Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
Though its members perform through events with a lively spirit, being in Pitt band isn’t all fun and games. Behind the scenes, the program has had to deal for years with the logistical and organizational difficulties of not having a consistent home base.
So when details for the Victory Heights initiative were revealed to involve a new band room, members of the Pitt band and color guard were understandably excited.
“We’re very excited about the new plan. We’re really happy that we’re part of all that, that people recognize our importance,” Brad Townsend, director of the band, said. “These students work hard and they deserve to have good facilities as well, and they recognize that if we have better facilities we’ll be able to give a better experience to the students and perform better as well.”
The $250 million Victory Heights plan, as announced by the University on Jan. 14, will add several state-of-the-art facilities for various Pitt Athletics programs. Pitt’s band will share space with the track and field team in a complex set to begin construction behind the Cost Center, where the sports dome is currently located, in 2022 and finish in 2024.
Our new practice facility will have a state of the art rehearsal hall, designated storage, and a new marching rehearsal facility to improve the excellence of the #VarsityMarchingBand @Pitt_ATHLETICS @Pitt_LykeAD pic.twitter.com/V57j4FoTYu
— Pitt Varsity Marching Band (@PittBand) January 14, 2020
Headquarters for the Pitt band are currently located in the basement of Trees Hall, a space that’s proven largely inadequate.
“We have almost 350 band members, almost 75 cheer and dance team members, and they don’t have a space to practice, they don’t have a place to call their own,” Deputy Athletic Director Christian Spears said.
The Pitt band uses the Sports Dome and Cost Center for most of its practice, and while such facilities fill formation and training needs, Victory Heights will fill a dire musical need.
“The music hall facility is something that we don’t have right now,” senior Scotty Poepoe said. “The ability to be indoors and be seated in a concert formation to practice music is huge.”
Victory Heights will also solve the considerable storage problem the 308-member band faces daily, providing a stark spatial contrast to its present quarters.
“It’s not often that the entire 300-person band is in the same room, but on game days we are, and there’s not enough room for probably 180 people to be in there let alone 300,” senior Danielle Schomer said. “So I think it’ll be nice to have storage separate from our attached practice facility.”
Overall, Victory Heights will enable the Pitt band to become more organized and have one consistent location to use. The initiative will also create improved facilities for the color guard with heightened ceilings and mirrors.
The improvements were long overdue for the band, which has constituted the largest student organization on campus for much of its 108 years. Highlighted by its color guard and the signature Golden Girls, the band adds excitement to football, basketball and volleyball games. It also represents the University off-campus, making appearances at high school exhibitions, parades and the occasional Steelers game.
Many band members believe Victory Heights will not only provide much needed amenities for storage and music, but may also afford an opportunity for the band to re-achieve national prominence.
During Pitt’s reign of football dominance in the 1970s and ’80s, the Pitt band was recognized as one of the best in the country, according to Townsend.
“The first college band I ever saw was the Pitt band,” Townsend said. “I can still remember the band came running out of the tunnel at old Pitt stadium, so I knew what a great tradition there was here.”
With both the basketball and football programs on the upswing, then, it stands to reason that Pitt’s band should likewise up its game.
“We feel like we do a really good job as is, but we think we’re really going to be able to jump up to the next level, both providing a better experience for the students and also being able to jump and make big strides from a performance standpoint,” Townsend said.
As in other sports, recruiting will be the key to building a powerhouse marching band. But most of the time, recruiting musicians isn’t the same as men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel competing over five-star point guards.
“When I was looking at colleges, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to do marching band actually,” Poepoe said. “But my friend who was in the Pitt band at the time totally convinced me to join because he put all of my worries to rest about the time commitment and academics.”
A modern music hall may make it easier to attract such talent in the future, making it possible for the band to rise to prominence once more. Or at the very least, have a space large enough to practice and store instruments.
“I think when people see what a nice facility we have, which is something we can’t really brag about right now, people will want to be a part of something like that, something successful and something important,” Townsend said.