WANTED: Talented students who can march in intricate moving formations (think of the rolling Script Ohio performed by the Ohio State University Marching Band) and simultaneously play instrumental music of all genres (mostly upbeat stuff and, of course, the school fight song).
These are the primary—but not the only—qualifications for marching band members. Centuries ago, marching bands were the exclusive domain of the military. Today, high school and college students in marching bands display their musical talents by enthusiastically leading community parades, participating in rigorous competitions and proudly—often very loudly—supporting their athletics teams.
New Commitments to Music
President Hopey envisioned the creation of a true NCAA Division I environment at Merrimack. In 2018, Warrior athletics moved to Division I, and in 2019, the new music major was introduced. The creation of the Merrimack College Marching Band was the next logical step. It was embraced by Director of Bands Paul Geresy, students and community members at large who had long supported the idea, believing it would increase enthusiasm, provide entertainment and deliver additional opportunities for music engagement on campus. Geresy states, “The marching band enriches an existing community of musicians and is becoming a powerful draw for the recruitment of multi-talented students to Merrimack.”
“Institutionally, there has been no stronger advocate and cheerleader for this initiative than President Hopey,” says Dean of the School of Liberal Arts Karen Ryan. In less than a year’s time, from concept to funding, formation of the Merrimack College Marching Band got the green light. “This expansion within the Visual and Performing Arts Department, including the new music major, will not only help us attract new students and provide greater visibility for Merrimack, it will also be a powerful tool for retention—providing a ‘stickiness’ that comes when students share special talents and experiences with peers,” Ryan concludes.
Music performance at Merrimack has been integral to campus life through numerous groups including Concert Band, Concert Choir, Jazz Ensemble, Schola Choir and Liturgical Ensemble, three a cappella groups and, of course, the pep band. Last year alone, the pep band played at 55 campus events—from football games and hockey matches to on-campus Admission recruitment days. The creation of a marching band broadens opportunities for instrumentalists and provides scholarship opportunities as well.
In 2007, triggered by a conversation at the Austin Scholars welcome dinner, Jon Ravenelle ’11, a freshman tuba player and member of the Warrior tennis team, became instrumental (pardon the pun) in founding the original pep band. “Frequently back then, we only had 10–12 students playing at a hockey game and sometimes had to fill in with North Andover High School kids. I get goose bumps hearing about the new marching band, realizing that my alma mater has committed to the visual and performing arts—especially music—in such a big way,” he concludes.
Merrimack, Music and COVID
As plans were taking shape for the pep band to morph into the marching band, COVID struck. While it has not dampened the spirits of students and faculty in this inaugural year, it has altered activities this semester.
Lecturer and Assistant Director of Bands Andrew Cote joined the music department this fall. Under Cote’s guidance and while staying socially distanced, band members have learned to use new technology to record, edit and produce music for both live and studio performances. Also, they have catalogued new instruments that have arrived and look forward to new uniforms, both made possible through the gracious generosity of members of the Class of 1966 Nancy and Bill Marsden, owners of the oldest and largest manufacturer of music performance group apparel in the world, DeMoulin Brothers and Company.
More Than Fun and Games
The band’s first public performance took place virtually—in every sense. Cote’s expertise in music technology and production was employed to create an online “mini-concert” for alumni on Veterans Day. The concert featured the debut of the new Merrimack College fight song, “Down in the Valley of Victory,” written by alumna Paige Sorensen ’19. Each individual instrumentalist was recorded in studio over an existing music track. When the different instruments were all recorded, they were then joined together and the underlying track was removed. Voilà, the Merrimack College Marching Band succeeded in its first, very memorable, virtual performance.
Band President Rob Sica ’22 says, “There were a lot of moving parts in this performance, from following COVID-19 guidelines to staying safe and playing and producing music using new technology. I believe the Merrimack College Marching Band will enhance the energy of the campus community and provide unity and hope through music during these challenging times,” he concludes.
Marching band students will learn new music—together. They will rehearse and perform—together. And according to Associate Professor of Music Laura Moore Pruett, they will “learn how they learn”—not just as musicians but as students in any subject area. The band will not just be a fun sideline; it will also generate pride, build community, serve to grow individual talents and develop opportunities for leadership. “Cooperation, collaboration, acquisition of new knowledge of music and technology, and participation in the development of a new organization from the ground up will provide skill sets useful now and adaptable to any future profession,” Pruett states.
As the world returns to normal, the band will grow from its current 40 members to somewhere around 100 strong. “The Merrimack Marching Band embodies everything about the spirit of Merrimack. We are dedicated to community, hard work, tenacity and selflessness. We are a tight ensemble and there’s nothing we can’t do when we do it together,” Geresy concludes.
If you would like to learn more about ways to support the Merrimack College Marching Band, contact Leila Rice, vice president for development and alumni relations, at (978) 837-5997.