This year I have the pleasure of being involved in the San Jose State University “Mega Band” which honored the director Scott Pierson’s retirement. Scott is retiring after 40 years directing this band.
I almost didn’t do the band when I graduated high school and enrolled in SJSU. My high school had award winning marching band and winter percussion groups. So the thought of just playing for football game wasn’t interesting. But in the end I’m so glad I did! It definitely took a mindset change but I realized that you are playing for fun and to positively represent the school. Beyond becoming a better musician and more importantly a better human I learned many skills that I still use today.
There was a ton of things I learned during the 4 years I spent in band. I listed my top five below:
When I moved to SJ from my hometown of Concord I knew absolutely no one. Band gave me immediate and lifelong friendships. On the first day of practice when I was a 18 year college freshman I was wearing a DMB tee and had two people come up to me and ask how the recent concert was. Many years later we are still friends and I was in one of their weddings. The band was the first place where I felt completely accepted and not judged. There weren’t any cliques that I was aware of and everyone pretty much got along. The band community is diverse too, you can be a open university student and join which meant you had people from all ages and backgrounds in the band.
The band director doesn’t hate you
Scott has a method on teaching and making his vision of what a marching band show is come to life. Sometimes this involves screaming “pull your head out” into a loudspeaker on the field. I don’t think you ever forget being yelled at by Scott whether you simply aren’t paying attention or you made a mistake out on the field. Some people can’t hang with his method, I think this is because they “don’t get it.” Scott always says “the band director doesn’t hate you.” Scott just wants you to be the absolute best you can be. Sometimes he has to get your attention and sometimes it involves Scott’s patented “encouragement with enthusiasm” method.
If you aren’t early you’re late
A chosen few members of the band every year would get together to film and edit a band video filled with inside jokes, skits, and our performances from the year. As I was rewatching one particular video I noticed one of my friends in dance team was caught several times sprinting to practice. I figured out later that she was a chronic late person, something that does not really fly in the band simply because the prep you have to do to park and get ready for rehearsal. If you aren’t early your late. She mentioned to me that it did not take long for her to figure this out. She now teaches her own dance students this lesson and it’s truly the gift that keeps on giving! I have only been told once that I was “too early” for something which happened to be my first day at a Columbia Records as a intern! It’s ingrained in me to be early for everything and it’s not a lesson I’ll ever forget.
Being involved in a organization like the Spartan Marching Band comes with a lot of fun and unique traditions.
One of my favorites is the pregame porta pottie fight song. The band stuffs as many horn players and if there is room a drummer or two in the porta potties before getting on the field for pregame to play the fight song. There is usually one person outside banging on the porta potty door to to keep time and everyone else outside claps along. Just do a search on YouTube, you’ll find video evidence.
There is one tradition specific to the section I played in which is the pit. If you didn’t know the pit, or pit personalities as Scott calls us perform percussion instruments in front on the band on the field. Every year the band played in the San Jose Holiday parade and in fact the band was the only other entrant in the parade when it first started in 1981 along with Santa. Because the pit doesn’t play instruments that are marchable (yes, I just made up this word) usually two of us gets assigned to play jingle bells to march with the band to play “Here comes Santa Claus”. Typically it’s the two newest members that march and after doing it my first year I had great joy in passing the tradition to someone else.
There also a specific song that the tubas play (Conan) that gets everyone in the stands going. At the game on the 4th there were 33 tubas performing this challenging tune and my husband across the stadium said it caught him off guard!
Another fun tradition is the four year plaque which members receive if they do the band for four years. Mine is hanging in my office and is a nice reminder of my time in the band.
One very special tradition that some of the band played in was playing in the Wharf to Wharf races and at Phyllis Simpkins home in Santa Cruz. Mrs. Simpkins (and her husband) was someone that was almost single-handily responsible for bringing back the band in the 1970. She paid for uniforms, equipment and much more. If it wasn’t for her generosity I wouldn’t have been able to play any of the instruments in the pit because she was responsible for purchasing them! I remember seeing her in the crowd at games, tailgates and our annual concert with a huge smile on her face especially when we played the fight song. She also helped us travel to Hawaii my first year in band in 2001 which was a amazing trip for us. Not only did we play at Aloha Stadium for the game we toured Pearl Harbor and got to play for the students at Kamehameha High School which was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, she passed in 2012 but I think of her often as she is a example of someone who truly made a difference for hundreds of SJSU students. Not sure if we can ever really thank her properly but as a alumni I try to always give back to the school when I can so others can have they same experience I did.
Please read all the words
This is a lesson that sticks with me. Most days I want to slam my head against my desk because I think more people need to impart of this wisdom. Almost everyday I am greeted with a email response of a question that I have already answered somewhere else in the email. It’s usually in bold maybe even underlined for good measure but someone always misses it. I’d love to respond with the Scott Pierson quote “Please read all the words,” but not sure how well that would go over in my place of business or with family and friends. In band we used to get detailed schedules for our football games or band trips. Scott made sure we read and understood every word on the page. I often think what misunderstandings would be quelled if everyone payed attention to communications like we had to in band in everyday life.
Before the band played “My Way”at the end of another abysmal spartan football loss Scott thanked us for our time making the mega band sound and look great. He also said that all he really wanted was us to achieve perfection out on the field and have a great time. Scott, you have definitely achieved these goals and more! Enjoy your retirement!