Having an organized alumni group that gets together and performs beyond homecoming weekend can prove rewarding for the graduates, current students and the school’s marching program as a whole.
Photo by John Watkins
Alumni support can be a pivotal factor in keeping a band program going and fostering a great sense of community. In addition to the common tradition of inviting alums back for homecoming, some groups go above and beyond to keep their band families together. Halftime Magazine gathered the advice and ideas from a leading high school alumni band, two universities and Drum Corps International’s oldest continually competitive corps.
Edison High School Alumni Band
“In 1977 we got a couple of guys together and decided to march. We were able to get started and marched our first parade 32 years ago. At one time we had close to 100 members. We’ve got a real core base; it’s a good group, and it’s strong.
People in the parade look forward to seeing us come by; we do four parades per year, and we do a lot of class reunions. They really get a kick out of it. It’s a nice thing to do. We’re about 50 members strong right now.
We’ve been around so long that we’ve had members that have met their future wives at our get-togethers, and now they have kids that march with us. We’ve had eight or nine marriages out of this thing. It seems like we’ve kind of come full circle. We play at the reunions and then get new members from that class the next year.
I think for our community, it’s good to see how music can be a full lifetime experience; you don’t have to just quit when you’re younger.
The high school’s band program has dropped off so much; we’re getting together with them and teaching them the traditional drum cadence and school songs. A lot of kids hadn’t even heard the school song, so we physically go down and work with the kids on that stuff. It’s an inner-city school, and arts programs have been hit for funding, so we’re trying to see if we can help bring it back. It’s an effort on our part to try and give back.”
Wesley B. Nugent
West Virginia University Alumni Band
“The alumni band was started in 1969 by a small group of alumni. This year is our 40th anniversary. I would say homecoming is our traditional bread-and-butter event, but we do have a local Charleston pep band that started in the mid-90s for the basketball team when they play Marshall [University in Huntington, W.V.]. An alumni band just wanted to be able to perform there for receptions.
Another activity that we do is a touring band, which is like a concert band. Our director emeritus has taken that band on three different trips now to different European cities on two-week tours. They tour the cities and perform marching and concert band music.
We do a lot of things to integrate as many people as we can and reach out to others. A lot of the same people try to come. We try to get recent graduates and keep them involved from the start.
We set up an endowment many years ago for the directors to use as discretionary funds; it increases every year. Every year when homecoming comes around, we try to make sure the band can pay all their bills.
I’ve been fortunate as president to address the group and provide words of wisdom and encouragement to the band members and their families on behalf of the alumni. That’s been very rewarding on a personal level. We also make them bowl packages, travel care packages for those kids who went on the bowl trips.
We do an annual mailing, which is usually our homecoming packet, and we also do a LISTSERV. Facebook has been a huge success for us; we just hit 500 people in March. That’s been a big plus for the group in getting messages out and keeping people together. It’s kind of that intergenerational aspect.
But whatever the reason, even when the football team wasn’t good, the alumni band and the band have always been successful, and they are truly a source of pride for the fans that come here to experience the games.”
The Ohio State University TBDBITL Alumni Club
“Back in the mid-1960s, the director decided to have a reunion of former members every couple of years. The first year everyone had so much fun that they decided to keep doing it, and it became an alumni tradition.
‘The Best Damn Band in the Land’ (TBDBITL) Alumni Club was formed as a non-profit corporation. Since the 1960s we’ve performed every year at the first football game.
People will hire us to do parades and concerts in their towns all across the state. We’ll play just about anywhere. People pay us a fee, and then after paying expenses, we put it into a scholarship fund. Those are typically done by a group that’s anywhere from 50 to 100 members. We have practices twice a month. There’s a small group of 10 to 30 that people hire to play at nursing homes, birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.
Typically every third year, we will go on a trip somewhere around the U.S. or the world. The alumni band has played in Japan, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Alaska and Hawaii. Once they become a member of the current marching band, they are eligible forever to be a part of the alumni band. A lot of kids will play with us in the summer.
There’s such a respect for tradition that once you become a part of that group, you’re always a part of it for the rest of your life.
We all know the same history; we’re all interested in making sure the band remains one of the best in the country.
There’s a bond, and it transcends the generations. We’ll have people who are just out of the band all the way up to 93 years old that are marching with us. It’s pretty amazing that people who were in the band in the 1930s still want to go out and march like they did when they were 20 years old. It’s something special to be a part of a group that has that kind of connection.
There’s something called Adopt-a-Row. The time when people try out for the band until they start band, they are on their own for everything. The alumni band finds time to feed groups of students. Each group of 14 gets to be fed three to four times for free to make it a little easier for them to stay in Columbus. It’s saved the students a lot of money, and it allowed them to really be connected with the alumni.
We started a mentoring program a couple of years ago. All the college students are trying to get started in their careers.
We have 4,000 alumni that are in any gambit of career, so what we do is match up current students with alumni members as mentors, and they can have a relationship where they go to lunch or bounce things off of each other by email. … People have gotten jobs and internships in the program.
We have a quarterly newsletter, 12 to 20 pages in color, that we send to every former member. Because we have such a wide range of ages from 90s to 20s, we try to communicate in a way that everybody can connect into. The people in their 90s don’t necessarily get Facebook, but the 20-year-olds really want that. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that people stay interconnected.”
Paul A. Chaffee
Racine Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps
“Make sure you have advertisements for all the alums to get them out to your events. If you have an alumni shirt, alums will buy that. The more stuff you can actually market to your alumni to stay involved in, that can be a big help.
It started big time for us on our 65th anniversary; we had a massive mailing. At the time we were still a local organization; everyone still lived locally. We now have a webpage like everyone else. We have a newsletter—tax-exempt bulk mailing. It’s been harder for us over the last 10 years because we’ve gone outside of the local area and taken kids from everywhere. The biggest thing for us was that we had a few shows in Racine, so we had a tent for our alumni.
For the 75th anniversary, we got special alumni shirts and marched the parade to have the new kids meet some of the alumni. Some of the alumni to this day say that it was so cool to march with younger kids again. In our case we actually have the alumni march every five to 10 years.
From a business standpoint, your alumni eventually have kids, and you hope to get 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-generation marching members.
Occasionally alumni have extra money and remember how much they love the corps and how much fun they had. It helps with fundraising; we’ve even had people that have willed us stuff when they passed away.”
Note from the Editor: Looking ahead to the next issue, Halftime Magazine will be commemorating The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps 75th anniversary. Be sure to check it out.
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a senior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at four Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible. She also serves as the band librarian.