Stealing UB’s thunder: Thunder of the East marching band creates variety at UB events
Greg Brock didn’t expect to be at UB a few years ago, much less one of the drum majors for the marching band. He had dropped out of community college and was living in Georgia, working a variety of jobs and just getting by. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life.
When a group of his friends came to visit, they presented him with an offer: go back to New York with them. He packed up all of his things into two big bags and left.
After getting into an accident, a large insurance claim left him with the money he needed to finally go back to school.
“It wasn’t, ‘Oh, my mom wants me to get a degree and get out of the house,’” Brock, now a political science major, said. “[It was] now I know what I want to do and how to do it.”
Once Brock got to UB, he found the Thunder of the East.
UB’s Thunder of the East Marching Band has a big job – the 123-person group learns new music every few weeks to create three to four completely different sets to play on campus, at competitions and for exhibitions. Their members vary from students who are studying music to others who just enjoy playing.
The band practices three times a week. On Mondays members learn their new music – anything from Bruno Mars to soundtracks from James Bond movies. The music is re-worked to fit the band’s instruments and allotted time.
On Wednesdays, the band learns drill, the formations they move in while on the field that create patterns and shapes. These formations take time to learn, as each person must move in the exact path within an eight-count or two in order to create the desired picture.
On Fridays everyone puts it together and practices with UB’s dance team, the Dazzlers.
The Dazzlers, like the marching band, have to quickly learn and create dance routines to go along with the music that the band is performing. They have a similar schedule to the band and are the other half of a cohesive show.
“Some days we’ll bring it altogether on Wednesday so we kind of have to learn as we go,” said Michelle Arriesgado, a senior communication major who joined the team last year. “What they’re doing right now is a new routine we just learned.”
In the past, the group has learned two shows and switched between the two, but that isn’t the case this year. The team performs at UB football games and some major UB events like the Welcome Back picnic, but it have also performed at local West Seneca High School and Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.
“We have about 20 minutes at the dome, so we’ll probably pull our best songs from each set and put them together,” said Chris Rodriguez, a junior communication major and the commanding officer for the band.
The group operates like a class – students can take it for credit and class is held during the practice time. Students join by signing up on the band’s website.
The band has no issues retaining students, but every year it looks to recruit freshmen that want to be dedicated to the group. Rodriguez said this year in particular, the band has a lot of freshmen who are experienced.
“It’s not about the quantity of the freshmen, it’s all about the quality,” Rodriguez said. “These guys are all people who played in marching band in competitive high schools, which makes our job so much easier.”
Brian Howe, a freshman biological sciences major, originally tried the drums before settling on the trombone, but found he wasn’t good at keeping rhythm.
He, like many of the other freshmen, was part of his high school’s marching band in Massapequa, Long Island. He joined UB’s band looking for the same brotherhood he had back home.
“It’s a lot more stressful, since back in high school we only learned one show and here we’re learning a new one for every game, but it’s a lot of fun,” Howe said. “We’re basically a family here.”
Some people have been part of the group since their freshman year and have seen it grow over time.
Lance Waithe, a senior performance major, is a drum major alongside Brock. He conducts the group and spends most of his time printing music and helping to put the sets together.
“It’s really cool because after a while, you get to really know them and the way that they work,” Waithe said.
Some of bands teachers, including Director of Athletic Bands James Mauk and High Brass and Marching Instructor Kacy Dolan perform together in a Chicago tribute band. Waithe thinks their friendship led to their cohesion and helps keep the band cohesive as well.
Because they spend so much time together, the group becomes close-knit. Rodriguez said members try to advertise this idea to freshmen so they stay in the group and can truly enjoy their time.
Brock, who is 27, is older than the students but younger than most of the instructors. He said the other teachers will often tease him about his age in good humor.
“If I’m doing something that’s irritating to them, they’ll just look at me and go ‘Greg, how old are you?’ because they know whatever I’m doing, I’ll just stop,” Brock said.
The family dynamic is evident in the group’s ability to coordinate new shows so quickly. Their talent as individuals is exemplified in their group – all 123 members combined make quite the noise.
Tori Roseman is the senior features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.