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Marching band is finally out of the rain

If you’re ever outside during the week of a fall semester between 4:40 p.m. and 6:10 p.m., you are likely to hear, sometimes all the way to the Student Union, the sounds of the University of Massachusetts Marching Band practicing in the field next to the Mullins Center.

Unless of course it’s raining. If it’s raining, the marching band is forced to squeeze its couple hundred members into a room at the Fine Arts Center and practice music, but not marching, a rather essential part to the marching band.

All of this will change very soon though. On Oct.17, ground was broken for the $5.7 million Minuteman Marching Band Building. The energy efficient building will provide a home, after years of not having one, for the 300-plus member band since their old home, Old Chapel, was condemned in 1997.

Known as the “Power and Class of New England,” the Minuteman Marching Band was awarded the Sudler Trophy for college marching band excellence in 1998 by the John Philip Sousa Foundation. It is one of only 27 bands in the country to win the award. It should be noted that it won this title while being a band that doesn’t hold auditions. It is unique in that anyone can be a part of it.

Despite its prestige, the band has had some pretty rough conditions in recent years.

“First of all, students need a place to store their instruments. The people who play bigger instruments have to carry them back and forth from their rooms to practices,” Michelle Droeske, a recent marching band alumna said of the band’s homelessness. “Also, on game days, we must do the same with our uniforms, shako [hat] boxes and anything else we need. The drum line and pit don’t have enough space to store their equipment and instruments either. The new location of the band building will make it easier for them to move their equipment to and from practices. With the practice area, the band will still be able to march, so it can continue progress on the show.”

Our country and our school are obviously going through economic troubles. There have been major budget cuts across the state and across campus. So why spend $4.5 million (the band raised $1.2 million on their own) of campus money on the marching band? Last week, I was walking past the library around 5 p.m., my face stuffed into my scarf and my hands shoved deep into my pockets. As I attempted to defend myself against near-freezing temperatures and abrasive wind, I heard the marching band practicing off in the distance. The rain and freezing cold is no place for a marching band – especially one of over 300 students and winner of a Sudler Trophy – to have to practice.

According to an Oct. 17 release from the UMass Office of News and Information, this new building will provide the marching band with a warm and dry practice, storage and office facility. It will be located adjacent to Dickinson Hall and will be attached to Grinnell Arena, which will be part of the project. The building will have a great view of campus, a large indoor practice and performance space that will hold the entire marching band, a percussion section and two smaller practice spaces. In addition to this, there will be an observational area on the second floor, room for the storage of instruments and uniforms, as well as much-needed offices and conference rooms.

This building, measured at 15,000 square feet, will be a significant benefit to the marching band, but it will also help non-band students and the campus as a whole. The building’s construction will use energy reduction and sustainability strategies.

According to the release, when finished, it will be registered under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.      “The building plan calls for landscaping using native plantings that don’t require irrigation, use of non-heat-absorbent roofing and paving materials, tightly sealed and heavily insulated walls and roof, and high performance thermal-break aluminum windows, curtain walls and doorways,” the release said.

An eco-friendly building like this helps our band, our environment and our reputation. According to a study done by the Princeton Review, two-thirds of university applicants now say that a school’s environmental report card influence whether or not they would enroll. Our school continuing to bring in more students based on its green energy practices results in many advantages, such as more available scholarships and higher prestige in the post-graduate job market. If our school commits to being green, especially during the construction of buildings, we can be proud of both our marching band and our campus.

They are the highlight of every halftime show, keep us pumped up and cheering for the team even during games when the cold is too much to handle and are constantly stepping it up – did you see the revealing of their new Pirates of the Caribbean post-game show? It was incredible.

There will always be something else that money could go towards and I doubt we’ll ever see a time when our school has enough money for everything it needs. Money will never stop being an issue and neither will the cold, rainy weather. We’re reminded constantly to support UMass sports, but isn’t it time we supported the marching band as well?

Ashley Lesperance is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at alespera@student.umass.edu.

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