The new band follows in the footsteps of U.Va. tradition.
Photo by Dan Addison.
Tension is high in Scott Stadium’s southwest tunnel. The adrenalin is coursing, the banter giddy and nervous as the team awaits its entrance. It’s the big game: Cavaliers versus arch rival Virginia Tech in the final game of the regular season.
Suddenly, a wave ripples through the passageway and the players are on their feet. “We are rea-dy! We are rea-dy! We’re rea-dy for you!” they shout in unison to the tune of the old Steam hit “Kiss Him Goodbye.” With high-stepping precision, the team of 225 bursts onto Harrison Field to face the sea of orange that fills the stands. Their pregame performance warms up the crowd for the quarterbacks, offensive linemen and defensive ends, but for this team of horns, drums and color guard, game time is really half-time. This is the Cavalier Marching Band.
Band director Bill Pease came to U.Va. from Western Michigan University around Thanksgiving 2003 with a mandate to make the marching band a reality. By mid-January, he had gathered 40 to 50 musicians, depending on the night, to lead the cheers through basketball season. As they ended their second football season, the current collection of 225 engineering and nursing students, pre-med, English and psych majors, Jefferson Scholars and a couple of music majors had proven themselves to be a close-knit, highly skilled team of performers that reveled in their professionalism.
“The academic side of the University has established a reputation for being top notch,” Pease says. “My mission is to put out a quality musical organization that represents the University at that same high level.”
Pease has been surprisingly successful in this mission in his short time at the University. In addition to pregame shows, the band memorizes all the music and performs a new halftime routine at every home football game, select away games and postseason bowl games. Smaller versions of the band are also in the stands stirring up school spirit for home basketball games and, this year, for several Olympic sports contests including soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.
“It just blows me away how professionally [these students] rehearse,” Pease said. “I’ve never had a band that rehearses with such self-discipline.”
“All the kids are driven,” says mellophone and alto sax player Justin Starr (Engineering ’08). “At a school like U.Va., students bring a caliber of high standards to everything they do.”
Like most of his colleagues, Starr performed with the marching band in high school and wanted to continue this experience when he moved on to college. Drum major Woodruff “Woody” Wingfield (Psychology ’07) wanted desperately to come to U.Va. but refused to send his acceptance until rumors of a Cavalier marching band forming were confirmed. The day he found out Pease was hired, Wingfield was one of four students to send the new band director an e-mail saying, “Sign me up!”
A handful of former Pep Band members have come to Pease with the same request. And that’s just fine with him. He’s hoping to swell the band’s ranks to around 300 next year, and he welcomes all musicians who are willing and able to meet his high standards.
The marching and concert band, a joint venture between the music and athletic departments, was established as a result of a $1.5 million pledge from the late Carl Smith and his wife, Hunter Smith, of Charlottesville.
The announcement of the band’s creation sparked dissent and controversy from supporters of the Pep Band, which had performed at football and basketball games and other athletic events for years.
“I wasn’t hired to get rid of the Pep Band,” says Pease, a Virginia Beach native who earned a master of music degree at James Madison University. “I was hired to put out a quality band program.”
This isn’t the first Cavalier marching band, Pease discovered when he first arrived on Grounds. Rummaging in the archives at the music library, he found scores for dozens of songs written in the early 1900s, several U.Va. song books and an album recorded before the original marching band disbanded in 1961. Pease dusted off historic songs like “Hail, Virginia, All Hail” and now uses them in the pregame show and as fight songs.
Aside from the music, though, anyone who hangs around this band for any length of time gets the sense that there’s more here than just playing notes on a page and performing quick-step halftime routines. Medical school applicants visiting the University want to be part of this organization. Graduate students and Piedmont Virginia Community College students do, too. Two of the three current drum majors are applying to U.Va. graduate programs so they can stay with the band.
Pease understands why. “There’s something about playing to a crowd of sixty-two or -three thousand people in Scott Stadium with the crowd singing along, swaying back and forth, and screaming, ‘Let’s go Hoos!’” Pease says. “The hair stands up on your arms! There’s nothing like it.”
For students, though, the sensation seems closer to home. “I’ve learned some of my best lessons in the band,” says Wingfield, also a trumpet player. “I don’t want to stop playing. This is my family.”
Online extras: Click on the links below to download mp3s of the Cavalier Marching Band.
View a slideshow of the Cavalier Marching Band.