Diamond Marching Band better than ever at 80
Quick — name the most time-consuming, intense and intellectually challenging course at Temple.
The answer just might be Music 376, the class more commonly known as “marching band.”
Don’t believe it? Members of the Diamond Marching Band ensemble, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, complete three two-hour practice sessions a week during the football season as they rush to prepare a program of music and movement for every home game.
On game days, they meet to rehearse at 9:30 a.m.; perform before, during and after the game; then return to their rooms around dinner time. And, of course, they perform every year at pep rallies, the homecoming parade and other concerts, each with its own musical program and rehearsals.
For all that, they get one credit.
So why do they do it?
For some students, it’s a requirement. Instrumental music education majors in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, a group that makes up about 35 to 40 percent of the band, must participate for two years. But what keeps most students coming back are band membership’s uncommon rewards.
“Yes, it’s a big commitment and you give up every Saturday for two months,” said senior Kelly Kocher, leader of the Diamond Marching Band’s 16-member clarinet section. “But the people make it a great experience. When I get out and look for a job, I can say I had a leadership position on the band. It will definitely be on my résumé — it’s something I can be proud of.”
Unlike most bands, which rehearse and perform only one program per season, the Diamond Marching Band must learn a complex new halftime show for almost every home game. Each program includes about four or five new songs, and each song requires band members to gracefully move themselves, while playing their instruments, into 10 to 12 different formations.
“Learning a new show every week is the most challenging part,” said the band’s co-drum major Laura Slavin, a junior. “My first year was terrifying — having to learn something and perform it well in a few days, knowing that a clip of you might appear on national television.”
Enrollment in the band has increased each of the last three years.
“It’s partly due to recruiting — we’ve brought in a lot of freshmen,” said Timothy Oliver, the band’s director since fall 2003 and an assistant professor of instrumental music. “But it’s also retention. This year we have more sophomores in the band than in the past five or six years.”
Although the marching band prides itself on its ability to create new, up-to-date programs on the fly, the band’s leadership is just as mindful of tradition. Going into this season, Oliver presented band members with T-shirts printed with the number 80 in honor of the band’s anniversary. He regularly posts photocopies of pictures of past Diamond Marching Bands on bulletin boards.
“Our pregame show has been done more or less the same way for decades,” said co-drum major Michael Davino, a senior. “It’s neat to think how people in other generations did the exact same things we do.”
Oliver credits professor Arthur Chodoroff, director of bands at Temple since 1977, with creating an atmosphere for the Diamond Marching Band to thrive.
“Whenever I introduce Professor Chodoroff to the freshmen, I always tell them that he shaped this program,” Oliver said. “For example, he’s the one who created our current pregame show in the 1970s.”
Like the Temple football program, the band will be affected by the football program’s new affiliation with the Mid-American Conference.
“The new conference is a great thing,” Oliver said. “The MAC has a lot of good music programs, but one of our future challenges will be travel. Because the MAC schools are at least nine or 10 hours from Philadelphia, our trips will be longer, and fewer MAC bands will visit us.”
Band members are optimistic that a MAC schedule will improve attendance at home football games.
“More people are turning out, especially for the last two games [against MAC members Toledo and Western Michigan],” Slavin said. “Attendance usually drops after the first week, but we didn’t see it in the second home game against Western Michigan.”
That’s great news for the band members, who admit that they’re hungry to please a larger audience.
“I wish more people in the Temple community were exposed to the excitement of the band’s performances,” Davino said. “A lot of people think the marching band as just a cheerleading group with instruments. That could not be farther from the truth. I’m always impressed by the amount of time and effort people put into rehearsals and making sure that we put the best possible show on week after week.
“This is a serious performing ensemble that does some great musical and visual things every Saturday.”
- By Hillel J. Hoffmann