Pitt band prepares to celebrate alumni in homecoming performance


Image courtesy of Harry Bloomberg

Victoria Bistarkey, a former alto saxophone section leader who graduated last May, was responsible for maintaining a positive environment during her section’s Zoom rehearsals last year. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Pitt.

By Jessica McKenzie, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt band members spent most of last year practicing marching drills in their dorm rooms over Zoom. Although unable to practice in person during their senior year, last year’s graduates have the opportunity to apply their skills on the field one last time at the band’s homecoming game performance this weekend.

With in-person band activities resuming this semester, the band is gearing up for its Alumni Band Day halftime performance during Pitt’s homecoming football game this Saturday. Band members from the class of 2021 will join current bandies, dotting the “i” as the band spells “Pitt” during the pregame show.

Victoria Bistarkey, a former alto saxophone section leader who graduated last May, was responsible for maintaining a positive environment during her section’s Zoom rehearsals last year. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work at Pitt.

Bistarkey said she is excited for this weekend’s performance because she didn’t get the chance to experience last year’s Senior Day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On a traditional Senior Day, the band’s seniors march off the field at the end of their show as a graduating class.

“It’s really exciting, and I’m really thankful for the opportunity, especially given that COVID is still happening,” Bistarkey said. “But it’s also sad because we missed out on our senior year in band, and experiencing that is kind of a rite of passage.”

Bistarkey transferred to Pitt from a small university during her second semester of college. She said that although she was hesitant at first, joining the Pitt band completely transformed her college life.

“When I first came to Pitt, I really felt like a fish out of water 一 I didn’t understand how anyone could love college,” Bistarkey said. “But I gave the Pitt band a shot 一 it gave me a great connection to the University and I became so proud to be a Pitt student.”

The Pitt band is part of the University’s athletic department, offering its members a distinct experience as musicians who work closely with athletes. According to Bistarkey, the athletic directors maintain a close relationship with the band and often talk to students about what a positive impact the band has at Pitt games.

“The department members always welcome you with open arms 一 as you grow, they’re there for you and give you a sense of a smaller community within a bigger community,” Bistarkey said. “While I was adjusting to transferring to Pitt, that really helped me get to a better mental health place.”

Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, only vaccinated alumni are allowed to perform at the halftime show, according to the Pitt Band Alumni Council. There is an alumni tailgate, pregame concert and March to Victory parade before the homecoming game where any band alumni are welcome to join if pre-registered.

The band performed a few shows, while socially distanced, last year. Bistarkey said one of her proudest achievements as section leader is maintaining strong bonds between band members, despite their inability to meet in person most of the time. 

“I was proud that the band worked to keep everyone safe last year 一 we connected virtually and we got to go to one or two games,” Bistarkey said. “We tried our hardest to make it as fun as we could even though we had to stand eight stadium seats away from each other.”

Scotty Poepoe graduated this past spring and will rejoin the Pitt band’s trumpet section this homecoming weekend. He joined the band during his first semester at Pitt and became head drum major in his senior year. He said he is looking forward to this weekend’s performance because he has the opportunity to have one last performance as a class.

“This feels like this is like an opportunity for the class of 2021 to get one last hurrah,” Poepoe said. “After all this time spent as a team, we’ve made so many memories between practice, games and hanging out all the time 一 we finally get one last goodbye.”

Poepoe majored in mechanical engineering and now works for Aerotech, a manufacturing company in Pittsburgh. He said his time in the band defined his experience as a Pitt student, and he is grateful to have represented the City through such a large historic organization. 

“The Pitt band taught me so much 一 being a drum major really improved my leadership skills, communication, work ethic and time management,” Poepoe said. 

According to Evan Klein, a 2021 alumnus and former drumline section leader, band members graduate with an immense amount of connections with other former bandies in the professional world. Currently pursuing his master’s in public health at Pitt, Klein said Pitt band members always share a connection whether or not they played together.

“It doesn’t really matter where you go, there’s always going to be somebody that you have a lifeline to,” Klein said. “You have that immediate connection where, as a Pitt student, you had band friends immediately, as well as really cool experiences and opportunities in band 一 it builds a great network.”

Klein said as an undergraduate Pitt student, he’d originally planned to come back after graduating to teach drills to the band, but was unable to because of COVID-19 restrictions. But he was able to assist during one of the marching band’s training camps in July. In the meantime, he practices drumming every day.

Klein said the band’s annual August drumline summer camp helped him make many friends during his first year at Pitt. The camp starts two weeks before all first-year students move in.

“Immediately, you have 25 to 30 friends 一 you don’t have to really try with them because you’re spending so much time with them during mandatory functions that you always have something to talk about,” Klein said. “Band leads to these really incredible lifelong friendships, and that’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”