FROM ALTERNATE TO PRESIDENT: Tom Range Looks at His Blue Band Years

BY CURT HARLER

Tom Range’s mark is everywhere on the Alumni Blue Band’s history. In fact, he wrote the book – literally – on the Blue Band. Twice. He was the conductor of the alumni pep band in the Philadelphia area until he moved to Centre Hall a year ago where he now runs the Keller House Bed & Breakfast. A math major at Penn State and retired math and computer science teacher by trade, Tom still is active in ABBA and conducts pep bands as needed.

Thomas E. Range II is loved by everyone – with one huge exception! Each Homecoming, during the playing of Hey, Baby at the annual Hintz Center Alumni Association event, every woman for the past two decades has turned down his pleading “Will you be my girl?” in favor of a hug from the Nittany Lion.

Franco Harris leads pep band
Sometimes conducting the pep band at the Hintz Family Ice Cream social is placed in the hands of a guest conductor. Here Franco Harris conducts the pep band in 2007.

Such is the (editor’s comment: deserved) fate of a Sousaphone player. However, Sousaphone is not Range’s forte. “Cello is my major instrument,” he says. The sousaphone was an afterthought when, at Pennsbury High School, he took up the horn. Since both instruments are bass clef and cellists use the left hand to change notes, he admits to still getting confused about whether to finger with his right or left hand.

His conducting style at ABBA events shows a similar orientation. Most band conductors use both hands to count time so it is obvious across a wide field. Orchestral conductors conduct with their right hand and cue with their left. Tom learned music theory and conducting in high school while focusing on cello. He even considered majoring in music or getting a dual degree. He stuck with math. And his orchestral conducting style stuck with him.

His high school ties got him involved with the Blue Band. He started classes in the summer session and ran into Bill “Flash” Flood, a drummer, upper-class dorm mate, and Pennsbury grad. “He kept riding me to try out for the Blue Band,” Tom recalls. Back then, Dr. Bundy was the assistant and was not yet “doctor.” Range borrowed a Sousaphone and every day practiced at Chambers Building. He made the band as an alternate that first year. He got further involved as a manager. Range started senior year as G-2 but, when the rank leader had to quit, stepped up to G-1. Range still remembers the day when then-graduate assistant Brad Townsend (who was an excellent Sousaphonist and had been Blue Band president) asked him to walk with him before practice and told him he wanted Tom to be G-1. Tom said he felt his Sousaphone talent was lacking for such an honor, but Brad insisted one didn’t have to be the best musician, just a good leader. Tom had already run for President of the Blue Band and won the election.

In Range’s student years, the Blue Band was privileged to see two National Championship games – the Lions’ loss to Oklahoma and glorious victory over Miami. However, he does have the dubious honor of being band president during Joe Paterno’s first losing season.

Undoubtedly, Range’s single largest contribution to the Blue Band is the histories he has co-written. With the fellow Pennsbury alum Sean Smith (Mellophone, 1990), Tom co-authored “The Penn State Blue Band: A Century of Pride and Precision” in 1999. Smith and Range met in tenth grade, marched together, and later roomed together at Penn State.

In 1997, ABBA faced reorganization. Previously, alumni events including homecoming were arranged on a semi-formal basis by alums living in the State College area. Folks like State College High Band Director Rich Victor, Dick Ammon, John Prendergast, and John Kovolchik carried the burden year after year. Dr. Bundy wanted to reorganize the alums into something more formal and less backbreaking on a couple of folks.

ABBA was (and still is) the largest alumni Affiliate Program Group at Penn State. Tom served as the second president of the newly formed ABBA as the group left the past century and grew into the current one. Russell Bloom was the first president in 1998.

band performs at basketball game
The Alumni Blue Band plays for the 76ers games.
pep band plays at park
One of the most anticipated pep band gigs every year is Penn State Day at Knoebel’s. Unfortunately, this year’s day has been canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About this time, Range became aware that the 100th birthday of the Blue Band was coming up. While rocking his baby daughter Megan to sleep one night, he got to thinking that the centennial would be a great time to publish a history. Perhaps sleep-addled, he then thought, “How awesome would it be if I did the history of the Blue Band!” He woke up and bounced the idea off of Smith. Smith called him back an hour later and proposed they do the project together. They spent two years doing interviews, library research, getting images, and pitching the project to the Penn State Press.

In the early 2000s after the book came out, the Blue Band Building went up and the Band grew in size. The scope of the changes made it obvious an update was needed. So Range wrote “Into the Game” with Lewis Lazarow — a 10-year update.

Lazarow was a great collaborator. An AP English teacher at the time and now an English Professor at Penn State, he was the perfect replacement for Sean, who was taking classes at the time to become a Pastor. Sean is currently in the Mansfield, PA area as Pastor for the Roseville United Methodist Church.

pep band in tshirts
One of the first pep bands Tom organized was a trip for 10 to the Penn State–Notre Dame game in 2006. A highlight was playing for the pep rally in the Chicago House of Blues the night before. Tom is at far right, playing the bass drum. Lew Lazarow and Sean Smith are the mellophone players at far left.

Right now, Lazarow and Range are working on a 125th-anniversary project that should publish in 2024. It is a big undertaking but one that keeps him focused on the Blue Band.

Now that he lives near State College he says, “I hope to get back on the ABBA Board of Directors.” He looks forward to helping cement the relationship between the Blue Band and ABBA. He wants to keep conducting the pep bands, too.

Who knows? Maybe one day an alumna will smile favorably on him as he conducts Hey, Baby from a kneeling position! Nah…

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