Meet The UMN Marching Band: Theo Birkholz, Trumpet

Nov 18, 2019

The 58th Annual Marching Band Indoor Concert is quickly approaching on Nov 23-24 at Northrop. In anticipation of the performance, we asked five University of Minnesota Marching Band (UMMB) members a few questions to delve more into the experiences of and process behind the Pride of Minnesota.

In this interview, trumpet player Theo Birkholz (From left to right: Theo Birkholz, Brock Grafstrom, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel, Jackson Winter) discusses a few tricks for playing an instrument in freezing cold weather, the dedication of UMMB members, and what it takes to prepare for an event.

Tell us a bit about your role in the band.
I am a 4th year trumpet in the band. My musical role in the band is to carry melodies and project sound. My social role in the band is to mess around and make sure everyone has a good time, while doing my best to set a good example for the newer members.

When did you start playing your instrument? Did you always see yourself in a marching band?
I started playing trumpet in 5th grade (2008). I have been playing trumpet for over 11 years. I was always interested in playing in a marching band; I thought it would be really cool to be part of such an inspiring group.

We understand the Marching Band includes students from more than 100 different majors. What is your major?
Mechanical Engineering.

How do you manage rehearsals, performances, etc while also playing the role as student?
Just show up and keep showing up. There are lots of late nights and early mornings, but hey, it’s college.

Can you reflect a bit on the process of preparing for an event or performance? Preparation for a performance involves several factors including marching/drill memorization, music memorization, physical preparedness (clean, ironed uniform, clean, polished horn), logistics, (where do I need to be, when do I need to be there) and physical fitness. In order to perform well, a marcher needs to be able to do all these things exactly correct every time. 

What is your favorite part about being in the band?
All the friends I’ve made along the way. The band is nothing without its members.

Were you involved in the Justin Timberlake Super Bowl appearance? If so, how was that experience?
Yes. It was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The preparation was tedious; there was a lot of unnecessary drama involved, but it was a great chance to be part of Minnesota’s history.

Are you going to the 2020 Rose Bowl?
IDK yet.

Do you have a favorite song to play or perform?
Malagueña. Malagueña is a UMMB classic. It is a fast latin tune with a lot of crazy runs and cool harmonies.

How do you perform when it’s so cold at games??
There are a few tricks to use when it gets really cold:

  1. Blow warm air through your instrument (effective down to about 30°F)
  2. ‘HotHands’ heat packs strapped to valves (effective down to about 20°F)
  3. “Winter Mix” is a mix of vodka and valve oil that freezes at a much lower temperature than regular valve oil. This is NOT good for the horns, and must be washed out of the valves immediately after performance (effective well below 0°F).

What is something that a non-Marching Band civilian would be most shocked to know about the Marching Band?
The dedication of our members shocks even me, a 4th year marcher. I see people pouring in their passion into the band for little to no recognition, every single day. Without the thankless dedication of our marchers, field staff, and directors, the band would not be the same.

What are you most looking forward to with the 58th Annual Indoor Marching Band Concert?
I look forward to playing for a crowd that wants to hear the band. Most of the crowds we play for are there for the sports and are indifferent about the band.

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