Although he never played in the Blue Band, ABBA members will recognize the name Victor L. Wooten as a five-time Grammy Award-winning bass player and one of Rolling Stone’s “Top 10 Bassists of All Time.” His latest book THE SPIRIT OF MUSIC is great, if worrisome, an allegory about where Music (with a capital M) is headed.
It is no spoiler to reveal that people wearing headphones are murdering Music here. Wooten frets about how Music has gone from a live, communal event with shared listening; to recordings that still rewarded a group sitting around a record player, sharing liner notes; to a lonely, isolating, deadly headphone-based practice heard by one person. That, Wooten says, is murdering Music.
Music is dying, sold off a single song track at a time rather than being appreciated as a collection of pieces leading to a unified mood or statement. He decries allowing industry to “own” the output of any musician. Imagine selling your children for pennies each, he challenges. Music has gone from being echoed around a café or concert hall to being squeezed through quarter-inch earbuds. Slight breaks in rhythm or tuning are electronically edited out, making Music more an engineered product than a human endeavor. Just as people fret over GMO (genetically modified) foods, Wooten frets over the reduction of Music to a sterile, manufactured product.
The book is a mix of fantasy, road-tripping, and music-based philosophy. As with any gold mine, there is some sifting required to get to the gold. Yet there are plenty of gold nuggets to be found relating to life in general and music in particular. The book is worth reading if, for nothing more, the introductory chapter (called the Prelude) and the fascinating musical numerology and word games he presents in Measures 13, 15, and 17 (he calls chapters measures).
One “measure” offers guidance on improvising and getting in touch with Music rather than simply playing notes (the games he plays with clefs and notes are fun to ponder)…a must-read for students.
The book was published by Vintage Books in February 2021 and available at bookstores, on Amazon, and other outlets.
The Blue Band will hire a new Assistant Director in the near future. The search process for the position should start shortly.
Meantime, the Blue Band plans to add three new graduate assistants. Two will be from the Conducting Studio and one will be a percussion student instructor. The two conducting spots will be a combined effort with the new Director of Concert Bands, allowing the positions to be leveraged across both programs.
The percussion position is in cooperation with the School of Music and will provide a graduate student to assist with the drumline.
The big question on everyone’s mind today is whether things will get back to something approaching normal this Fall. Certainly, the Nittany Lions and the Blue Band hope to take the field in front of enthusiastic crowds. Optimism reigns.
“Things are trending in the right direction,” says Dr. Greg Drane, Director of Athletic Bands.
There is reason to be optimistic as the Centers for Disease Control relaxes Covid-19 related restrictions and states do away with mask mandates. Shops and restaurants are standing down on requirements. Yet there are things to be ironed out.
Both the Athletics Department and the University have sets of protocols that will need to be followed. In addition, the School of Music has its own series of protocols – things like bell coverings on instruments, for example. “We will wait to see what the science says,” Dr. Drane says.
A big concern for the Blue Band is that there might be different sets of protocols issued. That said, everyone is optimistic that the Blue Band will be able to perform on the field. Meantime, the Blue Band is working with Athletics to develop virtual shows for fans who can not get to Happy Valley.
First-year Blue Band members turned in audition tapes at mid-month. There were a good number of entrants and enthusiasm is high. Returning members are jazzed, too.
“We are excited to use our new instruments,” Dr. Drane says. Marchers will be ready to step off. Thanks to new music software, students can participate in a summer curriculum with music sent directly to their devices. They now can show up at Band Camp with music memorized.
“We will redesign our marching expectations,” he adds. “We made huge strides with music last year. This year, we will emphasize and prepare for marching.”
Blue Band history is brought to life in photos in the latest work written by Thomas E. Range and Lewis Lazarow. Titled simply PENN STATE BLUE BAND, it is the newest edition in the Images of America series and likely to be the closest to the hearts of ABBA members everywhere.
