If variety is the spice of life, the University of Rhode Island marching and pep bands have an awful lot of flavor. Both bands feature students from a wide array of academic backgrounds. Yet, despite the range of fields of study, the bands boast a strong sense of camaraderie that is fostered by coach Brian Cardany, who has led both bands for the last seven years.
Listen to the band
“It is the students who make the band what it is,” Cardany said. “You watch them get into it, and you see relationships build within the band, and that’s what builds that desire to be a part of it.”
The marching band—which Cardany calls the heart and soul of any school band—had 94 members during the fall 2008 season when the band played at home football games. This is the largest the band has been since Cardany arrived at URI, and the largest band the school has had since the early 1980s when membership climbed as high as 150.
The pep band, which plays during the winter at men’s and women’s basketball games, consists of about 60 members, the vast majority of whom are also in the marching band.
There are 35 different academic majors represented in the bands. It makes sense that the most common majors are music (20) and music education (10). However, those majors account for less than one-third of the total membership. Also well represented are pharmacy (5), secondary education (5), and marine biology (4). There are three students each in chemistry, chemical engineering, and biomedical engineering.
“It is fascinating learning about the different interests for each person,” Cardany said. “I want to know what makes them tick, what gets them excited. As a band, we need to function as a group, but it’s important to be aware of what makes each person an individual as well.”
Katie Freeman, a junior saxophone player from Carver, Mass., joined the marching and pep bands this year. A pharmacy major, she had played in a band in high school but had never marched before last fall.
“Playing in the band is a nice release for me,” Freeman said. “When you are with the same people all day in the classroom, it’s nice to be surrounded by a different group who share an interest in music. For me, being with the band is more relaxing. It definitely adds work to the day. I could be done with classes and go home and relax, but I like being around the people here.”
Fellow junior Joyce Wolf of Westerly is in her third year with both bands. A secondary education/English major, she was also looking for a new challenge when she joined the band. She had played an instrument in her high school marching band, but at URI she decided to be part of the color guard.
“It was something new, but I wanted to give it a try,” Wolf said. “I knew college would be hard, but many of my closest friends are in the band. We all joined the marching band and pep band because we have a passion for music and because we wanted to further pursue our interests. It’s great to be able to share that with so many other people who have a common goal.”
By stressing an appreciation both for music and for the people in the band, Cardany has established a sense of stability in the program.
“Especially with the marching band, you form really close relationships with everyone in the band,” Freeman said. “We have band camp a week before school starts, and you are with everyone for 12 hours a day getting ready for the start of the year. Even though it is 100 people, you really do get to know everyone involved.”
It is a far cry from where the program was when Cardany arrived in 2002. At that time, the marching band had 58 members and the pep band was just a basic crew.
“We have emphasized quality of music, and we have been able to build a strong rapport with the students, which has helped with retention,” Cardany said. “While we come together as a group—as one band—we are more than that. This is a wide array of individuals who come together to share a love for music, as well as pride for their school.”
When Cardany arrived, the marching band did not have its own practice field, the uniforms were dated, and many of the instruments were falling apart. Since then he has gained a practice site behind the Fine Arts Center, purchased new uniforms in 2004, and bought new instruments for the percussion and brass sections last year. The percussion section got 13 new drums and four pairs of cymbals, while the brass section got four sousaphones, two marching baritones, and four mellophones.
Though the upgrades have helped re-energize band members, Cardany is facing severe financial issues. For the first time since he arrived, the marching band was not able to travel for road football games, due in large part to the combination of budget cuts and the cost of sending the pep band to Atlantic City with the men’s basketball team for the Atlantic 10 Championship, a trip Cardany said is required.
“When we recruit students for the band, we always hear two questions,” said Cardany, who practices six hours per week with the band. “‘How often do we practice?’ and, ‘Do we travel?’ For the first time, we have to say no to traveling for the marching band.”
The hope is that the bands will be able to raise the funding necessary to financially support the road trips and performances the bands make throughout the year.
“In high school, every year we had a marching band trip,” Wolf said. “That was something we definitely missed last fall. Those are experiences you never forget, and it’s really where you bond with your teammates in the band.”
By Shane Donaldson ’99