Marching Pride tunes up for tournament
Nov. 19, 2015
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Come Saturday, rain or shine, students in the Slippery Rock University Marching Pride will button their uniforms, straighten their shakos and mentally run through their sets, all in preparation for their halftime performance when SRU football hosts Virginia Union in a first-round NCAA Division II tournament game.
Jonathan Helmick, an associate professor of music and the new director of bands, will lead them on the field.
Band members said Helmick, whom they describe as bursting with enthusiasm, inspires them to do their best and has infused pride throughout the unit that translates to excellence on the field.
"An entirely new energy has come from this band, and our performers have passion and excitement at every performance, despite our not-so-exciting weather that we often get," said Dana Jacoby, a music therapy major from Delran, New Jersey, who is one of the band's drum majors. "We are very proud to represent Slippery Rock University at the game, and we can't wait to cheer on our football team to victory."
Helmick, who joined SRU this fall, said he heard about The Rock's championship win last Saturday when a friend sent him a text message.
"It's been a long time since the University hosted a playoff game," he said. "There is a lot of buzz about this. Facebook, social media and all that kind of stuff - it just lit up among the marching band students."
Helmick's approach to the Virginia Union game - the first home playoff game in 16 years - is straightforward, if turned up a notch. In readying his 140 musicians, Helmick exhorts them to excellence. He corrects. He inspires. Even his pre-game pep talk will remind musicians to bring their A game.
"They're ready," he said. "They have competed against themselves this whole season, trying to up their game as well as support the school and support the team."
Helmick said band members have been reviewing drills, working on the music and "pushing themselves so they can walk away from the season and say their last performance was their best performance."
The band will present its usual pre-game and halftime show, opening with "Moulin Rouge" and closing with "Nights in White Satin." The band also will play "Swing Swing Swing," the SRU Alma Mater, the SRU Fight Song, the "Star Spangled Banner." And, sometime during the game, the crowd favorite, "Bumble Bee Tuna."
The band is comprised of student musicians, drum majors, a color guard, a dance and flag team and student managers. No doubt, some students' hearts will be beating like a bass drum come game day but "bandies" are used to exposure.
"They've been out in the rain and more rain - it just never stopped raining - and showed a fantastic attitude," Helmick said. "We're really lucky to have such a great group of musicians that are out there and are willing to devote their time for something they really believe in."
Jacoby, a senior who played piccolo in previous seasons, said she has never played this close to Thanksgiving or had so many homes games at which to cheer for the team..
"I am sure many alumni will be there, which could include some band alumni as well, which I am very excited about," she said. "It is great to hear stories of the band in previous years from our successful alums."
At rehearsals, Jacoby and the other drum majors are "getting everyone pumped up and excited for our team. It is especially exciting for all of our seniors because we thought we marched our last show a couple of weeks ago. Now, we are still here and ready to go at it again."
"I can't really say I am too nervous for this game," she added. "Our football team has been playing really well and the band has been too. I think everyone's energy and positivity at the game will help the team and the band immensely."
David Tini, a music education major from Altoona and another of the band's drum majors, said the band has been practicing harder and "striving for musical and visual excellence so that Slippery Rock can dominate the field during the game and during the half-time show."
Tini said he channels energy through the band to create a unified sound and experience. He said he brings energy to practices to motivate musicians to push harder as they drill and fine-tune their teamwork.
"The marching band is full of emotions to be able to continue into the post-season with the football team," Tini said. "This marching band is geared up and ready to put on the best show of the season, performing for a home playoff game, which is such an honor."
Tini, who said he has never played at a playoff game in high school or college, said the marching band achieved excellence for years under former director James Berry, who retired this year. Still, a new version of "Hail to the Chief" is in the works.
"Not only has this tradition continued but now, under the direction Dr. Jonathan Helmick, the marching band has reached a new level of performance capability," Tini said. "I am excited to be part of this new tradition and represent the marching band and University as a whole."
The band practiced on Monday, Wednesday and will gather Friday as well for final touchups to the show and to assure they are marching in synch.
"Dr. Helmick is bursting with enthusiasm. During practice he knows when to joke around and when to get work done," said Rachel Vernon, an exploratory major from Volant and tenor drummer. "He has a very good balance of this. He also knows when he has pushed and asked a lot of us and is very good about paying us back for all our hard work."
Vernon said the drum line is a clique in and of itself.
"We can talk to each other about anything and everything and no one is judged for it," she said. "We kind of do our own thing and that has created so many memories, inside jokes, and friendships that will last a lifetime."
Helmick directs The Marching Pride, the Wind Ensemble and the Concert Band. He teaches instrumental conducting and marching band field charting.
Before joining SRU, Helmick directed bands and taught low brass instrument at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi. During his time at Jones, the marching band gained national exposure when it was invited to perform at the 2015 McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago.
Helmick received his doctor of musical arts in conducing from the University of Southern Mississippi University and a master's degree in euphonium performance in the area of music theory from he University of Akron.
The music man taught in public schools in Ohio and Mississippi and then joined the college ranks.
Kickoff for the match-up is at noon at Mihalik-Thompson stadium. Some 30-45 minutes later, it will be show time for The Marching Pride and they are more than ready for the announcer to say, "band take the field."
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