Starting From Scratch: Georgia State, Marian and Yorba Linda HS

Every band has to start somewhere, and starting a band is no small task. all the little details—such as having uniforms, instruments, traditions, even a fight song—that established bands may take for granted need to be developed from scratch. here’s how three recently formed bands accomplished this feat.

Photo courtesy of Georgia State University Marching Band

Georgia State University Marching Band

Atlanta, GA
Established 2010

College football and marching band have always gone hand-in-hand—so when the Georgia State University (GSU) student body voted to start a football team, the administration knew that meant starting a marching band as well. “The decision to start the band came with the students electing for an athletic fee increase to start a football program,” says band relations administrator Thomas McConnell.

“There was never a question that there wouldn’t be a marching band.”

McConnell and newly hired band director Dr. Chester Phillips began the task.

“I really just looked at where the activity of marching band is in the country and around the world and wanted us to be at the forefront of that,” Phillips says.

McConnell and Phillips purchased or created uniforms, instruments, flags, a fight song, pre-game show, halftime show, equipment and inventory. They also held auditions and recruited kids at conventions and high schools.

“We had nothing, so we basically built the band from the ground up,” McConnell says. “We had to figure out what the direction was going to be with this thing, what we were going to do, and what was in the best interests of the kids.”

Rockin’ Out

Based on internal recruitment through the school of music and the existing basketball pep band, Phillips was able to put together a student leadership team and recruit drum majors, including Jonathan Grogan, one of his former high school students who had completed college at the University of Tennessee and was transferring to GSU for a second bachelor’s degree in music education.

“I had done college marching band for four years before,” Grogan says. “I knew it would be a great opportunity to start on the ground fl oor of something. It was really fun because it was new, and it was new for everyone, even the directors.”

Phillips specifically wanted GSU’s repertoire to appeal to the students and give the crowds recognizable songs such as “All I Do is Win,” by DJ Khaled featuring T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross; “Shake Ya Tailfeather” by Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee; and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” which has become somewhat of a signature song to fit the Panther mascot.

“I think one of the neat things about our program is that we’ve taken a slightly different track with our instrumentation,” Phillips says. “Our front ensemble is electric guitar, bass guitar, piano/ synthesizer and drum set. It allows us to have a unique sound and is another part of our efforts to be modern with our approach to marching band.”

Student Spirit

The collective excitement over the new football team and marching band has energized the campus and created a new atmosphere of school spirit. “It’s somewhat about taking risks; if you risk nothing, then you gain nothing,” Grogan says. “It may have been a risk with the rock band, but we did it, and it’s been so popular. The crowd has loved it.”

According to Phillips the response to the band has been overwhelmingly positive, and the future is bright. “I hear people yelling ‘We love the band!’” Phillips says. “I have the sense there is a real respect and appreciation of what the band is doing. Success breeds success, and people will want to come be a part of something good.”

Marian University Marching Knights

Indianapolis, IN
Established 2008

Marian University in Indianapolis was once home to one of the nation’s fi rst collegiate drum and bugle corps; however, since its disbanding in 1976, the school (formerly known as Marian College) had been without any kind of marching music group. In preparation for the school’s name change to Marian University in 2009, a football team was formed and a marching band recreated.

“This was a direct initiative from the president’s office,” says Angel Velez, the former band director who was tasked with creating the band. “The funding came from the university as a whole. With the nostalgia and history the drum and bugle corps already had, the president of the university had been pursued by the alumni to bring this back.”

Tiered Approach

Velez got to work recruiting students currently enrolled at the university as well as high school students in the area. “We wanted the best students,” Velez says. “You’re going to come to the program because you can be an asset. Those were the beginnings of making the program successful and resourceful in creating a team.”

Due to the humble beginnings, Velez chose a tiered approach to debuting the band, starting with wind ensemble, then a drum line and finally a full marching band. They also required all band members to take private lessons, regardless of experience level.

