Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Associate Band Director Thomas Hannum believes you can always learn more

By Brian Bevilacqua

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Duxbury Photographic Art / Courtesy of UMass Minutemen Marching Band

This article is part three in a series on the UMass Minuteman Marching Band as they prepare to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

With a lifetime of musical accomplishments and experience under his belt, University of Massachusetts Associate Marching Band Director Thomas Hannum has learned one thing: you can always learn more.

Hannum came to UMass as a graduate student in 1980 when a friend from his previous school, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, convinced him to use his lifelong passion for music to coach the percussion section of the Minuteman Marching Band. Since then, the nationally-respected band leader and music lecturer has seen UMass’ marching band rise to national prominence.

He is certain, however, that he and his student musicians can and will continue to improve by working together.

Hannum had these lesson of self-betterment instilled in him by music long before he started teaching. In fact, it started before he could even read music.

“Growing up in Philadelphia, a lot of kids on our block were in a drum corps,” said Hannum of his introduction to music, which he could not describe without becoming visibly excited. “My brother and sister were involved so we kept the drums at our house and it became a community thing. In our block there were 15 kids involved. We didn’t need to know how to read music, we just needed a desire to participate.”

Since Hannum learned music with neighborhood friends who shared his passion rather than through a high school program, he’s tried to pass his enthusiasm for growing together onto the rest of the UMass marching band since becoming involved and has results to show for his efforts.

In 1998 the band received the Sudler Award, a national collegiate award given annually to one school and can only be won once. It is meant to reward the group that best maintains an elite performance with major contributions to the field. Hannum described it “like a national championship” and as something most students would be proud of but are likely unaware of.

Although the award, as well as the continued national recognition the band receives, count as some of the best experiences in Hannum’s 30 years with the band, he stresses there is always more learning to be done.

“People ask me ’when did the band arrive?’ We’re still arriving,” said the instructor. “There’s various landmarks along the way we’ve reached, but we are still evolving in positive way. We want to avoid complacency and there are new ways of handling music so there’s always learning happening.”

Hannum sees his musical background as proof of the need to constantly learn more. He started as a percussion expert, but over the years learned to write and conduct music while leading the whole band. He has also worked on recruiting new members, proving to be an especially time consuming task for the band leadership in charge of ensuring the ensemble continues to grow. He compared the situation to a football team, with offensive and defensive coordinators specializing in their positions as he specializes in percussion, but with all players and coaches working together for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Directing a premier marching band with over 400 students also requires the practice of a football squad to build the team camaraderie and skill they aspire for. There are no starters and no one gets redshirted or stays on an extra year as a veteran, so the entire band must march their own weight. They practice close to three hours a day, five days a week, and the experiences the students receive through this high pressure crucible revives Hannum’s motivation annually.

“Joining the band is not a sensible endeavor,” Hannum said. “It takes energy, sacrifice, dedication, and commitment. Time management becomes a skill. School is beyond the pure pursuit of academics, and the band is a place where you develop yourself as a person because you are committed to others and you learn a lot of lessons and tolerance. There are 400 people from different backgrounds with a wide range of abilities and experience. It is very rewarding to see kids get these lessons. It changes timid freshman into those people who go above and beyond and are going to excel.”

Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Associate Band Director Thomas Hannum believes you can always learn more”

  1. Timothy Hovey on November 12th, 2013 10:23 pm

    Just for the record, this photograph of Tom Hannum was taken by KV Hovey of Duxbury Photographic Art. Great photo, Kendra!

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