Allegheny College celebrated its first annual Pride Night during a doubleheader Women’s and Men’s Basketball game on Jan. 22, at the David V. Wise Center. The games also marked the first appearance in 2020 of the school’s pep band.
Although the idea of a pep band is not new to Allegheny, the band was revived during a basketball game against Wabash College on Feb. 1, 2019, when the Wise Center performance arena was renamed the James H. Mullen Jr. Arena to honor the retirement of President Mullen, the 21st president of Allegheny College.
According to Ron Stitt, director of the pep band, Mullen had wanted to establish a pep band on multiple occasions during his tenure. When President Hillary Link took over following Mullen’s retirement, she advocated for a pep band among the college’s wind symphony, according to Emily Kauchak, ’20.
“(Link) seemed to be really excited to get students more involved in events that happen on campus,” Kauchak said. “(Members of the wind symphony) were all asked if we wanted to sign up for pep band and were told that it wouldn’t count toward anything and we’d just be doing it to have fun — I was like, ‘Heck yeah, it sounds like a good time.’”
Kauchak said that unlike symphonies and ensembles at Allegheny, the pep band is entirely made up of volunteer musicians who do not receive credit for their performances. She said that the students and Stitt formed the band for the fun of making music.
Along with directing the pep band, Stitt teaches trombone lessons for the Music Department. Stitt has been involved with music at Allegheny since 1980 and has taught music theory, music technology, applied trombone and euphonium, jazz band, wind symphony and wind ensemble.
When Stitt was asked to start the pep band, he was unsure if there would be enough interest, but he quickly discovered that students were more than happy to participate.
“We came up with the idea of doing some basketball games to see how it would work and to see what kind of response we would get from the students,” Stitt said. “The response from the students was overwhelming. We had more than 30 students express an interest in playing, which kind of blew us away. It was very exciting.”
Jakob Drozd, ’21, a percussionist for the band, is a part of the wind ensemble, wind symphony, jazz band, percussion ensemble, percussion lessons and he participates in off-campus competitive marching bands throughout the year. He said that he was happy to see a pep band formed at a Division III school.
“(The pep band) is something I missed out on from a big university setting,” Drozd said. “I thought it would be really fun to try it out. It’s been a really great experience.”
As the director of the band, Stitt said that he is in charge of organizing rehearsal, getting the necessary equipment for the band and deciding which songs are played, and in what order, during the games. The band plays the national anthem before the game, and plays during timeouts and halftime. Stitt and the musicians say that the band’s playlist is far from complex.
“The typical kind of stuff (for sporting events),” Stitt said. “Nothing earth-shatteringly significant, just the usual ‘rah-rah, yay’ type of stuff.”
Kauchak said the band performs songs that encourage audience participation and team spirit.
“The music is not hard, so it’s just fun,” Kauchak said. “It’s stuff that everyone knows, stuff you can sing along to, so we just have a good time and goof around.”
Lena Gemmer, ’20, a trumpet player in the pep band, said that although the music is not difficult, it is enjoyable and interesting to play.
“(Pep band) has been really fun,” Gemmer said. “I enjoy the songs that we play because they are historical. Professor Stitt gets us music from the 1920s and ’30s. He also gets lots of songs that used to be played at Allegheny.”
Gemmer said that the band is a relaxing aspect of her semester and offers her a way to get to know members of the Music Department on a more personal level.
“We really enjoy the camaraderie in the pep band,” Gemmer said. “I feel that in a smaller group, you can have more conversations and it’s a more relaxed environment than the wind symphony. In pep band, you really get to see people’s personalities come out. It’s a really fun, relaxed environment for all of us.”
Stitt and the musicians said that the response to the pep band from students, faculty and spectators has been overwhelmingly positive. Link, Athletic Director and Recreation Bill Ross, and Provost and Dean of the College Ron Cole have all voiced their support for the pep band, according to Stitt. Drozd said the support the band has received has been uplifting for the group.
“We appreciate the support from everybody at the first two games (that we’ve performed at),” Drozd said. “We’re really happy to be playing.”
The band will play at six games on three separate dates this semester. The band played for Pride Night and will perform at doubleheader Men’s and Women’s Basketball games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, and 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The Gators will face off against Denison University and Hiram College respectively.
Although Stitt does not see the band progressing into a full marching band with its current resources and funding, he expects that the band is here to stay and will continue to operate at its current capacity and may play in football games in the fall.
“(The pep band) is good publicity for the school,” Stitt said. “When you get alums coming back to attend the games, and they see what’s happening and compare that to what they see when they watch Division I games, they go, ‘Wow. That’s happening here.’ It reflects well for Allegheny, the Music Department and the Athletic Department. I think it’s a win-win all the way around.”