By David Perry
They marshal precision and master the sounds of everything from Souza to Sabbath.
Basketball and hockey games just wouldn’t be the same without them. They celebrate new beginnings and provide a sense of pomp, circumstance and solemnity at campus events.
Behind the blare of brass and the thunder of drums, the UMass Lowell Marching Band and its subsidiary pep bands are powerhouses of hard work, academic diversity, campus camaraderie and student teamwork. They are also a powerful recruitment tool — a differentiator for students who want band membership as part of their college experience.
Founded in 1979, the marching band has grown to 120 strong, the largest it has ever been. The players come from all colleges and represent 35 different academic majors, with as many mechanical engineering students (27) as there are music education majors.
“I don’t know of any campus activity that is so intellectually and aesthetically challenging and rewarding that has a place for everyone
‘I don’t know of any campus activity that is so intellectually and aesthetically challenging and rewarding that has a place for everyone.’
-Daniel Lutz, director of university bands
, regardless of skill level,” says Daniel Lutz
, director of university bands.
Marching band membership is a commitment on par with athletics, he says.
“It can be grueling,” adds Lutz.
“We’re not necessarily athletes, but you do have to be athletic,” says Kevin Goddu '16, now a graduate student in music education who played saxophone and served as the marching band’s field conductor. “It takes a lot of training to make it through our 20-minute show.”
Throughout the fall, the marching band performs at exhibitions and in parades around New England. Students practice three evenings a week on a parking lot on South Campus. There’s even a “pre-season” — a mandatory band camp that brings students to campus two weeks before the semester begins. During weekends in October when exhibitions are in high gear, student musicians can’t plan on anything but band obligations. One vacant spot on the field throws off the whole formation.
Students earn two credits for participating, but that’s not the draw for most of them.
Freshman political science major Sachi Taniguchi chose UMass Lowell over the University of California Berkeley because of the opportunity to be part of a marching band.
“Having a marching band was a deal breaker for me,” says Taniguchi, a sax player from Monterey, Calif. “And I’m so glad I made this choice. I can’t imagine a better school for me.”
Originally formed to help music education majors gain insight into teaching, the marching band has become a goodwill and recruitment ambassador, says Debra-Nicole Huber, associate director of university bands. Its growth has paralleled the transformation of the university.
“When the university went Division I, we were required to have a pep band at basketball games and we had to step up the level of playing, too,” she says.
Many marching band players perform in the pep bands that rally crowds at basketball and hockey games. Their presence has become a staple at the events.
“The bands — all of them — contribute not only music and spirit to the campus, but they also add to the overall sense of community at the university,” Huber says.