PROVO Eric Baker never thought of band as an extreme sport until he joined the "Power of the Wasatch" as a freshman at Brigham Young University.
The Cougar Marching Band's annual weeklong August boot camp is arduous even without a heat wave, but the camp's normal 14-hour days in August 2005 were marred by heat so fierce that the tar in the Marriott Center parking lot melted and stuck to Baker's shoes.
In December, as the band practiced for the football team's Las Vegas Bowl appearance, the same parking lot was pummeled by falling snow.
"People were running up and down the parking lot shoveling snow to reveal the lines on the pavement so we could know where we were," said Baker, 21, a bespectacled genetics major from Salem.
Those intemperate extremes no longer torment Baker and the band, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this fall with a big present from anonymous BYU donors: a high-tech, air-conditioned rehearsal room at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Nestled directly above the Cougar Club's room in the southwest corner of the stadium, the facilities include storage rooms for instruments, uniforms and props.
"This gives us a feeling this is our home now, too," said Baker, who plays the clarinet. "It's not just the football stadium; it's our band's stadium, too."
The rehearsal room is huge, covering 4,170 square feet with 225 chairs and music stands, one for each member of the band. The room appears sparse at first glance but includes some cool technology, including 40 curved sound clouds that dampen the drumming, thumping sound of a powerful marching band at full throat.
"That number of instruments and bodies creates quite a lot of noise," band director Fred McInnis said. "It can be deafening" without the sound deflectors installed in the ceiling and walls by Joseph Smith, owner of Orem's Method Studio.
The marching band still practices marching outdoors, but now it has moved to the west parking lot across Canyon Road from the football stadium.
And like their football brethren, band members return to the rehearsal room to study film after marching practice.
Previously, the band stuffed itself into a carpet-cleaning area of the Harman Building north of the Marriott Center and put a sheet up on a wall to watch video of its formations.
Now they sit comfortably in chairs and break down video on two massive projection screens at the front of the rehearsal room.
McInnis didn't know and other BYU officials declined to discuss the cost of the new facility, carved out of what was a corner of the stadium's spartan innards, all cinder block and exposed pipes and air vents.
Now there is a room for the color guard's costumes and flags. Another room that appears like a dog kennel has 265 cage-style lockers for storing instruments.
And a large room holds the band's 300 uniforms.
"We fit everybody," McInnis said of the uniforms. "We don't all come out of a cookie cutter. We fit everyone from the very small to the extremely large."
Of course, even with the new rehearsal room, wacky weather still buffets the band during games and marching practice.
"Rehearsals are never called off," said Baker, now a sophomore after taking off two years to serve a mission to Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Rain, snow, sunshine, we still march."
He's not complaining, though he smiled wryly when asked if the rehearsal room made band camp any more bearable last month. Unfortunately, construction wasn't complete until after the camp, which ran from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every weekday before BYU's home opener against Northern Iowa.
Baker looks forward to each game and the buoyant strength of marching in a big band.
E-mail: [email protected]