In fact, as an ABBA member your picture might well be in the book (if you squint really hard, you can see me in the background of a 70s-era photo that highlights the Sousaphone rank). ABBA members who participate in Pep Bands or Homecoming have a pretty good chance of spotting themselves in a couple of photos. The great assortment of band pictures dates from the 1890s-era Cadet Band right up to recent Blue Band practices where the uniform of the day is a Covid-19 mask.
There are sections devoted to buildings that housed the Blue Band (did you know directors once had offices in Carnegie?) and to key personnel ranging from Tommy Thompson and Hum Fishburn to Edna and Edith Murray (sisters who were in the Marching Blue Band well before the 1960s and 70s).
Impetus for producing the current book traces back to a visit Tom took to a bookstore in Philly where he looked through a display of Arcadia Publishing offerings. “On the shelves I found Images of America: The University of Pennsylvania Band book,” he recalls. “I took some pictures of it and sent them to Lew. We both agreed we could easily do something like that about the Blue Band.”
Tom and Lew did a great job with their project. PENN STATE BLUE BAND is a page-turner photographic history of the Blue Band. It draws largely on the Penn State Archives and the University Photographic Collection but also has photos from individual Blue Band members and the authors’ collections.
The book did not happen overnight. They started work last in August, targeting an April publication date. The hope was to have the book available for Blue-White Game weekend. ABBA participation at Blue-White evaporated, of course. “We then decided that to stir up interest and to also give back to the Blue Band, we would have a presale of the book and offer it to current band members and Blue Band Alumni,” Tom says. Copies bought through the presale are autographed.
About 25% of book sales made through the website will be donated to the Blue Band Legacy Fund. To get your signed copy, click on https://forms.gle/ZDkBPg87XsCsHi277. Payment can be processed via the secure PayPal app. There is a 6% tax on books in Pennsylvania.
Three Penn State Blue Band members rocked THON this year. The event, like so many others in this Covid-depressed era, was virtual – but the enthusiasm was real.
As part of Band Together (which represents both the Blue Band and The Pride of the Lions Pep Band [POTL]), students raised $20,168.54 this year.
For 46 hours, participants danced (or at least stood) to raise money in the fight against cancer.
The Blue Band’s trio included:
Sophomore Lizzie J. Giacobe, a microbiology major who plays clarinet in the Blue Band and serves as one of two Family Relations chairs for Band Together;
Matt Bowers, a senior studying wildlife and fisheries science. He also plays clarinet and has been part of Band Together since his freshman year;
Elizabeth Bagley, a sophomore studying human development and family studies. Freshman year she was a Silk in the Blue Band. This year, she plays piccolo in the POTL pep band. She has been in Band Together since her first semester and is the other Family Relations chair for Blue Band.
For dancers like Elizabeth the dancing is personal. “Three of my family members have fought cancer,” she says. “I’m dancing to show our three families that they’re not alone.”
Her THON was memorable. “I stood from 6 pm Friday until midnight, slept from midnight to 6 am, stood from 6 am Saturday until midnight, slept midnight to 6 am, then stood Sunday 6 am until 4 pm.” This was done according to THON recommendations because not all dancers had medical services available to them if something went wrong.
Matt and Lizzie did THON together. Matt almost completed the entire 46 hours. “I stayed awake and stood for 45.5 hours. I danced with Lizzie in the same apartment, and she decided to take advantage of the 12-6am breaks to sit and sleep a little,” he recalls. “Because of this, early Sunday morning I was alone and could not stay awake even while standing, so I gave in and took a quick 30-minute nap to get me through the rest of the final day.”
All three dancers got good ink for themselves, Blue Band and THON in THE DAILY COLLEGIAN. They had their strategies and their woes.
Matt, for example, stretched and massaged his feet with a tennis ball to keep going. Giacobe binge-watched “Will & Grace.”
Is THON tougher than Blue Band rehearsals? “THON is all about endurance while band focuses on higher intensity, shorter sprints of energy — like an eight-minute pregame,” Matt notes. He found THON was definitely more of a mental struggle. “Surprisingly,” he continues, “My legs and feet did not hurt too much during the weekend…possibly due to the training provided by countless band rehearsals!”
