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Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

A new look boosts USU marching band's image

September 8, 2006 | Thanks to the generosity of David and Amie Dunkley, the Utah State University Marching Band will have a new look as members take the field in the university's home football opener. The process of getting to the final uniform has been thorough, and there is a collective sigh of relief as the band's members agree — it's great to be able to wear new uniforms. It's been 17 years since members of the Aggie Marching Band have been able to say that.

"The marching band has a storied tradition in the history of college football," said USU's Athletics Director Randy Spetman. "The pageantry and excitement created by the band helps draw fans to the games and makes alumni proud of their university."

USU's Director of Bands Thomas P. Rohrer coordinated the uniform project that included student input. A student committee made up of members from band leadership and the band service organizations — Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma — provided an initial design for the new uniforms. The final version incorporated original logos and symbols by designer Ben Barnes, a USU graduate, that visually represent the band and the university. Following fine tuning and consultation with the Dunkleys, the uniforms were ordered.

"One hundred and fifty uniforms have been ordered," Rohrer said. "That way we can fit 100 people, given size variances from year to year."

The uniform includes a coat, pants, hat and plume and "stadium parkas" to wear over the uniform in bad weather. The uniforms are being made by Fruhauf Uniforms Inc. in Wichita, Kan.

The band uniforms at USU were last replaced in 1989.

Rohrer said the dark blue uniforms feature a classic and timeless design that can be used into the foreseeable future. The styling is traditional, with a tapered long back to flatter the shape of every band person.

The typical lifespan of a band uniform is 10 years, Rohrer said. However, USU went with a traditional design that can be used beyond that time. Uniforms will be replaced a few at a time every five years or so or as the need arises.

"This eliminates the burden of a huge, one-time purchase," Rohrer said. "Many of the well-known bands in the country have used the same uniform design for many years. We want to establish a standard look and identity for our marching band, and the new uniforms accomplish that."

The USU Marching Band includes 85 to 110 members who are admitted through auditions in the music department as prospective music majors, or by contacting the band office during the school year. Students receive summer mailings and audition for the band during "Fundamentals Week," the week before classes start on the USU campus.

"We shamelessly believe that this week-long band camp, hosted by upperclassmen from every discipline on campus, is the best orientation new students can get to college life at Utah State," Rohrer said.

Like most college marching bands, participating students can get academic credit. It is part of the instrumental music education curriculum at Utah State. Members also receive a stipend for playing in the marching band, but it doesn't come close to compensating students for arriving a week early on campus and for at least six Saturday performances, Rohrer said.

"We sincerely respect the service provided by our students to the university," Rohrer said. "Our compensation levels are not as high as those at comparable institutions."

The marching band performs at all home football games in Logan and at selected in-state road games, Rohrer said. The group can be seen in the homecoming parade and at the end of the season in a popular indoor concert, the annual "Sounds of the Stadium."

When Rohrer puts a half-time show together, he draws upon his Midwestern background from "Big-Ten Country," he said. New shows are planned for all home games, although some back-to-back weekends see a show repeated.

"We have a wide variety of themes in the shows, not only for our audience but for the motivation of our band students," Rohrer said. "The difficulty is determined by the time allotted to learn the material — simpler routines or music come on the short weeks."

Spetman said the enthusiasm of the marching band can influence the outcome of a game.

"The band's energy can affect the home fans, making it very difficult for a visiting team to get its rhythm," he said. "When the fans are excited, our teams play harder and better and the result is history."

Because the USU Marching Band is not excessively large, the group performs one sophisticated dance routine in each show, Rohrer said.

"No one in the region — to my knowledge — does this," he said. "We hope to develop this aspect as an identity. We want to entertain through the quality of the performance over the quantity of performers."

To those unfamiliar with the program, it might be a surprise to learn that less than half of the Aggie Marching Band are music majors. The last time Rohrer conducted a formal survey, 41 academic majors were represented by band members. In collegiate marching bands, it is the non-music major who provides the critical mass and the emotional core of the athletic bands, he said.

Members of the band are especially loyal, Rohrer continued.

"Our students stay in the band because they enjoy the activity, the music and the fellowship," he said. "The term 'it's a band thing' is really true and can only be understood by those who have experienced it."

Rohrer admits he does not like the term "band nerd" because the dedicated students in the organization are very far from "nerds."

"I have yet to see an accurate portrayal of bands on television or in films," he said. "The combination of physical demand, along with the intellect and motor skill that comes from years of disciplined practice, are to be respected, not mocked."

"We are extremely appreciative of our Aggie band members," Spetman said. "They dedicate much of their personal time to practice and preparation for the game-day performance. Band members are true professionals who represent this university with class. We are very fortunate to have so many individuals who have dedicated themselves to wearing Aggie blue and white."

Rohrer believes the new uniforms will contribute to the future development and reputation of the band.

"Ultimately, we want to convey a specific identity for the bands at Utah State, not only as the premier institution in the tri-state region for training band directors, but as a marching band that, despite being smaller than some marching bands in the state, is the most enthusiastic, unique and entertaining show-band in the region," Rohrer concluded.

"When we take the field on Sept. 16 against the University of Utah, it will be a great day for Utah State," Spetman said. "Our football team and our band will be displaying new uniforms, continuing the proud Aggie tradition. Don't be left out, join the excitement and be at Romney Stadium."


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