Rookies find a home in the UMass Marching Band

By Jaclyn Bryson

Hannah Cohen/Daily Collegian

This article is part six in a series as the UMass Marching Band prepares for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

For some students, the hardest part of freshman year is leaving their families behind and searching for new friends. But for “rookie” University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band students, by their first week at the University, they have already made over 400 friends.

“I love just the family feel of band,” said Laura Rafuse, a freshman flute player. “Everybody is friends. If you need help with anything, people are always there for you.”

As members of the Marching Band, first years rookies have to get used to attending daily practices alongside veteran band members, as well as occasionally waking up before the sun has even risen to perform at early football games.

“I think my earliest wake up time this semester was 3:30 a.m. because we have to do hair and make-up before we leave sometimes,” said Brenna Fitzpatrick, a junior baton twirler who joined band this year. “That was a hard morning.”

And while many have had experience as members of the band in high school, all agreed that there is definitely a difference playing at a college level.

“You just have less time to do things so you need to be more efficient. You need to work quicker,” said Matt Harnois, a freshman member of the drum line, comparing his experience as a UMass Minuteman Band Member to his time in band at high school. “It’s like a different vibe.”

With almost 400 people active in the marching band, rookies added the community feel of band is a big plus.

“There are 400 tutors around,” Erica Pollock, a freshman clarinet player, said of her fellow band members, who she said are always trying to help the rookies to succeed not only musically, but academically.

“They help you with everything and anything,” said Pollock.

“When I have trouble with my physics homework, I come to band and I’m like, ‘Hey guys, help with my homework,’ and they help me with my homework,” added Rafuse. “Even when I am having trouble with class they are there to help me through it.”

But while joining band in college may require more work and, at times, may feel intimidating, many added that it’s worth the effort.

“I went from a high school band of 60 people to a trumpet section of 60 people,” freshman Mike Nicholson said. “But it’s been great. I can name everyone in the section and tell you something about them too. We’re all friends now and we’re all there for each other.”

For the band rookies, currently their biggest challenge is preparing for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In order to be ready for their televised appearance, they have to practice in an entirely new way.

“Obviously (there’s been) a shift away from field marching towards street marching and marching without yard lines,” Fitzpatrick said. “You feel more of an air of excitement at practice. Everyone is kind of taking on unknown territory.”

And for some, despite the once in a life time opportunity, are still nervous about completing the three mile march through New York City.

“I’m in the first line of people who run out onto the star and there are 400 people behind me who are also running,” Rafuse said. “I’m just afraid that I’m going to trip and everyone is just going to run over me.”

“You never know when the camera is going to be on you,” Nicholson added. “That can be kind of nerve wracking.”

Despite this, their excitement overpowers their fears.

“It’s the first time this band is marching in that parade. It’s something new for the band and we get to be a part of it,” said Nicholson. “They say over a million people line the streets just to watch it in person, let alone on TV. That’s a really cool feeling.”

For some, this performance is more about just showing off their music and band skills; It’s about bonding with their friends.

“I’m not really excited to go to New York itself,” Rafuse said. “I feel like just hanging out in the hotel and like hanging out with all my friends is going to be a blast.”

“Honestly, the appeal of Macy’s isn’t what drew me into band,” added Fitzpatrick. “I’m just really excited to be with my friends in New York.”

And as the band rookies march through New York City on Thanksgiving Day with the rest of the veteran band members, many first year students hope that people watching the performance will have a new appreciation for the work they put into the band.

“We are representing our state for the nation in this event,” Nicholson said. “I hope (viewers) see that it’s special for us and it’s something that we have pride in, and that it’s something they can have pride in too.”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected]