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florida state football field
florida state football field
Original photo by Lauren Sparling

An Inside Look Into the FSU Marching Chiefs: An Interview With Natalie Declerk

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Natalie DeClerk is a junior double majoring in Communications and Marketing, but that’s not the only thing she does. She is also a member of the Florida State University Marching Chiefs, the official marching band of FSU. The Marching Chiefs are a tradition during football games, and this week I was able to sit down with her and get the inside scoop on the famous FSU band.

Her Campus (HC): What inspired you to try out for the Marching Chiefs and how long have you been with them?

Natalie DeClerk (ND): I’ve been with the marching chiefs for three years now, 2020 was my rookie year in chiefs which was an interesting first-year experience, and I can confidently say it’s only gotten better since then. I went to a small Catholic High School in Ocala, FL and my band director in high school was an FSU Alum and always advocated for FSU and their music program but especially the Marching Chiefs. After going to an FSU football game every year with my high school’s marching band and seeing how much fun the Marching Chiefs had on and off the field, I was sold on becoming one myself.

HC: What instrument do you play, and why did you choose this instrument?

ND: I play mellophone in chiefs which makes me a member of the horns section. I started band in the sixth grade when I played French horn and continued to play the French horn throughout high school, but marched mellophone in my high school’s marching band. I chose the French horn mostly because it resembled a snail, and it was one of the only instruments I could make a sound on.

HC: As you know, FSU just had a big win against LSU, what it’s like to be in the stands and performing during a game like that?

ND: Watching what was definitely the most insane football game I’ve ever seen in the Superdome in New Orleans was indescribable. Performing in the Superdome was also such a surreal experience too. We had the opportunity the day before the game to get a rehearsal in the Superdome to ourselves right when we got to New Orleans and the feeling of walking into that stadium on the ground level for the first time made a lot of us speechless, just imagining what it was going to be like filled with all those LSU and FSU fans got all of us excited and in the right mindset for the game. Watching the game from the stands was cool, especially playing all the stand tunes and war chants with 110 percent effort and air, we shook all the seats around us. One of the highlights from the game, besides winning, of course, was when we were all down on the field near the end of the second quarter waiting to take the field for halftime, and LSU fumbled the ball and all the players were scrambling for the ball and FSU ended up having it in the end, one of the football players on the sideline came and cheered with the chiefs.

HC: Can you walk me through a week in your life as a Marching Chief? What are your practices like day to day, and how do you prepare for the games each week?

ND: Every day of every week, Monday-Friday, we have practice on Chiefs Field, right next to the circus and Leach, from four to six. A lot of us work Marching Chiefs into our class schedules since you do have to register for it like any other class. On game weeks we still have daily practices, but on actual gameday, we have what we call continuity, which is our last practice on the morning of the game. For the Duquesne game, for example, we had an 8:00 a.m. continuity rehearsal until about 10:30 a.m. and then a short break for lunch and had to be back at Chiefs Field at 2:30 for our “Skull Session” performances, which are student-arranged, conducted and led performances specific to each instrument section. These performances are usually on the baseball field a couple of hours before kickoff, and then we have our march over to the stadium from there. On weeks where we don’t have games, Dr. Plack and Dr. Wilson, the directors of athletic bands here, try to give us Friday off as long as we didn’t lose a lot of time prior in the week due to weather, which for Florida is a common issue we have. If we do get rained out, we try to still have a music rehearsal in the baseball stadium. Our actual marching rehearsals are pretty seamless however, it’s quite incredible the things you can do with about 400 people in your band. I only had about 60 people in my high school band, so it’s been cool to see how a band of our size functions and gets our shows to the performance level.

HC: What advice would you give to other people wanting to try out for the Marching Chiefs?

ND: My advice that I would give to other people who would like to try out for marching chiefs is just do it! I know so many people who used to play in high school and don’t anymore for many reasons but there really isn’t any reason I can think of that would keep me from doing chiefs again. A lot of us aren’t even music majors and are also doing just as much academically as any other full-time student here at FSU, so it is possible! Time management is key, and you definitely learn balance and time management if you do chiefs in my opinion. Chiefs is unlike any other musical opportunity I’ve had and it’s definitely my favorite. We even have some rookie chiefs this year who never marched in a marching band before! Our pre-season training teaches everyone what they need to know in order to make chiefs, and it’s evident in this year’s rookie class. I was a row leader this year for HornZ and am proud to say that my rookie row all made Marching Chiefs this year!

HC: What’s your favorite thing about being on the Marching Chiefs?

ND: My favorite thing about being in Marching Chiefs is all of the opportunities that I get as a student here that I wouldn’t get otherwise. Chiefs get invited to a lot of events for pep bands, and there’s really nothing like performing pregame in a full Doak Campbell Stadium. And knowing that the air you’re putting through your horn is what’s projecting that war chant to echo throughout the stadium is a powerful thing.

HC: What game are you most looking forward to performing at this season?

ND: I was looking forward most to the LSU game in NOLA, but now that that’s over, I think I’m looking forward to the Miami game next. I’ve never been to the University of Miami and can’t wait to blast the war chant in their stadium.

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Hey, I'm Kori! I'm a junior at Florida State University, majoring in Creative Writing and Marketing. I'm originally from Orlando, and in my spare time I love binge-watching rom-coms and reading whatever I can get my hands on!