HALL: I had to go to a meeting, but I did see videos of them throwing him or him running into Lake Michigan when I’m pretty sure it was less than 40 degrees outside. And so, like, you know, that’s just one of the fun parts of band. We get to put people in the lake sometimes. It’s a really good family, and it’s a lot of fun.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: A lot of memories like this are able to occur because of the unique NUMB mentality of embracing humor and working together.

AIDAN KLINGES: There is a bit of hive mind, sometimes, like when someone does something everyone follows them, like kind of no matter what. Like if someone walks in one direction, like to go to the buses after games, everyone just follows them. There is not a lot of individual thinking sometimes.


MIKA ELLISON: To many Northwestern students who know little about NUMB members, their uniforms are one of the most identifiable characteristics — they include purple, white and black suits, and gloves and hats with feathery plumes.

SIDNEY BERGERON: I remember the first time I put it on and it feels almost like a costume; it’s so out there, but, man. My heart swells every time I put it on. I love it, I think it’s great.

REBECCA SIEMS: They’re fine, they’re fun. I like them.

ZOEY HALL: They’re cute. I mean, I like purple. You know, Go Cats. It’s fun. They’re better than my high school ones, so it’s okay.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: Yet, not everybody has the same opinion on the uniforms.

AIDAN KLINGES: Ok, so the uniforms are one of my least favorite parts of being in the marching band. They are made of cotton, so they are very warm and very absorbent and we are not allowed to wash them ‘cause it’s super expensive and they don’t want us to, so they smell awful. They smell so bad. Yeah, and they are also uncomfortable.

MIKA ELLISON: Yet the band, as always, finds a way to make the uniform experience as fun as possible, especially during pre-game breakfasts at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

AIDAN KLINGLES: There is a tradition in the alto section where, at some point, like 25 minutes into eating, one of the section leaders will start chanting “it’s time to pee, it’s time for alto pee” over and over again. All the altos get up and pilgrimage to the bathroom together.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: In addition, band members are not allowed to talk poorly about football while in uniform, no matter how much the Cats lose.


MIKA ELLISON: And then, of course, there’s the band geek.

SIDNEY BERGERON: My roommate is actually the band geek.

AIDAN KLINGES: Geek? Wait, what do you mean “the band geek?” The geek? Chima?

MARGOT AMOUYAL: I’ve heard so much about the band geek, like, I need to hear from the one and only.

CHIMA AHARANWA: So, the official title is, like, NUMB Geek. Essentially you have three responsibilities: One, to be as loud and obnoxious as possible, two, to support the spirit team and help them kind of embody the spirit of the band. And the third responsibility is to embody band geeks everywhere, both past, present and future.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: That’s Chima Aharanwa, a McCormick senior who plays clarinet in the band. He was 2021’s “band geek,” a role he assumed through a bandwide election.

MIKA ELLISON: The band geek teaches band members about football, since many of the musicians are pretty clueless.

CHIMA AHARANWA: I’ll go in and teach them, like, “Hey what’s the first down? What’s a touchdown?” You know, go through, how do you score points. For some people, it helps more than others.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: He also leads the calculus chant.

CHIMA AHARANWA: “Two-four-six-eight / Time to differentiate! d to the x, dx/dy / d to the y/dy / Three-point-one-four-one-five-nine / Cosine, tangent, inverse sine / Add an asymptotic line / Come on Wildcats, hold that line … segment!”

CHIMA AHARANWA: I know it’s very geeky, because it’s just a calculus cheer way back when some geek made it up and introduced it. And it’s just been a recurring tradition now.

MIKA ELLISON: Well, it is said that NUMB is the only team that can do math while performing.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: So true. Maybe it’s because so much of the band is in McCormick — at least, that’s what band members told us.


MIKA ELLISON: Ultimately, Chima has one main goal for his time as geek.

CHIMA AHARANWA: Just that band’s fun, and that this is a community.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: But, of course, the most important thing NUMB does is play their instruments — at home games, pep rallies and even Wildcat Welcome.


MIKA ELLISON: Band members practice two hours a day, four days a week and support the football team in all conditions, even in what the band director calls “heavy dew” — a term for rain.


MARGOT AMOUYAL: One of Sidney’s favorite band memories was from a football game at the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl.

SIDNEY BERGERON: Watching the Cats come back from, I want to say, it was a several touchdown difference and watching them come back in the third quarter, and getting to play “Go U” probably like 28 times that day, or something, I think, if you tallied it all up. I can’t think of a time I’ve been that happy, in my life.

MIKA ELLISON: But, unfortunately for NUMB, moments like this didn’t happen very often, at least this past season…

AIDAN KLINGES: We have consistently lost.

SIDNEY BERGERON: It’s heartbreaking to see them lose.


MARGOT AMOUYAL: But, according to some band members, there might be a reason why. Some believe that Coop determines the outcome of the games. Band members claim every time Coop is in the state of Illinois, the football team loses; when he isn’t, they triumph.

MIKA ELLISON: So, that really must be the secret of the football team losing after all.

MARGOT AMOUYAL: Could be, could be.

MIKA ELLISON: Disappointments and conspiracy theories aside, we asked band members what they most want NU students to know about NUMB, and a lot of them had similar things to say.

SIDNEY BERGERON: We love Northwestern, we love the student body and we absolutely love when you guys cheer for us and seeing how excited you get when we play, and I just want to thank everybody for just being so excited when we play songs that you like, it really makes it all worth it.

CHIMA AHARANWA: We have such a strong bond. Even though it’s weird from the outside looking in, it’s how we are. It’s community. And I would argue it’s the best community on this campus. We’re the finest band in the land.


MARGOT AMOUYAL: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Margot Amouyal.

MIKA ELLISON: And I’m Mika Ellison. Thanks for listening to another episode of Cats Corner. This episode was reported and produced by Margot Amouyal and myself. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Will Clark, the digital managing editor is Jordan Mangi and the editor in chief is Isabelle Sarraf. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AmouyalMargot

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikaEllison23

Related Stories:
— It’s time to move the chains: NUMB’s Spirit Leader and Grynder talk spirit at football games
— Q&A: Ryan Simpson, Marching Band spirit leader
— NU talent kicks off Homecoming with pep rally performances