And the band marched on

Members of the Kent State Marching Band practice before their return to the football field in 1993.

Krista Renaldo

2019 will mark an entire century since Kent State established a marching band, and the University Bands Alumni Chapter is gearing up to celebrate its 100-year anniversary by reflecting on its history and looking toward its future.

Alumni chapters are organized groups of Kent graduates who keep in touch and plan events. The University Bands chapter has more than 2,500 alumni from the many different bands on campus, including the Marching Golden Flashes, the Jazz Ensembles, Communiversity Bands, Wind Ensemble, Concert Bands and the Flasher Brass. It started out as the Marching Band Alumni Chapter in 2004 before teaming up with the Alumni Association in 2016 to create what is now the University Bands Alumni Chapter.

“We always had a group of alumni that got together for homecoming and one basketball game and it was under the School of Music and the Alumni Association started creating their chapters and restructuring things and we thought it best to kind of be underneath them,” Jeff Frank, the president of the chapter, said.

The Alumni Association helps with reaching out to former students via social media, postcards and even sending out mass emails for band alumni events.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get people interested in coming back to Kent and particularly coming to some of the band’s performances, not just the marching band but the concert band and stuff like that,” Frank said.

Getting to see the band perform was not always a reality. Twice, the band was cancelled due to financial cuts in the School of Music. One Kent Stater report said there was a cut in 1979, but the most recent and memorable was the sitting band in 1992. The “sitting band” was where members played instruments while sitting in the stands rather than on the field.

Tim McDonnell, a former trombone player for Kent State and vice president-elect for the chapter, was an advisor during the 1992 “sitting band.”

“We got word that [the university was] going to have to cancel the marching band because of finances,” McDonnell said. “However, some of us felt pretty strongly that there was other political reasons for the cancellation.”

Band members, alumni and even members from other schools got together to peacefully protest the cancellation.

“One was, we stood at the entrances to the stadiums in squads standing at quiet attention and we had people passing out and getting signatures on letters,” McDonnell said.

They also did things such as flood campus mail with thousands of letters. Some of the letters even ended up in the mailboxes of the president of the university, Carol Cartwright, and the band director at that time.

They even made a protest banner that floated down the homecoming parade route and opened up in specific places like the alumni tent and the judges’ table.

The protests and sitting band lasted for one year and in 1993, the band was back with brand new uniforms.

The alumni chapter also hosts a picnic for undergraduate members during the week of band camp, which is a week before other students move back to school. This has been introduced after the band stopped receiving a meal plan during that week.

“We try to at least have one night where we would have a picnic for the undergrads and just give them pizza and bring some homemade snacks and sweets and stuff like that and they take the leftovers home,” Frank said.

The chapter also hosts events for alumni, such as marching in the parade and performing during homecoming, hosting a winter social after the Winter Concert and hosting a Flasher Brass Reunion after a spring basketball game.

“I really like to give back to the university and it’s not always a financial way to give back,” McDonnell said. “I like to do the voluntarism when I can and the university was really good to me while I was there.” 

He added that his experience with the band was what he needed in college.

“It was a blast, I had a great time. Band was part of the reason I made it through college,” he said. “I was not the best student in the world but I really enjoyed band so it gave me the push to go ahead and make it all the way through and get a degree.”

Krista Renaldo is the homecoming, alumni affairs, and fundraising reporter. Contact her at [email protected].