Columbia University Marching Band

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Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB)
The Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB).jpg
CUMB on the field at Wien Stadium, November 17, 2018
SchoolColumbia University
LocationNew York City, US
ConferenceIvy League
Founded1904 (defunct in 2020)
Fight song"Roar, Lion, Roar"
Motto"The Cleverest Band in the World"

The Columbia University Marching Band (CUMB) was the marching band of Columbia University. Founded in 1904, it claimed to be the first college or university marching band in the United States to convert to a scramble band format, making the switch in the 1950s. Today, all of the Ivy League bands (except Cornell), as well as the Stanford Band, William & Mary Pep Band, and Marching Owl Band have adopted the scramble band style.

The CUMB had a reputation for edgy humor and is often thought to be the most controversial and irreverent of the scramble bands. Since the 1960s, national news outlets have covered the band's most infamous pranks. CUMB billed itself as "The Cleverest Band in the World." In September 2019, the band was officially banned from Columbia athletic events and its funding revoked,[1] with many pointing to the administration's distaste for the band following the Orgo Night controversy.[2] On September 14, 2020, following allegations of inappropriate behavior, the band voted to disband.[3][4]


In addition to playing at every Columbia football game, the band played in the stands at Levien Gym for Columbia basketball games, and at various other events. These have included the New York City Marathon, the Walk Against AIDS, and at New York City's 34th Street post office on Tax Day. The CUMB appeared on many television programs including an early episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, the Late Show with David Letterman, The CBS Morning Show, MTV's Total Request Live, The Howard Stern TV Show (on WWOR), and Columbia's student run television station CTV. CUMB had also been featured in the films Turk 182! and Game Day. In the final years their musicianship had improved exponentially, and they have been invited to perform at New York Fashion Week, birthday parties, and Good Morning Tokyo.

Orgo Night[edit]

In one of the school's longest-lasting traditions, begun in 1975,[5] at midnight before the Organic Chemistry exam—often the first day of final exams—the Columbia University Marching Band invaded and briefly occupied the main undergraduate reading room in Butler Library to distract and entertain studying students with some forty-five minutes of raucous jokes and music, beginning and ending with the singing of the school's fight song, "Roar, Lion, Roar". After the main show before a crowd that routinely began filling the room well before the announced midnight start time, the Band led a procession to several campus locations, including the residential quadrangle of Barnard College for more music and temporary relief from the stress of last-minute studying.

In December 2016, following several years of sporadic complaints by students who said that some Orgo Night scripts and advertising posters left them "triggered" and "traumatized" and called for the show to be canceled,[6] as well as a New York Times article on the Band's treatment of sexual assault on campus,[7] University administrators banned the Marching Band from performing its Orgo Night show in the traditional Butler Library location. Protests and accusations of censorship[8] followed, but University President Lee Bollinger maintained that complaints and publicity about the shows had "nothing to do with" the prohibition.[9] In subfreezing weather, the Band instead performed—at midnight, as usual—outside the main entrance of Butler Library.

The Band's official alumni organization, the Columbia University Band Alumni Association, registered protests with the administration,[10] and an ad hoc group of alumni writing under the name "A. Hamiltonius" published a series of pamphlets exhaustively addressing the issue,[11] but at the end of the spring 2017 semester the university administration held firm,[12] prompting the Marching Band to again stage its show outside the building. For Orgo Night December 2017, Band members quietly infiltrated the Library with their musical instruments during the evening and popped up at midnight to perform the show inside despite the ban.[13] Prior to the spring 2018 exam period, the administration warned the group's leaders against a repeat and restated the injunction, warning of sanctions; the Band again staged its Orgo Night show in front of the library.[14]

Miscellaneous Instruments[edit]

One innovation of the CUMB was the introduction of the "miscie," which rhymes with "whiskey" and is short for miscellaneous. While many of the band members carried a musical instrument onto the field, the band's miscies carry whatever they choose. Some miscie instruments of the past have included a washboard, spoons, juggled balls/pins, the Game Boy Advance, the ROLM phone, beer bottles, spare tires, steel mailboxes, condom harp, football stadium bench (no longer attached to the stadium), passenger handle from the interior of an MTA Redbird subway car, unicycle, and kitchen sink. Towards the end of the Band, the miscie section had a toilet seat player. Other, slightly more melodious, instruments have included the shofar, the E♭ contrabass sarrusophone, a didgeridoo (the didge), and the B♭ lenthopipe (an 8-foot length of electrical conduit, with rubber hose and horn mouthpiece at the bottom end, and funnel at the extreme end).

Band members had a long history of raiding competitive Ivy League schools and other institutions for memorabilia, including flags of Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Berkeley and the outsized stick used to beat the Harvard University Band's iconic giant bass drum. In a guerrilla action, the band once surreptitiously switched its regular dress for the dark blue of Yale University and appeared in the Yale Bowl as the Yale Precision Marching Band.


The band regularly stirs up controversy due to its irreverent sense of humor.

