After a brief meeting, a little warm-up and fifteen pizzas, Manhattan College’s thirty-nine-member pep band hurried out of their Thomas Hall rehearsal space and into the dark and drizzly night in pursuit of an electric Draddy Gymnasium. They were among the first to arrive at the venue, before it would be filled to capacity with citizens of Jasper Nation for this year’s Manhattan Madness, christening the 2014-15 basketball season.
Pizza dinners in a modest rehearsal space encapsulate an image that these particular musicians prefer to carry. Yet, there is something about a pep band effortlessly transitioning from Cascada’s “Every time We Touch” to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” that ought to be taken seriously. And when thirty wind-instrumentalists and nine percussionists, hardly allowing themselves any time to even drain a spit valve, roll through a fourteen-song set list with no sheet music, one gets the feeling that these students are out to do things their way.
They are a pep band that other pep bands disregarded, that is, until they found an identity and earned a respect unlike any they had ever known. Trombonist Nora Borsare was finishing her freshman year with the band when, according to her, everything changed.
“The ‘Harlem Shake’ put us on the map,” Borsare said, referring to the 2013 internet meme, which, during the height of its popularity, saw thousands of videos uploaded daily. But, the MC pep band’s was among the more popular of those videos. “Now, we get respect from other bands in the MAAC. Siena loves us. Fairfield loves us. We were just a rinky-dink band. Now, we are the underdogs.”
Of course, like so many phenomenons, the “Harlem Shake” eventually ran its course, and after the noise died, Manhattan’s pep band had to find ways in which they could continue to be heard.
“To keep up with what songs are new and popular, we constantly watch the Billboard charts, we constantly watch music videos for dances that we might want to learn, and we even watch other college bands,” Borsare said.
Tubist and president of the student-run club, Mike Capozzi, agreed. “We started dancing, we started singing, we had to break some rules.”
And the innovativeness has paid off in more ways than one. In addition to earning respect and recognition from their fellow MAAC rivals, the Jasper pep band has also been receiving attention from prospective students. This year, in fact, the band nearly doubled in size.
Trumpeter Christopher Urban-Klein, a freshman, was experiencing his first Manhattan Madness, and everything about it met his expectations of being part of a college pep band.
“Growing-up, watching ESPN broadcasts of college games, I would say to myself, ‘I want to do that,'” Urban-Klein said, acknowledging the unavoidable presence of a good pep band. “You can hear them during the broadcast.”
Perhaps that is what is truly special about Manhattan’s pep band – their presence is unavoidable, while their enthusiasm is contagious. Rinky-dink roots or a Thomas Hall rehearsal space, as a band, these musicians have come a long way, and they will continue to be among the first to arrive.