Building a band

George Robinson, director of athletic bands, by the softball field at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge on Thursday.

What does it take to start a college marching band?

Confidence, a decent budget, enthusiasm — and maybe a little bit of Beyoncé.

Franklin Pierce University recently announced the creation of the Ravens Marching Band, which is expected to start performing next fall.

The program will be one of only a few collegiate marching bands in the state, according to a news release from the university, and only the second in the Northeast-10 Conference.

Lou Bunk, a Franklin Pierce music professor and one of the driving forces behind the marching band’s creation, said the university’s decision to go forward with the program speaks to the “institutional confidence” of Franklin Pierce.

“It doesn’t matter that we’re a small school and most schools that have marching bands are big schools,” Bunk said. “We think this is a good idea that fits us — and let’s try to do something a little extraordinary here.”

Just over three years ago, when the university had its first football season, Director of Athletics Rachel Burleson reached out to Bunk to ask what it would take to bring live music to games. A pep band was the logical first step, he said, and after seeing the success of that effort, it became evident a larger ensemble would be possible.

“I think that the collaboration between an academic program, like music, and the athletics program makes this a unique kind of project,” Bunk said.

George Robinson was hired to direct the pep band at its inception, and under the newly created title of director of athletic bands, will additionally lead the marching ensemble.

Pep bands are more stationary than marching bands and are also typically smaller, according to Robinson. As a student at Londonderry High School, he said, he was one of about 350 performers in the school’s marching band. But at Franklin Pierce, which has about 1,600 students, Robinson said he’d be thrilled to see 20 to 25 students join — “small but mighty,” as he put it.

But the Ravens Marching Band won’t be a scaled-down version of the bands seen at many large state schools, Robinson noted. The ensemble will aim to get the crowds on game day moving with songs spectators are familiar with, he said, rather than playing only traditional and symphonic pieces that some marching bands focus on.

Robinson is reaching out to schools across New England to start recruiting performers, and the university has scholarships available for some students who plan to join the band.

And while the new ensemble won’t be performing for another several months, there’s plenty to keep Robinson busy in the meantime. He is working with the administration to order uniforms and buy instruments, he said, and there’s plenty of creative brainstorming to do, too. He and Bunk are drawing inspiration from many sources, pinging each other with YouTube videos of New Orleans marching bands and referencing Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance.

The University of New Haven in Connecticut is the other institution in the Northeast-10 Conference with a marching band, Robinson said, and has served as a source of encouragement as he’s noticed it grow rapidly over the past several years.

Olivia Lavoie, a sophomore from Hudson, said she jumped out of her seat when she read that Franklin Pierce would soon have a marching band.

“Marching band was my world in high school,” Lavoie said, adding that she’s missed playing instruments over the past couple of years.

Lavoie — who is majoring in criminal justice and emergency medical services with a minor in sociology and certificate in women in leadership and gender studies — is not one to be defined by any single label. That’s reflected in her musical repertoire, too, as she played flute all through high school and has experience with the bassoon, trombone, piccolo and oboe.

While she’s not currently planning a career in music, Lavoie said there are many other reasons being in an ensemble is important to her. She sees an opportunity for personal growth, to show up each day and perform a little better, not in competition but for the sake of self-improvement, and it’s a chance to build relationships with students of all backgrounds she may not otherwise cross paths with.

“[A marching band is] that neutral ground for everyone to just enjoy something together,” she said. “It doesn’t define a group of people; it allows those different groups of people to come together and work together.”

Molly Bolan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436 or mbolan@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @BolanMolly.