  • In 1964, the band performed a "Salute to Moral Decay," featuring a formation of "the upper part of a topless bathing suit" (all marchers left the field except for two sousaphones, while the band played "My Favorite Things") and a typically heavy-handed reference to Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, who had been caught in flagrante delicto in a men's room. Columbia's president had to fend off angry letters from several notables, including conductor Leonard Bernstein.[15]
  • In 1966, the band was suspended for several games for the infamous "A Tribute to Birth Control" show where they formed a birth control pill, a calendar (for the rhythm method), and a chastity belt.[16]
  • In 1972, at West Point, the band formed what it called a "burning Cambodian village" on the field. The band has been effectively banned from ever playing at West Point again.[17]
  • In 1973, a brawl broke out between the CUMB and the Harvard University Band over the alleged attempted theft of the giant Harvard Bass Drum.
  • The band performed a 1981 halftime show at Holy Cross with the theme "The Lions vs. The Christians". Holy Cross administrators subsequently dis-invited the band from any future games played in Worcester. Columbia's next road game vs. Holy Cross in 1983 was the beginning of what became an NCAA-record losing streak; the Lions would go almost five years without a win.[18]
  • The band's script for the 1982 season-opening road game against Harvard mysteriously turned out to be identical to the script the Harvard band had planned to use moments later. The CUMB denied the idea that such an astonishing coincidence had anything to do with the fact that two of its members had spent the previous week posing as new freshmen at Harvard's undergraduate orientation.
  • In 1990, the band received a bomb threat over its symbolic formation of a burning American Flag accompanied by The Doors' "Light My Fire," a reference to the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson upholding the right to flag burning, and public debate around the proposed Flag Desecration Amendment.[16]
  • In 1992, during "Youth Day" at the Yale Bowl, the band pantomimed the consummation of a same-sex marriage on the field.
  • In 1993, the band drew parallels between the Holocaust and homelessness policies proposed by newly elected New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The Anti-Defamation League demanded an apology.
  • In 1993, at Princeton, the band recreated the Magic Bullet Theory as put forth by the Warren Commission on the John F. Kennedy assassination, complete with band members representing scattering skull fragments.
  • In 1998, at the Yale Bowl, the band performed a show featuring a homosexual, pot-smoking Jesus Christ as a homage to Columbia alumnus Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi. Angry Yale fans left the stadium and demanded their money back.
  • When Vice President Al Gore arrived to teach at Columbia, the band reportedly welcomed him with a program solely consisting of Monica Lewinsky jokes.[17]
  • During a game against Fordham University in 2002, the band joked that Fordham's tuition was "going down like an altar boy" (in a joke improvised minutes before the start of the pre-game show). In the ensuing media frenzy, band poet laureate Andy Hao was featured on the MSNBC show Donahue, in a debate with the president of the Catholic League Bill Donohue, who called the comment anti-Catholic bigotry. Additionally, The New York Times profiled the CUMB as part of an article about scramble bands. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger ended the controversy in one of his first official acts as University president when he apologized to Fordham president, Joseph A. O'Hare.[16][17]
  • Following a loss to Cornell in 2011, the band sang an altered version of the Columbia fight song lamenting the football team's winless season. After a member of the team coaching staff overheard the rendition, the athletic department promptly banned the band from performing at the Brown game the following week. The story was picked up by various news outlets including The New York Times and ESPN.[19][20] Following this media firestorm as well as an outpouring of support for the band from various alums, students, and bandies, and an apology from the band, the Athletics department—in the interests of Columbia's "core free speech values"—allowed the band to perform at the season's final game.
  • In December 2012, a promotional flyer for Orgo Night which featured a pun on "Gaza Strip", i.e. "Everyone Wants a Piece" was met with some backlash by student groups on campus as well as activist Sherry J. Wolf. Subsequently, Kevin Shollenberger, Dean of Student Affairs, criticized the band via a student-wide email.[21] In the wake of the event, despite the few protestors who attended Orgo Night, the band received overwhelming support from the Columbia community.


  1. ^ Witz, Billy (2019-10-01). "Columbia Silences Its Marching Band". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  2. ^ Bellafante, Ginia (2019-02-01). "And the Band Played Until Someone Complained". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  3. ^ "Columbia University Marching Band votes to disband after 116 years".
  4. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (15 September 2020). "Columbia Marching Band Shuts Itself Down over 'Offensive Behavior'". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Columbia Cram Session Can Be Fun, Too". The New York Times. 1975-12-20. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  6. ^ "If you go to Orgo Night, you're part of the problem". Columbia Daily Spectator. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  7. ^ Taylor, Kate (2015-05-09). "This Year, Columbia Event Finds Joke Fodder in Sexual Assault Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  8. ^ "University denies marching band access to Butler Library for Orgo Night – Columbia Daily Spectator". Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  9. ^ "Bollinger defends University's decision to ban Orgo Night from Butler – Columbia Daily Spectator". Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  10. ^ "Orgo Night!". Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  11. ^ "In Defense of Orgo Night". Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  12. ^ "University stands by decision to ban Orgo Night from Butler as alumni pressure mounts - Columbia Daily Spectator". Retrieved July 11, 2017.
  13. ^ Piper, Greg (2017-12-21). "How Columbia's politically incorrect marching band outwitted the administration's censorship attempt". The College Fix. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "Orgo Night Spring 2018 Liveblog". 2018-05-04.
  15. ^ Carlinsky, Dan. "Ha Ha Ha Goes the Piccolo". Sports Illustrated Vault | Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  16. ^ a b c "Marching Band Stirs Fans, Controversy". Columbia Daily Spectator. March 6, 2008. Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  17. ^ a b c John, Warren St (2002-09-29). "And the Band Misbehaved On . . ". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  18. ^ "Columbia Marches to a Different Drummer". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2022-08-19.
  19. ^ Zinser, Lynn (17 November 2011). "Lyrics Briefly Draw a Penalty After a Columbia Loss". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Darcy, Kieran (17 November 2011). "Columbia band banned from home finale". ESPN.
  21. ^ Davidson, Jake (13 December 2012). "Shollenberger criticizes Orgo Night posters (UPDATED)". Columbia Daily Spectator. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2020.

External links[edit]


  • Lisa Birnbach's New and Improved College Book, by Lisa Birnbach (1992) ISBN 0-671-79289-X