COLUMBIA — Marching Mizzou can be heard at most MU athletic events. The university's band has led Tigers fans through the Missouri fight song for generations. They are the soul of the university's fan base.
Former band members enjoyed playing songs such as "Fight Tiger" and "The Missouri Waltz" so much that they founded the Marching Mizzou Alumni Band in 1970. The group performs mainly when Marching Mizzou can't, such as during the winter break from classes.
Forty years later, the band's latest director, Gary Taylor, completed his first term with the band Wednesday night during the Missouri women's basketball team's 82-73 victory over Alabama-Birmingham at Mizzou Arena.
After being an assistant under former director Kevin Kelly, Taylor began his turn at the helm in August. The first MU event on the alumni band's schedule was the homecoming football game against Oklahoma. After performing at the men's basketball game Monday against Northern Illinois and the women's game Wednesday, MU teams went undefeated with the alumni band performing.
The path from performer to director was difficult for Taylor. During performances, not only does he have to make sure everyone is on the same page, literally, he is constantly hearing orders from event coordinators and sound engineers through his headphones to ensure the music, cheerleading and electronics are on the same page.
"By the end of the game, I was so scrambled that I couldn't even remember what we were playing," Taylor said. "I had to ask the guys in the front row, and they said we were playing this or that."
The opportunity to perform in a college band helped Taylor find his niche at MU. He began his studies at the university in 1983, arriving from his hometown of Portageville in southeast Missouri, which has a little more than 3,000 people.
"My very first day at school, a week before we started at band camp, I knew 250 to 300 people immediately," Taylor said. "As I walked across campus the very first day classes began, there were probably eight people I said hello to from my residence hall to my class that I knew just from band, and that made me feel at home."
Finding friends fast was not the only benefit to joining Marching Mizzou for Taylor. When MU teams traveled, so did the band. In Taylor's time as a student, he performed at more than 40 universities in 26 states, from Miami to the island of Maui in Hawaii.
The traveling came with its challenges, though. The band would ride a bus cross-country with the Golden Girls and cheerleaders. Taylor developed a routine of sleeping on the bus while studying on Sundays.
"It was priceless, sleeping on the floor of the bus," Taylor said with a laugh. "You slept where you could, you changed where you could. You go on about and walk through the cloud of the Golden Girls' hairspray to get off the bus. Those are the experiences that bond us all together."
The bonding continued Wednesday for the alumni band, with members representing graduating classes from the late 1960s to 2008. There was even a member of the Hickman High School marching band, the son of one of the members.
Taylor says the songs he played as an undergrad will remain with him forever.
"I'll be 90 years old and sitting there and fingering the songs on my air instrument," Taylor said. "Those fingers will never go away. I could easily say I've played that song well over 1,000 times."