It's 7 p.m. on Aug. 22, 2011. A thunderstorm is passing through Tallahassee as 350 members of the Florida A&M University Marching 100 assemble for the first time inside the school's cavernous band-rehearsal hall.
The students are seated in a semicircle of padded orange chairs on the green-carpeted floor — all dressed as if attending church. Behind them high on a wall, looking over their shoulders, is the portrait of the legendary William P. Foster, clad in white, who founded and made famous the Marching 100.
It's the first time freshmen and upperclassmen have been together as a band, seated by section, arranged by instruments: clarinets, piccolos, French horns, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, tubas, drums.
The freshmen are coming off one week of drills to teach them the basics of marching band: steps, movements, routines, music. It's their first taste of what the semester will bring: long, exacting practices on the open field they call "the patch" and the initiation ritual of hazing. They've already been scolded and taunted by the upperclass band members, warned never to walk on the patch. Freshmen don't deserve to walk. They have to run across the grass.