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The Band Is Back In Town: St. Ambrose Forms First Marching Band In Decades

Thirty musicians are in the St. Ambrose athletic band.
Lacy Scarmana
/
WVIK News
Thirty musicians are in the St. Ambrose athletic band.

On Saturdays, the student section in Brady Street Stadium is about to become more spirited. St. Ambrose University kicks off the college football season Saturday at 1 p.m. with a game against Concordia. And for the first time in decades, the school has formed a band that will play during games.

The musicians got to know each other and rehearsed for their big debut at the Bees' band camp in the week leading up to the fall semester.

Musicians gathered in groups based on instruments to tie dye t-shirts.
Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK News
/
WVIK News
Musicians gathered in groups based on instruments to tie dye t-shirts.

Thirty musicians in St. Ambrose's new athletic band got to know each other while tie dying t-shirts a week before classes began. They worked together in groups based on instrument.

It was part of their 14 hour days rehearsing and team building at Assumption High School in Davenport. Britney Stuart, a freshman who plays the saxophone, says the group began bonding right away.

"We're all like freshmen to the band," she says. "Instead of seniors helping freshmen or juniors helping freshmen, we're all helping each other because we're all new to it."

Fellow sax player Amber Williams is a senior who transferred to St. Ambrose last year.

"I was like Ambrose is getting a marching band, sign me up," Williams says. "That's the first thing I want to do."

Most of the band is made up of freshmen. Director Megan Cooney says starting from scratch is challenging — they had to secure practice space, find instruments and build a storage trailer. But she says it's mostly exciting.

Director Megan Cooney helps the drumline rehearse during the Bees' band camp.
Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK News
/
WVIK News
Director Megan Cooney helps the drumline rehearse during the Bees' band camp.

"It's really cool because we're just starting traditions," Cooney says. "Nothing exists so we get to make it how we want it. We're building a culture that we think is appropriate for this particular group and school."

For now it's a stadium pep band that'll play in the stands during games. But by next fall, Cooney says they'll begin marching. She's proud of the progress the students made in the first few days of playing together.

She recently ran into the head football coach and other Athletics department employees and played them videos of songs the band has been practicing.

"They were like, that's a song on the radio and it sounds so good!" Cooney says.

The band is back in town! @stambrose @FightingBeeBand debuts @ tomorrow's football opener. https://t.co/ECSBesPYPu pic.twitter.com/F01b5YghEo — Lacy Scarmana (@LacyScarmana) September 2, 2016

St. Ambrose has had variations of a spirit or marching band in the past. But Reverend George McDaniel's history book on the college's first 125 years suggests the last uniformed marching band was on campus in the early 1930s.

TJShubert, a freshman playing the sousaphone, says this new beginning gives them a lot of freedom.

"We're kind of like the founding fathers," Shubert says. "You can decide 'This is cool' or 'No, I don't really like this.' There's a lot of control by the students and by the directors, as well, which I really like."

Jacob Matthews is another freshman sousaphone player. He says even in the first couple days of practice, the St. Ambrose band is striving for perfection.

"Everything has to be precise," Matthews says. "I really like how they push us to be perfect. Not just, 'That looks good,' but 'That looks great.'" 

And Cooney says the athleticism involved makes that even more difficult.

"It's like combing music and athletics, and it's very demanding. You get that camaraderie from sports but with the expression of art."

And when those elements combine, Cooney says, the atmosphere is electric.

"It's the best," she says. "People are going to love it."