As the University of Washington Husky football team gears up for one of the biggest games in Husky history — the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans — Bridger Bourke, a drum major for the UW marching band, is also preparing for a performance of a lifetime. Bridger knows that he and the band will have to electrify the crowd, particularly because New Orleans is much closer to Texas than Washington. “We’ve got to bring some excitement, good music, and that Husky spirit,” says Bridger.
A senior studying biochemistry at UW, Bridger works part-time at Pagliacci’s Pike Street store. As someone who enjoys food and cooking, Bridger sought a job where he could improve his culinary skills. He’d also been a fan of Pagliacci’s pizza since he was a kid. He applied to a few stores and the Pike store offered him a job. “I work with a great team of people,” says Bridger. “As a student, with a schedule that completely changes every three months, it's an absolute joy that they allow me the flexibility to work around marching band — which is especially crazy this time of year. Also, the wages with tips are great and I feel good about the company. It’s always good to work for a company that you can feel proud of.”
His musical journey began at Mercer Island High School. He played trombone in the high school marching band. One year they performed in the Rose Parade in Pasadena. They also played a Seahawks halftime show. Bridger loved it and worked hard to hone his skills. “I appreciate how lucky I was to get an experience like that at such a young age,” says Bridger. “It set me up for what I do now.”
Bridger played trombone his first three years in the UW marching band but dreamed of being a drum major. At UW, there are three drum majors. They lead the band on the field. “We don’t play any instruments,” says Bridger. “On the field, we carry a baton and wear those nice tall fuzzy hats. I share the position with two other individuals. We rotate through the roles, with two of us on the field for any given pregame or halftime performance, and the third on the ladder, conducting alongside our director.” During the pre-game performance, the drum majors use a traditional signal baton, which is longer and has a wrapped cord. At halftime, they become more expressive. “We use a shorter baton that is measured to our arm, says Bridger. “You can do more fun tricks with that one — crazy tosses, fun catches, bouncing it off the ground — a lot of stuff to wow the crowd.”
Being in the UW band is an honor and a large time commitment that demands resilience and dedication. Throughout the fall, the band has three to four rehearsals a week, not including game day. “Sometimes we're showing up as early as 4 a.m. for some games,” says Bridger. “We get in a couple rehearsals, then we’re sent to all around campus and throughout the athletic village. We play for donors, fans, and students. We hype up the crowd and welcome the football team to the stadium.”
Beyond football, the UW band performs at basketball, volleyball, and softball games, as well as the occasional game for other UW sports. They also get community requests, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals. “We will bring a pep band out and a drum major usually leads that,” says Bridger. “We bring out that Husky spirit everywhere we can.”
When Bridger graduates, he plans to take a healthy break from school, before applying to medical school. He intends to look for work doing research and possibly work as an EMT for a while. It will be hard to leave the marching band and music, especially after this magical year as a drum major. “I can't really imagine living my life without music in some capacity,” says Bridger. “It’s not like there’s a pickup marching band you can join on the weekends. But I’ll definitely keep music in my life.”
But before all that, in just a few days, the marching band will fly to New Orleans to rehearse for the big game. “Husky bands have been to all the other six New Year's bowl games,” says Bridger. “But we’ll be the first to play the Sugar Bowl. We get to bring our flair, bring our style, and show them the kind of performers we are. There's something really special about that.”