Elizabeth, too, struggled with the mental aspects more than the physicality of THON. “After four years of high school marching band and a year of Blue Band, being on my feet for so long wasn’t the issue for me…it was more of the boredom,” she says. Some of the live stream acts were entertaining, but there were many hours to fill. “Don’t get me wrong, my feet did hurt towards the end. But five years of marching band made me used to being on my feet for long periods of time,” she says.
Matt says that ABBA members should know that, while Band Together is a fairly small organization, “We are a family much like Blue Band is a family. We love that we are able to represent Blue Band and the athletic bands in THON every year!”
With the launch of the latest book authored by Tom Range and Lew Lazarow, Maureen Range, and Sean Smith are offering autographed copies of several books and donating a portion of the sales to the Legacy Fund.
Most ABBA members have checked the “donor” box on their driver’s license. It allows physicians to harvest vital organs when a person dies. But you can donate when you are alive, too.
Blue Band Alum Ashley Waters (Majorette, 2010) emphasizes that you don’t have to be dead to be a donor. Living people can donate, too. “The biggest thing is you are helping someone. It is worth at least going through the process,” Ashley states.
“Donating an organ is not as daunting as it seems,” she continues. “If you are one of the healthy ones, it’s worth considering.”
At first, when she scheduled herself for testing, the process involved a 20-question form. She passed that screening. The next step was virtual meetings with a surgeon and social worker…for three hours on Zoom. Again, she passed.
With things looking good, Ashley was submitted to a barrage of blood tests, an MRI, and other qualifications. Again, she passed everything. The rest was history.
Ashley recommends that anyone approached for donor screening should go through the process.
What about her missing kidney? “I have no feeling of loss – I haven’t missed it yet,” she laughs.
All ABBA members know we are more than a group of musicians – we are family. Just how deep that love goes was demonstrated last month when, on Tuesday, January 19, Alyssa Rohrbach Ford (Sousaphone 2011) received a lifesaving kidney donation from fellow Blue Band Alum Ashley Waters (Majorette 2010).
It was, Alyssa says, “an act of true selflessness.”
Editor’s caution: Grab the tissues before you continue reading.
How does a mother in her 30s face 50 more years of life knowing she can never be far from advanced medical care? That she will be absent from her young children three times a week to get dialysis?
Then, a savior. Ashley is pretty matter of fact why she donated her healthy kidney: “We’re a match. Alyssa needed a good kidney. I had one. It was an easy choice.”
Alyssa is the wife of Jon Ford, another ABBA alum. He knew Ashley from Blue Band days. All three stayed in touch through Facebook.
Just about a year ago, Alyssa Ford felt run down, anemic. She attributed her fatigue to being the mother of an active two-year-old. Her physician sent her for blood work and discovered her creatinine levels were way above normal. Healthy kidneysfilter creatinine and other waste from the blood and pass it as urine. Alyssa’s kidneys did not work.
“It hit me out of left field,” she says. She has no family history of kidney problems. She went to the emergency room and was admitted. By the time she left the hospital a week later, her situation was critical. The ER cleared up the acute infection which brought on the crisis but her chronic kidney condition would persist. By August 2020, she was at dialysis three days a week, four hours at a shot, to have waste filtered from her blood.
“It stunned me that, without a donation, Alyssa would miss so much of her daughter’s young life,” Ashley says, noting the time Alyssa would have to spend at a medical facility several days a week. “She might not see all of her daughter’s milestones.”
The story gets worse. Alyssa’s blood type is B-negative. Fewer than two percent of the population is B-neg. When she registered to find a donor match for a possible transplant she was told it could be eight to 10 years before a deceased person with a matching profile turned up in the system.
Desperate at this point, the Fords realized their best hope was to find a living donor. To add a degree of difficulty to the search, Covid-19 was keeping most people at home, away from events where she could talk about her situation and where a match might be found.
