Traditions: Purdue's Big Bass Drum
Purdue alumnus Jerry Palm looks at one of the Boilermakers' top college football traditions.
Before I went to graduate school to get my degree in Bracketology, I was a four-year All-American at Purdue. Well, technically, I was a four-year member of the Purdue All-American marching band. The biggest icon of Purdue's band, and one of the biggest of Purdue University, is the band's Big Bass Drum.
Called the BBD for short, there is nothing short about this monstrous instrument. It stands about 10 feet tall on its carriage and is around four feet wide (I'd tell you the exact measurements, but I'd have to ... well, you know). When Purdue went to the Rose Bowl in 2001, the drum didn't fit through the tunnel into the stadium, so it had to be removed from its cart and carried in sideways. It takes a crew of six to play the world's largest drum, four that push it around on the cart, and two beaters, one on each side.
I thought about trying out for the drum crew when I was in school, but I would have never made it. The first thing you have to do is pass the same fitness test the Air Force ROTC students have to pass. That would have eliminated me. The other important aspect is public relations. The drum makes a lot of appearances off campus and crew members have to be comfortable speaking to any audience and know the history of the drum.
The BBD is definitely the center of attention wherever it goes. While we were shooting video for this feature, we were interrupted a number of times so people could get their picture taken with it. Invariably, those people would also ask if they could hit the drum, and they always got the same answer: no. Only little kids are allowed to hit the drum. My daughter got a chance to do that at a marching band contest in Indianapolis last year. See for yourself.
The drum has been played by presidents and astronauts. It's been stolen, hidden and accidentally rolled down an airport tarmac. It shows up at parades, alumni events, schools, even the occasional wedding. It's been in the Rose Parade, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it's a regular at the Indianapolis 500. It's one of the unique images of Purdue University, and you can find it every football Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, where it ranks among the great traditions and as part of the pageantry of college football.
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