Size of Iowa college's marching band swells

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Howard Barnes is in his 10th year as the announcer for the University of Northern Iowa Panther Marching Band, and he has nothing but good things to say about the program.

He has seen band membership swell to 330 members this year, the most in UNI history.

"It's been tremendous," said Barnes, who also is the director of the school of applied human sciences. "And it's not just the numbers that are growing, it's the energy and the spirit, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported ( ).

"And the reason for that is standing right over there on the podium," Barnes said, pointing to band director Danny Galyen, during a recent rehearsal.

In preparation for a football game, the band took over the UNI-Dome. Backpacks, water bottles and instrument cases litter the south end zone; a baton twirler and band, color guard and dance squad members cover the field; and music fills the stadium.

And it is all happening under the watchful eye of their director.

Galyen, who provides instruction with the help of a microphone, can be seen at various times pacing back and forth in the bleachers or directing from a drum major's podium.

Originally from Virginia, Galyen, who also is an associate professor of music and conductor of the UNI Symphonic Band, came to UNI in 2007. Marching band membership numbered about 150 then.

He credits several reasons for the surge in participation.

"The experienced students create such a positive environment," he said. "There is a real family atmosphere, and the younger students feel comfortable and safe. The kids really like the music and the shows we do, and the staff and students get along really well. The (game-day) audiences, especially the student section, stay in their seats and watch the show. That makes the band feel valued."

Additionally, Galyen has been aggressive in identifying and recruiting prospective band members. UNI band members will reach out to high school bands, sitting in with them or having dinner together. And high school students are regularly invited to observe and participate in the UNI band experience.

"Also, there are no auditions to be part of the Panther Marching Band," Galyen said. "We want as many to participate as are interested in participating. For a lot of students who played an instrument in high school, this is the only chance to keep playing."

Surprisingly, the vast majority of band members are not music majors.

"About 70 percent of our band members are nonmusic majors," Gaylen said. "Music majors are required to participate in marching band for two years as part of the curriculum. Most end up staying until their senior year. At that point they are able to write some of the music and the drills and get some teaching experience."

Galyen admits the band has experienced some growing pains.

"We were lucky this year," he said. "We had just enough uniforms and equipment. If we grow again, we're going to have to sit down this spring or summer and make some purchases.

"If it gets bigger — and I hope it does — we will make adjustments."

Galyen said one thing about the growth of the band has surprised him.

"As a band grows, it often loses some of that family closeness," he said. "But just the opposite has happened. They have become a tighter, close-knit group. They look out for each other. That's something I could never have imagined."

Galyen fosters that closeness by beginning each year with a week-long band camp prior to the start of the academic year.

"It's time-consuming and exhausting, but it's my favorite week of the year," he said. "From Monday to Friday you can really see a difference in the students and the relationships that have been made."

Galyen, who is married and has a 9-year-old daughter, said the band has become a sort of family affair.

"It's been a lot of fun for my wife and daughter," he said. "My daughter has pretty much grown up with the band. She has been to every home game. One of her favorite things to do is when the band is finished, she will stand in the corner as they come off the field and high five them. She's done that for years."

And band members have been known to return the favor.

"In about 2008, a group of about 50 of the band kids surprised us and came to the house on Halloween and played the UNI fight song on the front lawn at about 9 o'clock at night," Galyen said. "They came again the next year, and now we've started setting our garage up so they can have snacks when they are done.

"The neighbors are kind of used to it now," he said, laughing. "But when someone new moves in, I have to tell them this is going to happen and please don't call the cops."

Another plume in the band's collective cap this year is an invitation to perform in the New Year's Day Parade and Festival in London, England, on Jan. 1. It will be the first international performance for the band.

"The trip is optional, since students have to pay for it themselves," Galyen said. "But we have 179 students going. They will spend a week in London and get to see the Tower of London and Windsor Castle and spend a day at Stonehenge. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Sierra Ackman, 20, is a junior from Cedar Rapids and a communications major. She is one of the band's four drum majors.

"We conduct and keep time for the band," she said.

In her time at UNI, she has seen the band grow "exponentially."

"There are a lot more people to keep track of, and it is a little more challenging for the leadership to make the show look good," she said. "But I have been able to meet a lot more people who share my love of music."

Katie Campbell, 18, is a freshman and English/graphic design major who plays the tenor saxophone.

Campbell went to Norwalk High School, where the marching band numbered about 130.

"The transition has been kind of crazy, but awesome," she said. "I'm not as far behind as I thought I would be. I'm at a pretty decent level."

Campbell also has had the benefit of her older brother, Cody, to show her the ropes. Cody Campbell played with the marching band for three years and is now a member of the men's glee club.

Joel Wauters, 18, also is a freshman. He graduated from Union High School in La Porte City, is a political science major and plays the trumpet.

"At the beginning, there were a lot of nerves," he said. "But you get here and you make friends instantly. It's been a lot of fun. I just find it a great way to relieve stress."

Sarah Baker, 20, from Gilbert, is a junior and an instrumental music major. She plays the saxophone and is a drum major.

"I love the sense of community the band provides," she said. "I love the music and the diverse group of people. And on game day, the energy is crazy. The support from the crowd just takes everything up a level."


Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier,

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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