By Tom Luicci
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (July 16, 2014) – Since taking over the Rutgers Marching Band 14 years ago, director Tim Smith has seen membership grow from 135 members when he arrived to 200 as recently as two years ago – with the goal of having a 250-student band playing during the school’s inaugural Big Ten football season this fall.
Long considered the conference gold standard for marching bands, the Big Ten offers Rutgers the opportunity to measure itself against some of the nation’s best.
Smith is certain the Marching Band is up for the challenge, having hired a new music arranger, altering the musical offerings and planning five different halftime shows for the six home games.
Smith sat down with Scarletknights.com to discuss Rutgers’ move to the Big Ten and how it affects the Marching Band, his plans for the coming season and his vision for the future of the band.
Q. What’s the impact of the Big Ten on the Rutgers band?
TS: “It’s putting us on the biggest marching band stage in the world, which is really exciting. It’s interesting. People have said `oh, no, what is our band going to do when we get out there?’ But I think it’s just what we needed to help garner more support and to help get the students more interested in participating. Our students want that challenge. They want to be on that stage and with people who care that there’s a marching band out there.”
Q. From a membership standpoint, how does the Rutgers band compare with bands throughout the Big Ten?
TS: “Most of them – I think 10 out of the 14 – are between 250 to 300 (members). While we won’t be at 300 this year, we will be significantly bigger than last year. And going forward we’re expecting to grow even more.
“Interestingly enough, the one band that so many people point to, Ohio State, as being one of the best in the world – and they are – has been at 225 members as far back as the early 1970s.”
Q. How are you preparing for Rutgers’ inaugural season in the Big Ten? Is there anything different fans can expect on the field, in the stands or in terms of musical arrangements?
TS: “The traditional pre-game is going to be largely the same, but we’re going to add a new wrinkle. We’re going to put 30 seconds of the opposing team’s fight song in for the visiting fans. Overall, it will still be an up-tempo homage to Rutgers University.
“The other change is we’ve switched music arrangers, which is going to help. We’ve upgraded our stands music, which is the stuff that we play in game in the stands. We’ve modernized that. We’ve partnered with athletics to bring in that new arranger to write all new music for that aspect of the band. There will be 15 new arrangements in addition to the traditional music. We’re also doing five different halftime shows this year, so all of those arrangements will be new as well.”
Q. The marching band had a noteworthy year playing at Super Bowl XLVIII, at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and then accompanying U2 on the Jimmy Fallon Show. What was the impact of those high-profile appearances?
TS: “Any time you get your organization out in front of 12 million people (on the Jimmy Fallon Show) it’s going to help. What it really did was give the incoming high school students, as well as students here, a look at the band. It let everybody know that we do have an excellent marching band here. And the kids in the band get to do some pretty amazing things. When you line up your performing group with U2 and Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift and Jimmy Fallon and then the Super Bowl it’s going to have a positive impact. Following those incredible opportunities, out student band members are on Facebook, Twitter, and talking with their friends about their experience. That’s the most effective form of recruiting.”
Q. You mentioned eventually expanding the band membership. What challenges do you and the athletic department face in doing that?
TS: “I think the big one is financial. We can get more students interested in the band and they’re starting to come. But then that’s more uniforms, that’s more instruments, that’s more busing, that’s more mouths to feed. It’s more students that want to give 14 to 20 hours a week to the university, depending on the week, that need support I have to supply to them. So we need to expand our support system and we definitely need more donors to the program.
“In fact, for the first time, we have a dedicated person in the fundraising office. Sharon Cocuzza is really making some great strides in helping find donors to our program -- but we still have a long way to go.”
Q. How is the Rutgers band currently funded – and is it comparable to other schools?
TS: “That really varies. We’re on the East Coast, so everything is a little bit more expensive. But I think a better way to look at that is the funding models at different schools. At most schools the lion’s share of the funding is paid for by the athletic department because that’s the organization the band nakes the most appearances for.
“However, there are schools that have resources come from central administration and still others rely very heavily on a very generous donor base to support the band. We still really need to find our center there, because it’s a lot for one organization, one office at the university, to take on. Honestly, the marching band represents all of Rutgers University. So that’s something we’re still trying to figure out.”
Q. What is your ultimate goal for membership in the band and what are the issues in trying to reach that number?
TS: “Again, the challenge is more uniforms and instruments to put the students on the field and the ancillary costs that come with running a marching band. Our stadium, sitting around 52,000 (capacity), I think a 300-member band is perfect for there. First I would like to take it up to 250. But the system has to be in place to support it.”
Q. Are there plans to celebrate the band’s 100th anniversary in 2015?
TS: “Next season, Sept. 26 against Kansas, is the day we’re going to honor the band for 100 years at Rutgers. We’re going to have an open rehearsal the Friday night before the game and then we’re bringing back as many alumni back the day of the game so they can participate at halftime. We’re also running a fundraising campaign for new uniforms. Hopefully we can put new uniforms on the field for that the 2015 season.”
Q. Can you elaborate about how some of the musical arrangements will change for this season?
TS: “The pre-game music will always consist of the fight song, Colonel Henry Rutgers, the alma mater and the national anthem. But the halftime shows will change every week. We’ve pretty much flushed the stands music, the music we play when the band is sitting in the stands. We’ve pretty much changed our approach in the stands, so it will be all new this year. We’ll be playing some more current music. Our hope is to keep our student section more engaged with the band.”