“A lot of people were on a lot of different levels,” says Allison Boike, now a senior bass drum player and mallet percussionist. “We had people we’d recruited who had been in marching band all four years of high school and also people who had never marched before in their life. It was a pretty big learning curve, and the biggest thing we had to overcome.”

The Right People for the Right Reasons

The band successfully debuted and was able to play some high-profile gigs, including an opening set for Wayne Newton at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a performance for the Indianapolis Mexican Consulate’s Mexican Independence Day Celebration.

It also forged relationships with Indianapolis Public Schools, Bands of America and Drum Corps International.

“Building the right team and associating ourselves with the right people for the right reasons allowed us to create a strong foundation for generations to come for this program,” Velez says.

“Indy was the key. Being here gave us the ability to take a look at how marching bands and music programs are built, what are their successes and what can be improved upon.”

For Boike, the most rewarding moment was the first football game. “Our first performance of marching band ever where we did the ‘Thriller’ dance at our first football game, that was pretty memorable,” Boike says. “The crowd exploded; they were so excited.”

Velez has since moved to California to work for Cook Medical, a medical supply company owned by Bill Cook, founder of Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps and “Blast!” The band is now under the direction of Dr. Sidney Hearn, who Velez hired during the band’s second year.

“Starting a program from scratch is daunting, but it’s very exciting because you can mold this into whatever you think is best,” Velez says. “Quality will only manifest upon itself more quality, and if you have integrity with what you do, you’ll have them hooked for life.”

According to Boike, it was an easy transition, and the band is still developing its own traditions and constantly improving.

“It’s fun to start something and make it your own, but you’ve got to do it right,” Boike says. “We’re trying to develop a tradition of being awesome.”

Yorba Linda H.S. Mustang Band & Color Guard

Yorba Linda, CA
Established 2009

Despite the dire situation in public music education, some new bands are being created even at the high school level. When Yorba Linda (Calif.) High School opened in 2009, starting a marching band was a no-brainer in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD), one of NAMM’s Best Communities for Music Education.

“The community has been wanting a school for the last 20 years,” says band director Bincins Garcia. “Being in such a strong district for music, [marching band] was one of the first things planned.”

Once hired, Garcia got to participate in the planning of a state-of-the-art band facility and began ordering uniforms, instruments and equipment. “There are two separate budgets that I work with,” Garcia says. “The district had money through a bond measure to open the school and to populate the programs with uniforms and instruments. The district does not provide an operational budget, so where we had the challenges was starting the booster club and getting the funds for a trailer, entry fees, coaches for marching and color guard, and music.”

Leap of Faith

Garcia recruited students from the middle schools and brought some students from his former job as director at Esperanza High School (also a PYLUSD school). “I had a few students follow me over, but it was still difficult to convince some of them to take a leap of faith and start from scratch,” Garcia says.

Flute player Rachel Vogel not only came to Yorba Linda with Garcia, but she also switched to tenor sax to help the band’s instrumentation and stepped up to become the band’s first drum major. “Being thrust into this position encouraged me to lead, and it changed my attitude,” Vogel says.

“The Incredibles”

During the band’s first marching season, they performed at all the home football games, five parade competitions and other local events. Instead of a full field show, it did a standstill performance of music from “The Incredibles.”

“It was upbeat music the students could understand and enjoy without the pressure of doing drill—we just got the students used to the idea of a halftime show,” Garcia says.

In the high school’s first year, only sophomores and freshmen could attend, so the band started out small. Keeping the students positive was a challenge— being the “new kid” in a district with other very established band programs.

“It was kind of discouraging at first because you had to realize it was a different standard,” Vogel says. “We were a new school and new band, but we could be just as good as all the other schools. Just because we’re new, doesn’t mean we’re always going to be last.”

After a successful first year and on their way to a completed second season, hopes are high for the future. “There were a lot of fun experiences, and we definitely all bonded and have a really strong connection,” Vogel says. “At first it was hard, but I love Yorba Linda and would never change my mind. It’s my school, and I identify with that. I’m proud to be a Mustang.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she is currently a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.