Bryan Green studied the sheet music in front of him carefully as he sat in a back row of the auditorium at Owings Mills High School Saturday morning.
“It’s not too hard,” he said. “A little technical. It’s not Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony.”
Green, 32, who works in medical billing, was among the 200 musicians who auditioned for 150 spots in Baltimore’s Marching Ravens. The ensemble plays during 10 home games each season at M&T Bank Stadium.
The band held its annual tryout for veterans and hopefuls, which requires them to sight-read a piece of music they are given on the spot. The prospective band members must also demonstrate their marching abilities and decipher a marching drill sheet.
The auditions might seem rigorous, said John Ziemann, the band’s president. But the group plays an important role at games.
“We create an energy for the games,” Ziemann said. He joined as a percussionist in 1962, when it was the Baltimore Colts’ Marching Band.
The group started playing together in 1947 during Colts games at Memorial Stadium. Even after the Colts left for Indianapolis, the band continued to play. It’s one of two marching bands attached to NFL teams, Ziemann said. The other is the Washington Redskins Marching Band, which plays at home games at FedEx Field in Landover.
Once all volunteers, the Marching Ravens are now paid for their work.
The musicians come “from all walks of life,” he said, but share a passion for music. At the outset, a musician might have more interest in the music than in the game. But by the end of football season, Ziemann said, “we convert them.”
Green has been playing music since he took up the bassoon in third grade. He called himself “the biggest band geek ever,” and said he wanted to join the band to continue playing.
“I’m not doing much of anything” with music, he said. “It’s unfortunate, but you have to pay the mortgage.”
Playing with the Ravens marching band would give him that outlet.
At the other end of the auditorium, 26-year-old Terrell Tyler stood with a shiny tuba over his shoulders, warming up alongside Randy Hampton, who had a baritone horn.
Tyler, a server and bartender from Columbia, said he enjoys the camaraderie the band provides. With weekly practices and at least 10 games together, he said, the group becomes like a family.
It also allows him to continue his passion.
“I like to be able to do what I love,” Tyler said.
Hampton, 26, spoke of performing in London when the Ravens played the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium last September. The Ravens suffered an embarrassing 44-7 beating, but Hampton had a “life-changing experience.”
Hampton, who works as a city substitute teacher, performed with other band members atop a double-decker bus as it moved around the city, and enjoyed the surprised reactions and appreciation of the onlookers.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said.
NOTE: This story has been updated correct an error regarding payment for band members.