As director of the Warhawk Pep Band, one fifth-year music major experiences the rewards and challenges of being in charge.
In November, the football team plays its last regular season game, the rain starts to turn to snow, the heat to cold. At this time, pieces such as “Pictures at an Exhibition” and themes from “Pirates of the Caribbean” fall to the wayside, and the focus turns toward songs like “Hey Baby,” “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “The Hey Song.” Marching season may be over, but the pep band season has just begun.
Building on the Past
When we play the National Anthem, it’s my name that they announce. I’m Scott Elsner, fifth-year senior at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater. This May, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in theatre. My major instrument is the tuba, but I also play percussion, mellophone, trombone and baritone.
Back in high school in Poynette, Wis., I served as the marching band’s drum major for two years. I attended the Smith Walbridge Drum Major Clinic in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and earned a certificate for Drum Major First Class in the Corps style in 2005. I was also awarded the John Philip Sousa Band Award in 2003. I have built on these experiences in my role as the director of the Warhawk Pep Band.
When I arrived at UW-Whitewater in 2003, we didn’t have a pep band. We had a sound system. However, at one of the games that year, the sound system was absent, and for timeouts, there was silence. Chris Washebek, a fellow Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonian, immediately saw a need to bring back the Pep Band. Director of Bands Dr. Glenn Hayes would be unable to take the baton for the band, and he left Chris and myself (along with a handful of other music majors and non-majors alike) to form and run the band. Our first performance in the new format was January 31, 2004, and we were an instant hit.
The next year, Chris and I set forth to recruit more people. Chris graduated in December of 2005, and I spent a semester working for Walt Disney World. When I returned in 2006, Darren Sterud, a jazz performance major, had taken the reins of the pep band and asked me to be his assistant. This school year, I officially took over as the director.
In addition to the men’s and women’s basketball teams, we play for some very diverse groups including the championships- contending wheelchair basketball team and the women’s volleyball team.
This year we went with the volleyball team to the Division 3 finals at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. Not only did our own fans appreciate our playing (one even made a sign that said, “Whitewater’s Band Rocks!”), but opposing fans, coaches and even a few NCAA officials also thanked us.
Taking Care of Business
It wasn’t always that great for us. Last year was slightly difficult to field a band every game. Last spring, the band was very heavy in the low brass section. So in an effort to keep a band there, I rearranged our fight song as well as a couple of others for a low brass choir.
The problem with an all-volunteer band like ours is that the numbers tend to fluctuate from night to night. I was lucky this year to have enough regulars to field a band just about any game. I was also lucky enough for the volleyball trip to have about 20 musicians each day, with maybe a few adding in on the day of the national championship.
However, our numbers can fluctuate from as many as 30 to 35 all the way down to 13. At times like those, a director can fill in for an instrument, and I have already filled in on drum set and baritone this year. A director can also rearrange a song in the pep band library for the instrumentation that he or she has.
As drum major in high school, I ran around the field trying to teach our marching style. I directed the band, sometimes as the only drum major on the field. I also ran a sectional or two.
In contrast to the position of drum major, it is much different directing an ensemble. I was the one running around this summer trying to secure the purchase of new polo shirts as our pep band uniform, trying to secure dates for us to play and sitting at our marching band table at the freshman orientation, not only recruiting for the marching band but also the pep band. When we learned that we were going with the volleyball team to their championships, I was the one making sure that my members would be excused from classes and that we had necessities such as food, drink and a bus each day as we weren’t staying at a hotel but driving back and forth.
I think this year has already been an amazing learning experience for me. I know whatever I do, I will take the experiences that I have had in the past few years and grow from them.