Ethington, who has guided the Pride of the Orange for five years, expects students to commit to the band’s high standards of excellence—musically and otherwise. Students are introduced to the rigors of band life through “Band Camp,” which begins a week before the start of fall classes. For freshmen, it’s an opportunity to establish a network of familiar faces. But it also is a crash course in dedication. Over the years, the means of breaking in freshmen have varied. Hazing, a fairly common activity of the formerly male-dominated SUMB culture, is now strictly forbidden. But some rituals have survived the passage of time. New band members are still required to sing the fight song and the alma mater in perfect four-part harmony by the end of camp.
Ethington says band members come to camp eager to join a proud tradition. “Every time we put on our uniforms, we represent SU,” he says. “Everything we say or do reflects on the University. We consider ourselves to be ambassadors of the University’s best, so we hold ourselves to a high standard.”
Alyson Wasko ’02 says the SUMB’s leadership structure, which evolved gradually during the past 30 years, makes it possible for a large group of musicians with varying degrees of ability to quickly form a cohesive unit. “The drum majors and section leaders really take charge and motivate everyone to do what they have to, which makes for a positive environment for rookies,” she says. “Some come in with no Qarching experience at all. The leaders teach them everything they need to know.”
For Jim Picolla ’92, being a section leader helped further his career goals. A former SUMB assistant drum major, he’s now a band director for the New Berlin, New York, school district. Picolla says the relationship between section leaders and other band members is important for the support it provides. “For the most part, we were all friends and comrades,” Picolla says. “The section leaders were considered older siblings more than anything else. They set a tone for how band members interact with each other.”
Like Picolla, Ron ’81 and Deb Lombard ’81 found that their time in marching band helped prepare them for life after college. “I was a section leader for the trombones,” Ron Lombard says. “Today I manage a television news department of 50 people. Those leadership skills really started developing during my band days.”
For Deb Lombard, the performance was the thing. “I now run a children’s party planning service,” she says. “I host parties and keep kids entertained for two to three hours. Back in flag corps, we had to put on a good show. You can’t be shy on the field in front of 50,000 people.”
Staging a Comeback
The SU Alumni Band has had a rather sporadic existence over the past decade, but it made a solid comeback last year. After a few years with no alumni band at Homecoming, 45 alumni returned to campus last year with their instruments in tow. For this year’s Homecoming football game against Miami on November 18, Professor Bradley Ethington, director of the Pride of the Orange, hopes to see at least 100 alumni marching. If the enthusiasm of the alumni committee is any indication, that goal should be reached. “To be honest, I missed playing,” says Dan Baldinger ’53, a veteran of the United States Marching Band, the SUMB, and past incarnations of the SU Alumni Band, which he now co-chairs. “We are in the building stage now, still testing the waters.”
Erin Horner ’90, G’92, chair of the Alumni Band Association, says current membership includes alumni from a wide range of classes. “We bring a variety of band experiences to the mix, but we all have a desire to share and a passion for tradition,” she says.
The Alumni Band has also given musicians who didn’t march as students an opportunity to do so as alumni. Frank Mastroleo ’49 played clarinet in the concert band as a student and says the Alumni Band is a good way to maintain his connection with the University. “I do it because I love to play, and I love Syracuse University,” he says.
Baldinger hopes to recruit fresh faces this year, getting young alumni involved with the band so they can stay connected to SU. “They are key to our continuation,” he says. “We need that enthusiasm.”
Future Alumni Band members will be hard-pressed to match the dedication of George Wainwright ‘28. For many years, Wainwright donned his trademark bow tie and played tuba at the Homecoming game. Deb Lombard ’81, an original organizer of the Alumni Band, says his vitality was inspiring, and his involvement kept several older members coming back each year.
Horner is confident the Alumni Band can make a strong impression on fans and students for years to come. “So many band people come back each year for Homecoming,” she says. “Now we just have to get them back on the field—not just this year—but year after year.”