State of the Bands Report

by Dr. Carolyn Barber, director of Bands

Although I’ve been procrastinating just a bit in writing this article, I’m pleased to report that the state of the bands is strong. The reason for the delay is purely internal. We’ve been busy imagining, designing, and carefully laying the groundwork for an amazing initiative with the Cornhusker Marching Band. I think we can let you guys in on it even though it will take at least another season to complete. For several years, we’ve been dreaming up a plan to outfit the entire marching band with iPad Minis. Having worked through multiple scenarios, we’re confident that we’ll be able to use a broad spectrum of ready-made apps to enhance the ensemble’s work. Sheet music will be pushed out as arrangements are ready, students will be able to read their drill charts and see the designs animated on the screen, Smart Music will help with memorizing and accuracy, and of course basic tools like metronomes and tuners are readily available. The next phase of our thinking moved to more specialized apps and tools like iBeacon to expedite attendance, Coach’s Eye (or similar) to assist with precision in marching fundamentals, and a high camera live video stream to enable students to see themselves on the field during rehearsal from the perspective of the press box. Doug, Tony, and a wide variety of students completed a video shoot last month to create the raw materials for the CMB’s new eBook handbook. This will allow students to see marching fundamentals in real time, hear accurate renditions of the fight songs, review the intricacies of the uniform policy, learn how to maintain their instrument properly, and a host of other essential items.

Several obstacles are in our path at the moment. Nothing insurmountable, but significant enough to slow us down. For example, Westbrook doesn’t have enough wifi capacity to enable all 300 band members to log on at the same time in a rehearsal. We’re also trying to figure out if there might be some sort of super lyre that could hold an iPad Mini. It brings to mind that scene in Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man where Tommy is trying to invent a piccolo lyre that doesn’t cut off circulation in your arm. Then there are the logistics of software licenses, not to mention figuring out a way to check out 300 iPads to the students and train them how to use them. I also know what you’re thinking and we’re way ahead of you: they’ll have LifeProof cases that are water proof, shock proof, dirt proof, and snow proof. Making them 18-22 year old proof isn’t possible, but we have a team of experts including Brian Moore and the whole Hixson-Lied tech squad giving it their best shot. The hope is to have the whole system up and running by August 2016, pending funding. Wish us luck!

Thanks to our fantastic partners in the Athletic Department, we’re ahead of the game with regard to scheduling. The CMB is excited for you all to join us for the reunion game on September 5, and the band will be headed to Champaign-Urbana for the October 3 game. We also just got word that Tuba Day with the CMB will be September 12. A select group of high school tubists from around the state will have the opportunity to perform with the CMB for the South Alabama game – stay tuned for details. And speaking of fantastic, I had the chance to meet Coach Riley last month and he proclaimed himself to be the band’s “biggest fan.” He saw the CMB in action at out in San Diego last December and immediately developed a rapport with the students and staff. Having several hundred band alumni on hand on opening day will be a great way to strengthen the bond.

In other news, the Big Red Express had another strong season. If you missed it, we increased the roster to 120 members last fall in order to provide better and more flexible coverage for all the sports that BRE supports. Always a challenge are the games that fall during holiday breaks and the bowl trip, and the seemingly endless array of post-season basketball events. With four 30-piece bands now in the rotation, that burden is alleviated somewhat. The band has also been shaking things up a bit with events like Tubapalooza. Who knew the arena could withstand such sonic bombardment? Actually, the sound engineering team at PBA has done great work making sure the band’s work can be heard well throughout the space. If you haven’t experienced it, plan to get to a game next fall.

The Campus Bands have been on a steady upward trajectory for the last several years. You may recall the infamous live-Tweeting concert of 2014 (Dr. Richmond still owes us all bacon, by the way). 2015 brought an outstanding recruiting campaign that increased enrollment and instrumental diversity, all highlighted in a family friendly webcast concert last month. If you missed it, you can see the archived version on GKSOM’s YouTube channel: If you browse around, you’ll also see other fun features like Drumline videos and concerts by the Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble. Thanks to a new hard-wired system of cameras in Kimball Hall, live webcasting is rapidly become routine for all of the School’s ensembles. Keep your eye on the GKSOM website for the schedule, and tune in.

Webcasting, Skype, and other electronic resources have been powerful tools in connecting the bands not only to friends and family, but to composers. The Symphonic Band’s March 12 concert webcast garnered positive commentary from Anthony O’Toole, and students acted in partnership online with Ben Hjertman as he composed the piece the SB premiered in April.  The Wind Ensemble enjoyed correspondence with both James Syler and Gernot Wolfgang surrounding their April 25 webcast as well. The WE is currently involved in seven commissioning consortia which should come to fruition in the next academic year.

And speaking of next year, members of the Wind Ensemble will be joining me in Chicago in December to serve as a demo group for a session at the Midwest Clinic. Our session is called Ensembleship in Practice: Techniques to Evoke Creativity in Rehearsal and Performance. For those who are unfamiliar with Midwest, it is the single largest international conference of band and orchestra conductors, administrators, and pedagogues in the world. Annual attendance includes well over 15,000 musicians and educators representing all 50 U.S. states and more than 30 countries. In addition to clinics and concerts, all of the major associations of instrumental music educators hold meetings in conjunction with the conference. This will be the first time student musicians from UNL will be heard at this important event, and the perfect opportunity for us to highlight the ensemble games, creative and informative assessment strategies, and cutting edge rehearsal techniques we’ve been developing in the Band Department. To put it simply, folks want to know what we’re up to here in Lincoln.

Last but not least, our outreach activities have been growing and evolving steadily. The Winter Festival debuted a new schedule that included ensemble demonstrations by the faculty chamber ensembles, a special music education informational session, and a new interactive workshop format for the student chamber performances. You’ll be seeing a great promotional video for the festival popping up on UNL’s pages in the fall. For a preview, check out the UNL Media Hub at The summer camps are also morphing a bit with a new off-set schedule. The High School Marching Band Camp will start first and finish up just as the Middle School Band Camp is getting underway. This will give us more room to maneuver in Westbrook which, frankly, we need when wrangling 100 middle schoolers. Also new this year with the high school camp: our own Dave Hall will be joining the instructional staff. If you know any percussion students out there, this is something they won’t want to miss. After a year’s hiatus, Chris Werner will be back on the team for the middle school camp working on a special project involving Nolan Schmidt’s new piece Steampunk.

As you can see, the bands have been busy and there is no sign of slowing down. You can be proud of your alma mater, proud of the students who are following in your footsteps, and proud of the faculty and staff who are setting the foundations for the next chapter – a chapter we hope you’ll all be a part of. Your BAA board is working tirelessly on your behalf. Help them out by staying in touch and pitching in when you can. That team effort is why there is no place like Nebraska!

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2 Responses to State of the Bands Report

  1. Zach Black says:

    This all sounds really great. What a great time to be in the Cornhusker Marching Band. Go Big Red!

  2. dwight overturf,rph --60-64 marching band says:

    Good thinking about the new wiFi.I appreciate that from my years as a comm.-electronics officer in the USAF.(UNL band experience definitely helped me get thru Officer training school and its version of a “marching military band”.Recommend either this season or next to go ahead with wiFi stuff just for key persons in the CMB ,to buy time and find out the bugs first before committing to 300 ipads.A nostalgia note:could either the CMB or alumni band play the old “Entry of the Gladiators” march(Sousa) that we did coming into “open” south end of the field.I think it was a subtle dig by Jack Snider about the football “gladiators event” we were participating in.

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