Dr. Nathan Stark, who directs the Spirit of the West Marching Band, also leads another, more unique group known as the University Band. In this class, musicians of all talents, backgrounds, ages and locations come together for one goal: to express themselves through music.
The University Band is composed of various students at MSU; most of whom are not music majors. In addition, various community members in Bozeman and throughout the Gallatin Valley drop into Howard Hall three times a week for rehearsal. This unique mixture of people promotes a mindset of learning and also ensures there is never a dull moment in class: from having students conduct the ensemble, the whole group exercising in posture, and even the professor pretending to punch a student in the face (which had some tie back into the curriculum).
Dr. Stark proudly says that these band members are “here for the right reasons.” Sometimes the non-students are the ones who really carry a section, or lead the group in a positive way. Having MSU students interact with those in the community allows individuals to share perspectives. Besides musical ability and personal discipline, the ensemble is striving to develop an “Esprit de Corps” or sense of camaraderie among themselves. This is done “through connection, cooperation and communication,” Dr. Stark explains.
Brett Swimley, who has been playing trumpet in the ensemble for over seven years, says that he set down his horn for decades, then one day he just “picked it up and started playing again” and the University Band was the perfect medium to rejuvenate his skill.
Tyler Hessler, another trumpeter, says that he joined the band because he “loves playing, and enjoys being in a wind-band.” He has been playing in the University Band for eight years and says that the biggest challenge is the variation in ability and experience. “We get everything from freshman to people who are good enough to be professionals.”
Having this mixture of students and community members allows ample opportunities for mentoring and learning from those who have a few more years (or decades) under their belt. Connor Lachenbruch, a student at the university, values playing percussion with Robert Banis, who has been playing off and on with the ensemble since 1963.
The band plays a variety of concert music from many genres, styles and eras.
“My favorite pieces are the military marches,” Hessler added, “The audience really enjoys them.”
The University Band is an integral part of the music department and a valuable asset to both Montana State University and the greater Bozeman area.
“There is a value to music that is often . . . unspoken, and that is the beauty of it,” said Dr. Stark, who is always looking for new members to participate in this unique experience. He encourages interested students to drop by Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 12:00 – 12:50 p.m. in Howard Hall Room 130.