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‘Thunder of the East,’ in its tenth year, is a growing ensemble intent on building campus pride
Story By Kevin Fryling, MA ’06 : Photo By Douglas Levere, BA ’89
When the Thunder of the East performed at halftime throughout the Bulls’ magical 2008 football season, the rolling, percussive burst of sound plus the pageantry—produced by nearly 150 musicians, dancers, flag bearers and baton twirlers—excited the fans and urged the players to victory.
“Power, precision and passion” are the band’s defining principles and also serve as its motto, says James Mauck, marching band director. “It [expresses] who we are and how we approach our performances and rehearsals. It is the band’s motto for uniform cohesiveness, ensemble performance, and it reflects the individual contribution of each member.”
“We’re all very different, doing very different things, and yet we all join together to march and play as a group. I feel like I have a second family in the band.” Kasey Schultz, senior chemical engineering major and baritone horn player and section leader
The sound and visual flourish that Mauck describes are relatively new to campus. The first UB band lasted from 1920 to 1927, but then foundered until being reestablished in 1946. Though the band eventually disbanded following the SUNY merger in 1962, it enjoyed notable successes during this era as the “Pride of the East,” including an appearance in the 1969 presidential inaugural parade. When UB dropped from Division I-A competition in 1971, funding for the marching band was likewise cut, although a “pep band” began playing at Bulls football games in 1981, four years after the university entered Division III.
In 1999—with the return of Bulls football to Division I-A—the Thunder of the East was reestablished as a full-fledged university marching band. Now, 10 years later, the Thunder of the East—as it was renamed by students—has grown from about 30 in its inaugural season to its current 142-member roster as of fall 2008. “The band’s up about 25 percent over last year alone,” says John Hathaway, BA ’69, who played in the UB band in the 1960s and now serves the group as a part-time musical instructor and marketing director. “From my standpoint,” he adds, “this is the best this band’s played in 40 years.”
Surprisingly, the Thunder of the East is one of only four university marching bands in New York State. The others are at Cornell, Syracuse and Stony Brook University. There are other collegiate bands, of course, Mauck explains, but these do not constitute marching bands. “The ensemble has to march while performing,” he points out. Furthermore, their movements must be synchronized both visually and musically.
Mauck credits the marching band’s rapid return to the passionate commitment of each student who makes up its myriad parts. “They’re working together all the time to perfect something,” he says. “That’s the thrill of it. It’s in and of itself its own little world. I know how passionate and fun being in a band can be, and I try to recreate those experiences for them all the time.”
Brandon Bryant, head drum major, says the Thunder of the East was a major factor in his choosing UB. “It was down to either Syracuse or UB and clearly UB won out,” says Bryant, a fifth-year Spanish major. “I was very impressed by the whole atmosphere of the campus, as well as the comforting family sentiment of the band.”
Kasey Schultz, a senior chemical engineering major and baritone horn player and section leader, expresses similar excitement about the role of the band in her own campus experience. “All of my friends here at school I made through marching band,” she says. “We’re all very different, doing very different things, and yet we all join together to march and play as a group. I feel like I have a second family in the band.”
To hear the Thunder of the East, go to http://marchingband.buffalo.edu/listen.php.
Kevin Fryling, MA ’06, is staff writer for the UB Reporter.
Each year, the band chooses a theme for its field show, including music and costumes. This year’s theme is “City Rhythms: The Music of New York City.”
Between practice, performance and travel, each member dedicates about 200 hours to the band in the fall semester alone. For those who also play in the spring pep band that time commitment doubles.
Band members range in age from 17 to 25.
In 1969, the band marched in Richard Nixon’s Presidential Inaugural Parade.
The band acquired its first nickname, “Pride of the East,” in 1961, under the direction of Frank J. Cipolla, UB professor emeritus of music.
Among the band’s most crowd-pleasing numbers is “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.
In addition to seven regular season football performances, including one road game, the UB Marching Band played at the MAC Championship game in Detroit and the International Bowl in Toronto. The band also performed at eight other events this past fall, including several special UB events, exhibition shows at local high schools and the Electric Light Parade in Niagara Falls.
In 1968, the band was the first UB group to move to the new North Campus, occupying Bissell Hall, known then simply as the “Band Building.”
This year’s ensemble includes only three music majors.
UB alumni who have played in the marching band include Jay Beckenstein, BA ’73, of the 1970s jazz fusion group, Spyro Gyra.
Popular majors among band members include engineering, physics, pharmacy, environmental science and sociology.
About 90 percent of the UB Pep Band’s members are also in the marching band.