Published October 27, 2021
A notable milestone was celebrated this month by an integral part of the UB community: the marching band.
The UB Marching Band, nicknamed “Thunder of the East,” marked its 100th anniversary with a celebration that brought former band members back to campus for Homecoming weekend to reminisce about their old band days. Some even picked up their instruments again and joined the band in the stands and on the field at the Oct. 2 football game.
“The opportunity to play with the band again — to relive those memories, reconnect — we had a great time,” says James Mauck, director of athletic bands.
The recorded history of the UB Marching Band is spotty. It has had several stops and starts over the past century, depending on the state of the football program, with only old yearbooks and oral accounts passed down to chronicle the story.
Mauck, now in his 20th season as director, is the current keeper of record with help from alumni like John Zaepfel, a former tuba player. Zaepfel wrote a brief history of the UB Marching Band based on his research. Here’s what he found:
The first mention of a UB band appeared in the university yearbook in 1920, when as many as two dozen or so members marched at football games, played at home basketball games and performed at small concerts.
Commended for its “natty uniforms,” the band had a faculty adviser but was led entirely by students until after 1927, when all reference of a band vanished from the yearbooks.
“Early accounts are hard to find,” Mauck says.
In the years that followed, efforts to restart the UB band were unsuccessful until 1946, when Gerald Marx, a saxophonist attending UB on the GI Bill, revived the band with some 50 musicians, who marched and played at football games.
By the summer of 1952, the band was absorbed by an Air Force ROTC unit that took over the responsibilities until a particularly bad performance during the first football game in 1956 compelled new UB Chancellor Clifford Furnas to turn over the reins to UB’s music department and Professor Robert Mols.
The new-look band included the tune “Victory March,” composed by Mols to be played after every score and at the end of every game. There also were new uniforms that made the band look more Ivy League: blue jackets, checkered slacks, white shoes and flat white hats.
In 1961, Frank Cipolla was brought in as director of bands and took UB to new heights, growing the band to nearly 300 members in 1971.
Cipolla coined the marching band, “Pride of the East.” The band began traveling to one away game each season and started inviting area high schools to perform a unified show with UB. In January 1969, the UB band marched in President Richard Nixon’s inaugural parade.
But when UB dropped Division 1-A football in 1970, the marching band disbanded the following season. A pep band was formed in fall 1982 to boost school spirit for the Division III football program that UB had started, but proposals to rekindle the marching band were unsuccessful until fall 1999.
That’s when UB returned to Division I-A football and the university agreed a marching band was once again a necessity. After assembling temporary uniforms, borrowing instruments and holding band camp for the first time in three decades, the new band — now nicknamed “Thunder of the East” — debuted on Sept. 11, 1999.
It has taken time to rebuild the program, Mauck says, but like its football team the band has played during plenty of big games in recent years and has multiple appearances at college bowl games under its belt.
It’s a great marching band, Mauck says. “These are wonderful students who truly love to represent UB. They take marching band serious, and it shows,” he says.
“Out there on the field, that’s what they do. That’s their identity and they are very good at it.”
This season the band boasts 135 strong, a majority comprising the wind block, half of whom are engineering students. The season begins before the fall semester with the opening of band camp, when for nine days the basics of marching and music are practiced for 12 hours a day.
The season lasts through December, with six hours of practice each week. In fact, Mauck says, for every minute the band performs on the field during halftime, it takes an hour of rehearsal.
“That’s college football,” he says. “If you want pomp and circumstance, pageantry, tradition, you need a marching band.”