With Amazing Grace
Silence falls as warming-up instruments are hushed. The IUP Marching Band prepares to do its pregame show at a football game. At the command of the three drum majors, the band roll-steps onto the field in exquisite unison.
Marching Band director David Martynuik keeps watch during basic drills the first day of band camp in August.
Band members share a powerful experience on the field, moving with precision in the middle of the sound, immersed in what they are creating. “It’s an amazing feeling,” said John Roden, the executive drum major. “If I could live inside that feeling, I probably would for the rest of my life. It’s the ultimate rush.”
The band begins its season with eight long, hot days of band camp, 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., each day, in late August. Throughout the fall, the band holds three two-hour practices along with Saturday morning rehearsals and practices held by section leaders. Added to that are football games, which include pregame, half-time, and postgame shows, along with parades and exhibition performances at high schools and band festivals.
Many band members also have part-time jobs in addition to their classes, said David Martynuik, marching band director. “You’re certainly not going to find any students more committed to an activity at IUP,” he said. “They have to be, because the time commitment is so intense, especially in band camp.”
Martynuik keeps alive many traditions alumni remember, while enriching the band with his own energy. The band still plays “Cherokee,” it still has majorettes at a time when fewer bands have them, and a section of the band can still win a zucchini at band camp with a stellar performance. Perhaps the most enduring tradition is that of excellence gained by hard work. Rehearsals to learn music or polish guard and baton routines are combined with rigorous marching drills.
It’s tough sometimes. “We’ll go over the same thing fifty times at practice. It can be grueling,” said Heather Damato, a senior who plays horn. “If we didn’t put that in, we wouldn’t be at the level we are. It’s an honor to be in it. Even people who don’t know about marching bands know the IUP Marching Band.”
Damato, like the majority of band members, is not a music major. She came to IUP to study Family and Consumer Sciences. As a freshman, she found that the long hours of band camp had a pleasant side effect for newcomers to IUP. “It was like being accepted into a really big family right away,” she said.
Many freshman band members continue playing all four years. The upperclassmen fall into a pyramid of leadership that gives students ownership of their band. Section leaders take responsibility for preparing their sections for the show. The show starts the season at about ten minutes long and grows to up to forty minutes, all performed by memory while marching.
Senior Brian Hopkins had planned to become a chef but changed his mind in high school after seeing the IUP Marching Band at the Bands in Review show. “I was up in the balcony looking down at the tuba players, and they began playing ‘Amazing Grace,’” said Hopkins. “That moment sealed it for me. I wanted to make music my life. It was a powerful feeling. As soon as I saw them perform, that was it for me, and it’s that way for a lot of the members.”
Hopkins is not the only person to be touched by the band’s performance of its signature song. At a recent show, he talked to a former high-school music teacher who didn’t know he was in the IUP band. “She said IUP’s ‘Amazing Grace’ was probably the most beautiful thing she had ever heard,” he said.
During a break, John Roden (left), a senior from Titusville; Brian Hopkins (second from right), a senior from Monroeville; and Heather Damato (right), a senior from Mohnton rest along with the band's commanding officer, Andy Bajorek, a senior from Fairview.
Band members have been able to share their music with many audiences, some quite large. They’ve performed at Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles games and, with help from student fund-raising, in Canada and France. “It’s pretty amazing how many people you can reach through music,” said Hopkins, who has been the tuba section leader and is now an assisting officer. “If you perform it well, the audience feels that energy coming from you.”
Last season, the band donned new uniforms, which are funded over the course of several years because of the expense. Martynuik explained that private donations help with the cost of uniforms, travel, and new instruments. “Given the current state funding, donations are playing a more important role,” he said.
Hopkins said many of the horns the band uses are old. “We’re always doing repairs. We take good care of them. They’re old but still going. When it rains at practice, the woodwinds put their instruments away, out of the rain, and march the drills without them to protect them, but you can’t do that during a performance,” he said. “We’re out in all weather, except lightning. You really don’t want to be standing in a field holding a tuba when there’s lightning.”
From band camp’s steamy, ninety-degree days, marching on a paved football field, to the near-hurricane rains, snow, and hail that have hit during practices and performances, the band marches on. Roden said it’s worth it. “There’s a level that the IUP Marching Band keeps that nobody else can touch.”