The Fords posted about the quest for a kidney on Facebook. Ashley Waters happened to read the post and agreed to be tested (read more about kidney donations here). She was a direct match, meaning her kidney could go straight to Alyssa. Sometimes, a donor’s kidney goes to someone else and their friend’s kidney is sourced from a third person.
Ashley did not hesitate for a moment. By December the initial screening, in-depth blood work and other tests were complete. The transplant was to be done at Medstar Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, Ashley lives nearby in Frederick, MD. What a commitment!
“As a mother, I couldn’t imagine being away from my son for that long, week after week,” Ashley says. The operation went well. Ashley’s kidney was removed arthroscopically. Her remaining kidney will grow a bit to adjust for its solo act. Otherwise, there should be no lasting effects. She was in the hospital overnight and off pain medications in five days. Ashley’s employer was flexible about giving time off.
For her part, Alyssa now has a sizable scar as a souvenir of the operation. And a working kidney. No more dialysis. More hugs and games on the carpet.
“Ashley deserves the world for saving my life and I am hoping the organization we were both a part of can recognize that,” Alyssa says. The ABBA Board will discuss Alyssa’s suggestion at the next board meeting.
Jon and Ashley are the same Penn State graduating class, Alyssa a year later. They knew one another in the Blue Band. It was typical for Sousaphones and majorettes to travel to away games on the same bus. While they remained friends after their Blue Band trips, they had separate lives until, with a cymbal crash, their lives collided again.
Today, Alyssa is doing well. “Every day gets a little better,” she says. While she will be on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life and will have to be careful around crowds, she hopes to find a light-weight plastic Sousaphone and get back with her ABBA friends at Homecoming or an annual Knoebels Amusement Park gig. It will be a while before she can lift a Sousaphone again…but she still can buzz her mouthpiece and prepare for a good future.
We are so excited to have our alumni be more included and active in THON this year. With it’s the virtual format, that means you can watch the livestream throughout the weekend and attend the events seen in the spectator guide. THON weekend starts Friday, February 19th at 6 PM and ends on Sunday, February 21st at 4 PM, with the livestream going off from midnight until 6 AM each night to encourage dancers to rest. Furthermore, we are so excited to invite you to Band Together’s personal zoom room to engage with current members of Band Together, and this year’s dancers. If you would like to talk to us and reminisce on your THON memories, you can follow this link on Friday the 19th from 8 to 10 PM.
Also, keep a lookout for social media posts from the Penn State Blue Band Official pages throughout THON weekend! These posts will be featuring students who are currently involved in THON organizations, committees, and those who are dancing this year from any org. We are so grateful for your continued support of Band Together thus far and would love if you could share any posts that you may be comfortable with. If you are still looking to donate to THON, our DonorDrive link is below. We know this has been a tough year for everyone and your dedication to THON means the world to us and the kids that your donations, posts, or time, have been helping. Also, please have a happy and healthy THON experience and remember to follow COVID restrictions in your area. We THON today!
As you may have read in our last letter to you all, there is a THON alumni matching day on February 11th, which is today. According to THON every 4th donation up to $50 starting at 8 AM will be matched 1:1 until $10,000 in crediting funds are exhausted. So, if you are planning to donate to THON this year, we would be very appreciative if you donate today! Also, Make sure to also tune in to the Alumni Reunion Series Presented by the Penn State Alumni Association at 7 PM on THON’s Facebook page! This is a great way to keep involved with THON and keep up to date on information. They will also be recording how many donations are made by each era of THON alumni for a fun competition. If you would like to donate to our THON organization today, here is the direct link to our Donordrive. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated.
If you would like to join a Facebook group dedicated to alumni of Band Together to keep everyone more engaged, you can join here. We hope to post regular updates about fundraisers we are doing with our members, activities with our families, and anything else we might be able to think of.
We have also received more information about how THON weekend will be working including a schedule. All you need to know about THON weekend will be included in this Spectator Guide. The THON live stream will be available on the THON website starting at 5:15 PM on Friday, February 19th. We hope to see you then!