Big plans for the band
BLACKSBURG — The Marching Virginians spent the past week practicing classic pep tunes and other music that Hokie fans will hear during Virginia Tech football games.
But the group’s band camp practices were spread throughout campus.
The camp is a long, hot week of auditions, lessons and reunions for the “Spirit of Tech.” There’s also a lot of walking involved. From Squires Student Center to Cassell Coliseum to Lane Stadium to English Field, the Marching Virginians, with no central practice location, frequently must split up.
Students hope that might change in the future with the eventual addition of a new practice facility.
The Marching Virginians are in the beginning stages of planning and fundraising for a $10 million to $12 million building that eventually would sit in the Chicken Hill parking lot. The building’s conceptualizations feature an outdoor turf field and a large indoor practice room as well as smaller practice rooms, ample locker rooms and restrooms, and instrument storage areas.
For the past 38 years, the Marching Virginians have enjoyed none of those amenities.
The band’s director, David McKee, said students currently practice mainly on a field shared with the track team. It has no lights, so during the evening and later fall months, students either practice in the dark or under diesel-powered construction lights. It also has no restrooms that aren’t port-a-potties.
“We’ve never really told the kids how bad they have it,” McKee said.
“The logistics are crazy,” said the band’s executive officer, Cutter Sydnor. Sydnor, a senior civil engineering major at Tech and a tuba player, said it can be difficult for the almost 700 people involved with band camp to know where to go during the initial week of practice. “We are literally everywhere.”
While the core group still marches “330 strong,” Sydnor said that with alternates and other support members, the band numbers about 360 people each year. There are about 100 open spaces each fall for new members to fill. Typically, about 400 people participate in competitive auditions to fill them.
The only time the band gets to rehearse music indoors is during the end of band camp in Cassell Coliseum. McKee said the basketball arena often echoes and can make it difficult for students to hear whether they’re playing the proper notes.
All other practices during band camp and during the school year take place outside. “If we’re learning music, and it’s raining or windy, then the students’ music just gets wet or blows away,” McKee said.
Students often use the portable toilets, or other locations such as cars, as changing rooms. And because there’s no central instrument storage area, instruments are frequently kept in a leaky, dusty batting cage storage area at the baseball team’s English Field or in “trunks of literally hundreds of kids’ cars,” McKee said.
“If a kid happens to get in a car accident, and there’s a $2,000 trumpet in the trunk, they’re just kind of out of luck,” McKee said.
John Knuteson, a senior architecture major who plays clarinet, is the band’s drum major. During camp, Knuteson aids new members and assists with conducting.
He said the idea for a new facility “has been met with enthusiasm by the students.”
“Just imagine coming in as a new member and knowing you’re all in one place,” he said.
University leaders also think the facility is important. Sue Ott Rowlands, the dean of Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, said she believes the facility is badly needed.
“We [CLAHS] see ourselves as the lead college on Marching Virginians’ efforts,” she said, because the department of music is part of the college. McKee said Ott Rowlands has been one of the driving forces behind promoting the project.
The idea to construct a dedicated practice facility isn’t a new one. McKee said he began talking about it about seven years ago. However, the idea only recently became a serious endeavor. The fundraising efforts for this particular project began in earnest about a year ago, after a different campaign ended. Funding for the building will be totally private.
“We’ve stepped forward … and said this is something we want to do,” Ott Rowlands said.
Having an indoor practice building for marching bands isn’t unusual at many universities.
“Our peer institutions all over the country have good facilities for bands that serve the university as a whole,” Ott Rowlands said. “We don’t have anything like that.”
Ott Rowlands pointed out that the building wouldn’t be used exclusively by the Marching Virginians. She said music groups such as orchestra, symphony and choral groups also would be able to use the large indoor practice room.
McKee said he has watched groups such as the Blacksburg Master Chorale and New River Valley Symphony practice in rooms that are “much too small.” He said he’d be excited to share the indoor practice room with those kinds of groups.
Tech’s department of recreational sports would share use of the field. McKee said the facility also would open the possibility of the music department eventually being able to host summer camps and other programs for high school and college music students.
Ott Rowlands said it will take time to raise the estimated $10 million.
She said 100 percent of the band’s alumni board has pledged to support the building.
Snyder said this year’s alumni day, Oct. 13, will focus closely on fundraising for the building. During the Homecoming football game, Marching
Virginians alumni are invited to return to campus and join the current student band in marching on the field.
“The possibilities for this are really, really limitless,” McKee said. “I’m optimistic that people will join us in ensuring the future success of the Marching Virginians.”
John King, director of development for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is coordinating the fundraising efforts. For more information on supporting the project, he can be contacted at (540) 231-8734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1662
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