|« Will VMI go back to the future by rejoining the Southern Conference?||O'Neill Outdoes Father and Uncle, Named UNH Captain »|
The sound of music for UAlbany
New conference and stadium — so what? Strike up the band
The University at Albany has finally caught on.
You can have a beloved football coach; you can have a new $18 million stadium; you can move to the more competitive Colonial Athletic Association.
But you are nothing without a marching band.
Who cares about those critical third-down conversions if no one is on the field at halftime playing “Hang on Sloopy?”
Grambling State’s marching band is more popular than its football team. Ohio State has the i-dotting tuba player.
But at past Great Danes home games, no marching band was spelling “Albany” in scrolling script at halftime. Things will be different this year.
UAlbany’s athletic department doesn’t want to go into the CAA without the brass to compete, so the pep band’s director, Kevin Champagne, was told to come up with a budget (looks like at least $100,000) and to recruit members (he’ll take any students, even if they have to learn to play an instrument along the way).
And, in time, it is hoped that his creation will become what every marching band should be at college football games: The soundtrack.
“In some ways you’re secondary to the athletic event, but if you’ve got a good marching band, and they’re doing a field show, everybody stops what they’re doing and watches the marching band,” Champagne says. “I’m not expecting us to be amazing the first year or three.”
Make all the jokes you want about what a first-year marching band that may have some inexperienced musicians will sound like; consider it a building year. But any sound that will generate school spirit is music to the athletic department’s ears.
“The need for a marching band has been there all along with our football program. A lot of the schools that we play, especially the bigger schools, all have marching programs,” says Charlie Voelker, UAlbany’s associate athletic director of external affairs. “We think it’s a great way of engaging the student body. It’s a fun thing. We want things to be fun. We want all of our students to enjoy all of our programs and the whole atmosphere.”
And you can’t do that without a few choruses of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when your team is crushing its opponent.
With the exception of the University of Richmond, every school UAlbany will face in the CAA has some sort of marching unit. William & Mary has a “scramble band” that puts on a loose, less lock-step version of a traditional field show.
And Stony Brook? Its marching band, which was formed less than a decade ago, even sends small groups of its members to play the national anthem at Stony Brook baseball games.
That band numbers at least a couple hundred. UAlbany is looking to start with at least 50. About two dozen students have expressed interest so far, and some of the current and former pep band members are planning some heavy recruiting efforts, even if they don’t have the time to join the marching band themselves.
The pep band became a key part of the UAlbany men’s and women’s basketball seasons, traveling with the teams to the NCAA Tournament and waving poster-sized cutouts of some of the best-known faces on the teams.
The pep band also plays at UAlbany home football games, but being in the stands just isn’t the same as getting onto the field at halftime, says Jeff Brauner, a graduate student at UAlbany and a trumpet player who’s been involved with the pep band for years. It’s pretty close to embarrassing to be unable to put a unit on the field, he says.
“There have been times when a high school drumline has come and done a halftime show, and we sit and watch,” says Brauner, who may not have the time to commit to the twice weekly practices and one 30-hour week of band camp in the summer, but plans to help out when he can.
This year, the music won’t stay in the stands.
UAlbany will march into the CAA in style.
By Jennifer Gish, Times-Union