Pitt Band members thrive off performances

By Becky Reiser

‘ ‘ ‘ Though football players might not agree, Tyler McGaughey believes the ideal weather for a… ‘ ‘ ‘ Though football players might not agree, Tyler McGaughey believes the ideal weather for a football game is 50 degrees with light rain. ‘ ‘ ‘ And although it might make for slippery conditions for the Panthers, it’s perfect for the Pitt Marching Band’s smoke machine, which the group uses to make its grand entrance onto Heinz Field before every home game. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The smoke is one of the main reasons that people love pre-game,’ said McGaughey, the group’s drum major, or conductor. ‘It’s a tradition that goes back to Pitt Stadium and was started by the drum line. It was originally intended to make the entrance more impressive, but it certainly has an effect on the band as well.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Carly Stasak, one of the group’s nearly 250 members, agreed. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It pumps everyone up,’ said Stasak. ‘You can’t see anything, and then you’re on the field and it’s just ‘hellip; Ahhhh!’ ‘ ‘ ‘ It’s only a glimpse of the hours Pitt band members,’ some of whom attend Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne universities and CCAC, put into their performances. ‘ ‘ ‘ The group, which is funded by Pitt’s athletic department, begins preparing its pre-game and first halftime show in August, when its members attend a five-day band camp on Pitt-Bradford’s campus. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We have a history of going away for band camp,’ said McGaughey. ‘It gets us out of the city to focus.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Members of the Marching Band rehearse school songs and the music from several halftime shows. ‘ ‘ ‘ They also take time to bond. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Every section has their own thing,’ said McGaughey. ‘The saxes do push-ups after every practice.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Students who play the tuba are told when they join their section that the ‘T word’ is forbidden. They must now call their instruments basses. ‘ ‘ ‘ And that continues throughout the season. ‘ ‘ ‘ Last Thursday night, the drum line stayed after the other sections had left one of the group’s two-hour practices, which they usually have four times a week, just to work on two measures. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The drum line this year is astounding,’ said McGaughey. ‘They are the heart and soul of the band and have to know what they’re doing.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Junior Tim ‘Purebred’ Parenti ‘- every band member gets a nickname, usually during his first band camp ‘- said this bond is important. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It really is a family,’ said Parenti, whose parents were part of the marching band in the ’70s. ‘People just keep coming back.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Nearly 70 percent of the band members, McGaughey estimated, feel so strongly attached to Pitt band that they join one of its four greek organizations, which are only open to band members. Among these groups are Kappa Kappa Psi, a national service fraternity, and its sister sorority, Tau Beta Sigma. Band members also have two greek organizations, Iota Beta Kappa and Mu Kappa Upsilon, that are exclusive to Pitt’s campus. ‘ ‘ ‘ Nevertheless, it’s clear that the group has to work. And it’s clear to whom they look for direction. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘There is a definite hierarchy,’ said McGaughey, who calls himself the ‘captain.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I report to the staff. The section leaders report to me, and they pass along information to their section,’ he said. ‘ ‘ ‘ They report at early hours on home game days. McGaughey and assistant drum major Tope Abegunde, also known as ‘Tyler’s eyes,’ meet at the band locker room as early as 8 a.m., depending on when the game starts. The rest of the band joins them shortly after. Members of Mu Kappa Upsilon help load equipment onto Pitt shuttles. ‘ ‘ ‘ The band arrives at Heinz Field almost three hours before the game so it can play the Pitt Victory March as the football players enter. ‘ ‘ ‘ Next, the band travels outside Gate A to play for the student tailgate and then for the alumni tailgate before running onto the field to play its pre-game show. ‘ ‘ ‘ Finally, band members take their seats to watch not just the game, but also to watch McGaughey, who cues the band to play Pitt’s fight songs. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Game days are rough for the band,’ said McGaughey. ‘We get to the field long before the team does. We leave after the fans are gone, and we perform almost the whole time. After I get off the bus, I don’t sit down again until I get back on at the end of the game.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt student Andrew Bell seemed to appreciate the group’s work at last Saturday’s game against Louisville. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I like the band, because they play real catchy songs, and we can sing along with them,’ said Bell. ‘I like to be involved.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ And that’s exactly the reaction the band members are looking for. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘When the crowd jumps up cheering at the end of a show, when we run out of the hole, or when the hat touches the ground, we know we’ve won,’ said McGaughey. ‘In that one moment, all of our work is more than worth it.’